The vote of confidence and legal implication

graphic by MZUKRI

DATUK SERI Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, deputy president of PAS, has openly stated that PAS intends to table a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament.

According to PAS’ secretary general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan, the proposal to table a vote of confidence arose as a result of rumours that certain quarters were not happy with Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

It would be reasonable to assume that the dissatisfaction (if true), has to do with inter alia Dr Mahathir’s non-committal vis-a-vis the promised handover of the premiership to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Commanding the Confidence of the Majority

A PM has to, in the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s (YDPA) judgement “command the confidence of the majority of the members of [the Dewan Rakyat].”

In the event the PM “…ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the [Dewan Rakyat], then, unless at his request the YDPA dissolves the Parliament, the PM shall tender the resignation of the Cabinet.”

Such constitutional provisions, not uncommon in other countries, have led to the creation of a parliamentary mechanism known as the “vote of no confidence”.

On March 28, 1979, a vote of no confidence was tabled against the then UK PM James Callaghan. He lost it by one vote (311 votes for the motion and 310 votes against the motion). Parliament was subsequently dissolved and a general election (GE) was held.

Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Malaya, has pointed out that there have been successful votes of no confidence, in Malaysia, at the state level. These cases included “Stephen Kalong Ningkan (Sarawak, 1966), Datuk Harun Idris (Selangor, 1976) and Datuk Mohammad Nasir (Kelantan, 1977)”.

The Ramifications of PAS’ Proposed Vote of Confidence

Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, a retired Federal Court judge, has opined PAS’ proposed motion of confidence would not affect whatever its outcome.

In the event he is right, a failed vote of confidence could motivate certain quarters to push for a subsequent vote of no confidence.

In the event he is wrong, and the YPDA is of the opinion that Dr Mahathir has ceased to command the majority of the Dewan Rakyat, then either the Executive has to resign or Parliament will be resolved leading to a GE.

It is, however, worth noting that, according to the Dewan Rakyat’s Standing Orders 15(1), “on every sitting day Government business shall have precedence over Private Members business”.

In effect, this could mean that PAS’ proposed motion may not see the light of day.

Alternatively, PAS’ proposed vote of confidence could be used by Dr Mahathir to further solidify his premiership. With PAS and possibly even UMNO backing the proposed vote of confidence, it would be unwise for any MP from the Pakatan Harapan coalition to vote against the motion lest it leads to an unexpected GE two years from the GE14.

Joshua Wu Kai-Ming is an advocate & solicitor of the High Court of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.