Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can you say, ‘Coup d’état'?

A sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.

The above is how my dictionary defines a coup d’état. If you dissect all that we thus far know about the events leading up to the co-called collapse of the Pakatan-led government in Perak, this situation has all the necessary ingredients of what constitutes a coup d’état. Note that it is not imperative that force (military or otherwise) be evident in an illegal political takeover to be a coup d’état. While in many countries and situations the use of force does indeed tend to be one of the more common occurrences in a coup d’état, it is by no measure or means a pre-requisite for a coup.

This coup in Perak will of course succeed if the Tuanku, in his capacity as the state’s sovereign, acquiesces to what has transpired. But that would not change a fundamental reality that the events leading up to the consolidation of majority support by the BN among the Perak assemblymen may well have been illegal.

As we know, a significant dark cloud remains over the actions – or inactions – of the Election Commission. Its unilateral decision not to abide by the call of Speaker Sivakumar for a by-election for two seats in the Perak assembly is arguably unconstitutional. Indeed, there seems little doubt that the EC’s refusal to initiate the process of by-election in those two constituencies in Perak – whose assemblymen were deemed by the Speaker to have resigned – may well have been not just unprecedented but legally beyond the scope of its authority. As best we know, the EC’s role is to conduct and oversee mandated elections. It is not to determine if an election is necessary or not. Doing the latter would clearly usurp the role of the Speaker of an assembly – and unquestionably not only politicise the EC’s function, it would reflect a gross and arguably illegal encroachment of the distinct functions of these entities.

If what the EC has done is in principle and in fact beyond its jurisdiction, then it has violated the law. That action by the EC – not to act on the instruction of Speaker Sivakumar has enabled the apparent defection of at least two individuals whose status as standing assemblymen was not only questionable, but in fact had been deemed terminated by the only authority entrusted to ascertain as such: the Speaker.

Hence, the defection of these two Pakatan assemblymen is illegal. For UMNO to now provoke a change of state government in Perak on the heels of, and explicit complicity by, the EC’s actions would constitute nothing short of an illegal grab of power – in other words, a coup d’état.

One might say that when you’re checkmated, the only other way out of the political quagmire would be to take the ‘by any means necessary’ route, while trying to maintain a façade of legitimacy about the coup d’état.

Perhaps the sultan will see the implications of allowing UMNO to suddenly grab power in the state on such highly dubious and constitutionally questionable grounds.

Daulat Tuanku.

G. Krishnan