Contentious amendment to Johor constitution on by-elections

The Johor State Legislative Assembly has passed the bill to amend the 1895 Constitution on third reading Monday (7 Sept) and this has raised some controversy about fair elections.
The Johor State Establishment Constitution simply stated that “a vacancy shall be filled within 60 days from the date on which it occurs”. However, according to the usual practice, once a seat is vacant, Johor State Assembly Speaker must write to inform the Election Commission (EC) and the EC must announce the by-election date within 60 days upon the receipt of letter, unless it has less than two years to go for the next general elections or it is less than six months from the fixed date of the next general elections.
The amendment on Monday has added a new condition for “by-election”, namely, the vacancy shall not be filled unless the Speaker writes to the EC and claims that the vacant seat may affect the power of the state assembly’s majority party, then the vacancy must be filled within 60 days upon receipt of letter. This has triggered controversies like whether the amendment has violated the Federal Constitution and is contrary to the principle of fairness and democracy.
“Also, it is clearly a violation of the basic principles of democracy…”
Another extended argument is, whether the amendment was formally passed? The ruling and opposition parties hold different views on this.
According to DAP Johor State Chairman Dr Boo Cheng Hau’s understanding, the bill has not been passed yet. The State Assembly has just agreed to hand the amendment to a committee formed by the ruling and opposition MPs for debate and decision making.
But the Johor State Assembly Speaker said that the bill has been formally presented to the State Assembly and passed on third reading.
Apart from the above-mentioned arguments, under the Constitution, voters of every constituency should have the right to choose their representatives. If the amended Act empowers the Speaker to decide whether to elect a new state assemblyman through a by-election, it has actually deprived the right of the voters. Undoubtedly, it is very unfair to the voters. Also, it is clearly a violation of the basic principles of democracy, namely, every voter must have a representative in the assembly.
However, the ruling party MPs have different interpretations. They said that the amendment does not violate the Constitution or the principles of fairness and democracy. According to the original provision, if the seat is vacant during the last two years of the remaining term, a by-election is unnecessary. After the amendment, the Speaker will have to weigh whether the vacant seat will affect the majority seats. If the answer is no, then a by-election is unnecessary. If the answer is yes, then he will have to write to the EC and request a by-election.
Presently, the opposition holds only six out of the 56 seats. Therefore, the amendment has no impact on the current situation. But once there is a simple majority government in the state, the influence of Speaker’s right should not be ignored. BN has been taking a well-intentioned precaution. (By LIM MUN FAH/Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE/Sin Chew Daily)