A group of civil society organisations including Bersih has called on Attorney-General Idrus Harun to give his public view on the Federal Constitution requiring Parliament to convene six months from the previous sitting.
This was after Idrus (above) publicly said the reconvening of Parliament was a decision for the cabinet and not at the discretion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who had called for a sitting “as soon as possible”.
The government had planned to convene Parliament in September or October despite the ruler’s position.
The NGOs said the clarification was necessary as there are different interpretations of Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution.
The article states that the Agong shall summon Parliament and shall not allow six months to elapse between the last sitting in one session and the date appointed for the first meeting in the next session.
“We urge the attorney-general to make public his advice to the cabinet on the consequences of failing to reconvene Parliament and the state legislatures within six months after their last sitting day, and whether reconvening these legislative bodies after Aug 1 when the emergency period expires would result in the automatic dissolution of Parliament and the state legislatures,” the NGOs said.
The last Parliament sitting ended on Dec 29 last year. The six-month rule does not apply during the emergency period.
However, the question is whether the clock was “frozen” on the day the emergency was enforced or whether the clock continued to tick during the emergency, requiring Parliament to be convened just before the emergency expires in August to overcome the six-month requirement.
“To avoid the potential of an automatic dissolution, therefore, Parliament and the state legislatures should be convened on or by Aug 1.
“Another interpretation is that the constitutional six-month maximum interval is suspended midway on Jan 11 when the emergency commenced, and the remaining five months will start to run from Aug 2 once the emergency period expires,” they said.The NGOs added given the lack of legal clarity, it would be better to err on the safe side and to convene Parliament before Aug 1.
“Urgently convening Parliament and state legislative assemblies is crucial at this time given the need to address the Covid-19 pandemic, the weakening economy and to provide for greater political stability towards addressing necessary reforms. A snap election is the last thing the country needs now when daily new cases still run above 5,000,” they said.
The statement was jointly issued by Bersih, Bait al Amanah, Engage, Ideas, Pusat Komas, Reform and Undi18.
The NGOs said they understood that Idrus was in a difficult position as he had to advise both the Agong and the government.
“The attorney-general is duty-bound to advise both the cabinet and His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which he would not be able to do if the duties, preferences and interests of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration and that of the constitutional monarch diverge,” they added.
However, they said the Agong, in line with Article 130 of the Federal Constitution, may also seek advice from the Federal Court.
(First published by Malaysiakini on 28 June 2021: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/580717)