Politics and Policy: States may not follow snap election cue

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 13, 2020 - July 19, 2020.
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IN the event parliament is dissolved to pave the way for a snap election, at least one state assembly will not follow suit.

Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Aminuddin Harun was quoted as saying that there is no necessity for the dissolution of the state assembly as the mandate given by the people to the current government in the 14th general election is good for five years from 2018.

The menteri besar hence intends to complete the entire duration of the mandate.

Negeri Sembilan is governed by Pakatan Harapan, as is Penang and Selangor.

The Pakatan Harapan presidential council was reported to have said recently that states run by the coalition will not dissolve their assemblies if the Perikatan Nasional federal government decides to dissolve parliament in mid-term and call for a general election. As the last general election was held two years ago, the next — the 15th — can be called any time before 2023.

What the council announced is a political decision, but from a legal standpoint, says constitutional expert Dr Aziz Bari, there is no need for states to follow what happens in parliament.

“That is why Sarawak is different. They chose to follow the five-year mandate irrespective of whether the federal parliament is dissolved. And only parliamentary seats in Sarawak will have elections if the federal parliament is dissolved,” says Aziz, a DAP member who is state assemblyman for Tebing Tinggi and Perak opposition chief.

Sarawak’s state election was last held in 2016, which means that the next one — its 12th — must be carried out next year.

The current talk about state elections has come up because of speculation of a snap election at the federal level. Considering that it came to power without facing the voters, the Perikatan Nasional government needs to prove it has the support of the people and dismiss criticism once and for all that it took office without being elected.

“The whole idea of a snap election is predicated on the need to restore the mandate that the rakyat gave in GE14. At the same time, the snap election is to give the rakyat a chance to either legitimise or reject the present federal government,” says a political observer.

But this reasoning, he says, does not apply in the case of PH-run states which the coalition won comfortably, especially in Penang and Selangor.

“And so the PH governments in these states have every reason to see out their full term. By sitting out the snap polls, state PH leaders can play a more active role to help the coalition recapture Putrajaya”, according to the observer.

As he sees it, when the state elections are eventually held, PH would also be able to draw more attention to its track record in managing these states when seeking a fresh mandate from voters, irrespective of how the voting in the snap election went.

Another observer says PH should not dissolve its state assemblies but instead “concentrate on the parliamentary seats as part of their strategy for the federal polls”.

Critics, of course, have a different take, accusing Pakatan Harapan, among other things, of “not having the confidence to face an election” if their state assemblies are not dissolved in tandem with the dissolution of parliament.

However, the question is whether a snap election will take place in the first place, although it is true that many in the political fraternity, as well as observers, pundits and commentators, believe it will be held sooner rather than later.

In Terengganu, for example, PAS has urged its machinery to prepare for a snap poll, which it expects to be called in November.

In a July 5 letter sighted by The Edge, Terengganu PAS communications secretary Muhyiddin Abdul Rashid said the party is predicting that elections will be held six months from May 2020.

Whether it is a deliberate leak for psychological warfare purposes or otherwise is hard to say.

I suppose the question will be answered by what takes place in parliament, which is set to reconvene on July 13. The outcome of the motion to replace the Speaker and his deputy will set the tone for what will follow. There is also the no-confidence motion against the prime minister submitted by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Brace for an interesting week ahead.

 

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