With the third Parliamentary meeting happening in a few days – on October 19th 2015 – several new developments have emerged since this article’s original publishing in August. We’ve listed them as [Updates], which you can head straight to by clicking the link below if you’ve already read this article.
Najib Najib Najib Najib. We’ve been writing so much about the guy in the past few months that even our keyboards also showing signs of strain:
But maybe not as much strain as on the Rakyat, since polls are showing that PM Najib’s approval rating has been slipping to new lows (44% as of January this year), and he himself has sorta acknowledged that his administration’s judgment in court of public opinion ain’t too good either. Heck, he can’t even talk about pandas on Facebook without getting tembakked.
Now let’s do a “what if” scenario, as in “What can CILISOS use as an excuse if they don’t wanna kena Sedition,” and look at this theoretically:
If more than half of the Rakyat don’t approve of him and think he played an active role in the RM2.6 billion fiasco,
“Why can’t we remove him from office?”
And the answer to that question is that – except during elections – you just can’t. Well, at least not directly, but we’ll talk about that in a bit. We’ve also previously discussed what the Agong can do, which is more than Joe Rakyat but still not all that solid. Because in the end, the power to decide whether or not Najib remains as Prime Minister may lie mostly with the Parliament.
It comes in the form of a little something called the vote of no confidence which you might have seen floating about on social media and news headlines – even Dr. Mahathir is calling for it. But……. what is it exactly?
We didn’t know too much about this either, so we contacted:
- Ooi Heng from Kajian Politik Untuk Perubahan (KPRU)
- Tricia Yeoh from the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)
- Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming (DAP)
- PJ Utara MP Tony Pua (DAP)
- Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen (PKR)
BTW, we interviewed MPs from the Opposition since they were the ones who initially proposed the move.
What’s a vote of no confidence?
A vote of no confidence is a parliamentary feature left behind by the British – who seem to be very good at leaving things behind in their colonized countries – which requires that a leader (in this case the Prime Minister) must always have a majority of MPs who are still confident in his or her leadership.
So what this means is that if an MP or group of MPs feel that a leader can no longer perform his or her duties, they can move towards a vote of no confidence against that leader during a parliamentary sitting. According to Ooi Heng, this can be done three ways:
- Propose a motion of no confidence in parliament – This is the most direct way since it’ll actually become one of the official topics during the parliamentary sitting.
- MPs unite to vote against a government proposal – It gets people talking about the legitimacy of the gomen, but odds of this happening are really slim cause the bill will be withdrawn before voting takes place if there’s clear lack of support.
- MPs unite vote against giving the gomen money (aka the Supply Bill) – Losing this means that the gomen won’t get the funds needed to carry out its policies.
Just in case you were wondering, the proper term for the MPs uniting is called a bloc division; referring to a group of MPs that have joined together (usually) temporarily for a common cause, and can be from different parties. Also, this won’t be the first time a vote of no confidence has been called against a Malaysian Prime Minister. The first was actually in 2008 by PKR’s Wan Azizah against Abdullah Badawi. You can read the entire account of why it failed on KPRU’s website.
What happens if the vote jalan?
Assuming that the vote of no confidence gets the necessary number of votes to pass, Ooi Heng indicates that three scenarios are likely to happen:
- The PM steps down and the cabinet (the ministers) resign. Parliament starts discussions on votes for a new PM.
- The PM refuses to step down. The Agong may step in to remove him since the PM no longer has a majority of support.
- The PM seeks the Agong’s consent to dissolve Parliament, leading to a new election.
Wong Chen adds that option 3 to dissolve the Parliament is highly unlikely as it would lead to an early (“snap“) election; and no one from either side is ready for fresh elections at this point. And speaking of elections…
So who’s gonna vote how?
Okay here’s where we do some simple math: There are 222 seats in the Malaysian Parliament, so a majority for a vote to jalan is 112 votes.
Here’s the breakdown of the seats:
- BN – 134
- Opposition – 88
Additional votes needed: 24 (112-88)
So only 24 seats… should be easy to get right?
Here’s where you need to perah jus otak sikit, starting with this chart of the breakdown of Parliamentary seats:
If you’re wondering why we highlighted PAS in red, it’s because PAS has officially broken off with Pakatan mainly due to disagreements with DAP over the implementation of Hudud law. Following the break, PAS has also revealed that they will “selectively support UMNO” with party president Hadi Awang warning PAS MPs to not support any move for a no-confidence vote against PM Najib. This was contradicted a month later by deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man who says that PAS will support a motion of no confidence.
So with PAS not being 100% sure of where they stand, Pakatan would be at worst down another 21 seats – making them now short of 45 seats for a successful vote of no confidence. But just when things were looking bleak…
Former PAS deputy president Mat Sabu (who left the party because he was too liberal) has formed a new party temporarily called Gerakan Harapan Baru (GHB). Early news reports seem to indicate that GHB is getting a decent level of support from within PAS, with 7 MPs already rumored to switch sides and an entire PAS division in Jelebu disbanding so that the members can join up with GHB instead. But will they be supporting a vote of no confidence?
Well, Ong Kian Ming told us that he’s pretty confident of GHB’s support:
“If such a motion were to see the light of day … GHB MPs will support the motion of no confidence, I’m quite sure.” – YB Ong Kian Ming, Serdang MP, in email interview with CILISOS.
GHB was officially registered as Parti Amanah Negara, or Amanah and are part of the new alliance with PKR and DAP called Pakatan Harapan. PAS has also recently expressed their willingness to discuss the no confidence vote with PKR but stressed that it’s too early to say whether they would support it.
But wait, let’s go back to YB Ong Kian Ming’s quote for a bit… ” IF such a motion were to see the light of day”? – Does that mean…? Yep. It means that we kinda jumped the gun when talking about whether or not the Opposition can get enough votes because-
Chances of the vote even taking place in Parliament is very slim
According to Tricia Yeoh, in order to bring up a vote of no confidence in Parliament, an MP first needs to get the Speaker of Parliament to allow it. The Speaker of Parliament is kinda like the moderator – he decides on what gets discussed, who gets to speak, and dishes out disciplinary action to unruly MPs.
However, all our interviewees have expressed that it’s highly unlikely for the Speaker to allow the vote given what we will summarize as “pressure from above”. Tony Pua also added that even if it were to be allowed, it would most likely find itself at the bottom of the pile – meaning there’s a chance that Parliament might run out of time before it even gets brought up.
Does this mean that not even the Parliament can remove a Prime Minister? Well, it’s gonna be a long shot but…
It really depends on the Barisan Nasional MPs
Many points brought up by our interviewees seem to point less and less towards the feasibility of a vote of no confidence in Parliament (at least, if initiated by the Opposition) but more towards the initiative of BN members. One name that kept popping up was the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBBC).
So this is an actual thing. A backbencher is a term used to describe an MP who’s not in the Cabinet (as a minister) or holding a post in the government. The BNBBC is kinda like a loose club of 73 backbenchers who are aligned towards BN, but are not part of the the inner circle of the BN government – and are therefore seen as less reliable supporters of the party’s directions and policies.
Ooi Heng thinks that non-Opposition support for the motion of no confidence would likely come from the BNBBC, depending on the political and economic developments in the next few weeks till Parliament meets in October. Wong Chen also mentioned that if someone from BN were to call for a vote of no confidence, they’ll definitely be getting support from the Opposition. A similar sentiment was also expressed by Amanah:
“There is no point for us to bring the motion because we do not have the numbers. I am of the opinion that we should let the BN backbenchers do it, and we will support such a motion,” – Khalid Samad, Amanah MP, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
As a counter-point though, Tricia says that while the level of support within BN will differ on a party-to-party basis, it’s more likely that they will all be “whipped” into sticking to the party lines and support the PM. BTW, a Chief Whip is also an actual thing… it’s the person ensures that each MP votes in accordance to party policy. Who knew?
Tony Pua kinda mentioned in passing during our interview that a better way would be to remove the PM from his UMNO president post rather than via Parliament. We looked this up and found that it’s also not easy wei.
In order to begin the process, two-thirds of UMNO council members are needed to call for an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to declare an emergency vote. But even if they were able to get the numbers (especially with people within the party beginning to speak up against PM Najib), there’s a high chance that the EGM would be challenged in court, and over court proceedings, council members might find themselves being sacked and suspended.
PKR are gonna try anyways
Okay update, guys… in the two months since this article was written, Ooi Heng’s told us that a vote of no confidence is now highly likely gonna happen.
At a recent bureau meeting, PKR decided to push ahead with the vote of no confidence despite PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli admission that the Speaker would most likely rule it out. However, he argued that the importance isn’t based on the outcome but it’s more of a “symbolic gesture” because it was what the public wanted;
“Our argument is that we can still do it because the public expects it. … The public is aware of the reality that we do not have the numbers.” – Rafizi Ramli,PKR secretary-general, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
And that any amount of pressure on the PM is a good thing:
“Imagine a PM going through four to five successive attempts of no-confidence within the space of a month. This will further erode his credibility.” – Rafizi Ramli,PKR secretary-general, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
Also, they haven’t actually discussed this with DAP or Amanah yet since the parties are pessimistic about getting enough numbers for a successful vote.
Oh, and PKR is also gonna look into voting against the 2016 budget #wetotallycalledit
Is there a downside if the vote of no confidence is called this October?
The major, most obvious, most likely to happen downside here is the fact that BN still has a stronghold over the Parliamentary seats and it’ll be highly unlikely that a majority of BN MPs are going to vote against him.
And that is IF the motion even gets addressed in Parliament. It has even been argued that PM Najib should allow the vote of no confidence against him since a failed attempt would not only strengthen his position, but also put an end to comments about his missing telur.
It’s just been confirmed that the motion of no confidence has been accepted. However it’s also the 25th out of 28 issues to be discussed, so there’s still a chance they might run out of time before it actually gets addressed.
Or… he could throw everyone a major curveball and propose a motion of confidence for himself!
This is kinda like the reverse of a no confidence vote whereby PM Najib could demonstrate that he does in fact have majority support in Parliament. Ooi Heng tells us that this is unlikely to happen since it’s usually proposed by an MP and not PM Najib himself, and so far there has been no news of such a move from the gomen side.
And lastly, we gotta ask if anyone’s thought of what’s going to happen if the no confidence vote jalan and PM Najib steps down. Of course, we don’t have the answers for this but it’s just some food for thought. For instance, Dr. Mahathir called for BN MPs to take part in the vote against PM Najib, but added that the government should remain in their hands afterwards. However, if this does lead to snap elections, power might actually fall into Opposition hands… which may not be all that positive as well since they don’t exactly have a solid candidate for Prime Minister (other than Anwar Ibrahim who’s currently in prison). Even PAS secretary-general made a joke about this this by asking:
“…We need to discuss the matter thoroughly, like who will replace Najib as prime minster? Could I be the replacement?” – Takiyuddin Hassan, PAS secretary-general, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today.
But still, if you’re in support of the motion of no confidence… what can you do?
Maybe you can… try writing to your MP?
It seems that the PM’s position is dug in deeper than the support beams on an MRT railway. Honest to goodness, we were surprised by the answers we got for this article.
But the main thing to remember here is that the Rakyat is the biggest force in the country.
No, we’re not suggesting a revolt, because that would be irresponsible and would bring about destruction, loss of lives, and get us in trouble with the authorities. In fact, this is one thing we can pat ourselves on the back for – sticking to peaceful methods when there are more violent methods readily available.
We’ve previously written about the upcoming Bersih 4.0 rally and the realistic results it might bring (Spoiler: it won’t get PM Najib to step down), but we’ve also mentioned how rallies can bring attention to issues and how it might convince politicians to reconsider the sides they’re picking. You can even try writing letters to your MP (Yes, we’re actually being serious here) to express how you feel and put them to task, or as Wong Chen puts it:
“We’re morally obliged to stand up for the people who voted for us” – YB Wong Chen, Kelana Jaya MP, in phone interview with CILISOS
Or, if you find writing letters sooooo two thousand and late, the folks at Bersih have launched DearYB.my, an online campaign that will send a letter to your MP on your behalf!
After all, why is it called the Dewan Rakyat if there’s no input from the Rakyat, right?