By Hafiz Hassan
Even if we agree with the view that the King can convene Parliament without the advice of the prime minister, there are formalities to convene Parliament.
To my mind, the King’s statement or decree as announced by the Controller of Royal Household cannot be likened to the announcement by the Keeper of the Ruler’s Seal on when Muslims in Malaysia will celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Aidiladha. The announcement usually reads as follow:
“In keeping with the command of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, following the consent of the Rulers, I hereby declare that the date for Hari Raya Aidilfitri/Aidiladha for the states in Malaysia has been set for ….”
With that, mosques can be opened on the declared date for the Hari Raya prayers – in times of Covid-19, with strict observance of the standard operation procedures (SOP) for sure.
An oral announcement suffices.
There are, however, formalities to convene Parliament, just like there are formalities to proclaim a state of emergency. Article 150(1) of the Federal Constitution does not require the proclamation to be issued in any particular form. It says that the King “may issue a Proclamation of Emergency making therein a declaration to that effect.”
But the accepted view is the proclamation must be in document form and published. As a matter of fact, all the proclamations in respect of the four previous emergencies – 1964, 1966, 1969, and 1977 – and the Jan 11 proclamation have been in document form and published in the Gazette. And the proclamations have all taken effect from the date of publication in the Gazette.
By definition, a proclamation is subsidiary legislation [section 3 of the Interpretation Acts 1948 and 1967]. Cyrus Das, in his doctoral thesis “Emergency Power and Parliamentary Government in Malaysia: Constitutionalism in a New Democracy” explains that the proclamation of Emergency is a legal instrument and must be published in the Gazette, and takes effect only upon publication in the Gazette.
Now, convening Parliament can be made by way of the proclamation to summon Parliament under Article 55(1). A situation where proclamation to summon is used is where Parliament has been prorogued. Proroguing Parliament is also by way of proclamation and made under Article 55(2).
The current Parliament last sat on Dec 17. It was adjourned and not prorogued, as there seems to be no proclamation proroguing Parliament which would have been gazetted. Parliament was in fact adjourned to March 8 as published on its website before the date was removed as the date was no longer valid with the enforcement of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021.
The other way to convene Parliament is under the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders (DRSO). DRSO No. 11(2) requires the prime minister to give at least 28 days’ notice for Parliament to convene.
However, if the prime minister represents to the Dewan Rakyat (DR) Speaker that the public interest requires that the DR should meet at an earlier date, the Speaker must give notice forthwith and the DR must meet at the time stated in such notice. The business set down for that day must be appointed by the prime minister and notice thereof must be circulated not later than the time of meeting [DRSO No. 11(3)].
In short, there are formalities to convene Parliament. The reason or reasons are not rocket science. The members of Parliament (MPs)must be notified in writing of the dates of the meeting of the DR, although in cases of urgency as may be determined by the Speaker, notice may be dispensed with. Even so, the longest notice possible must be given [DRSO No. 9(2)(a)]
MPs need also be supplied with a copy of the Order Paper for that meeting [DRSO No. 9(2)(b)]. Each sitting must be transacted in the order as provided by DRSO No. 14. Parliamentary meetings are unlike one’s coffee-shop meetings.
On a more serious note, Parliamentary sitting is also unlike a court sitting which may proceed ex parte (only one party is before the court) on the application of a party. Parliament must sit with a quorum [DRSO No. 13 (1)].
Now, even if the King were to summon Parliament by way of proclamation under Article 55(1), the longest notice possible must be given. Again, it is unlike a court sitting which can be on a certificate of urgency.
The longest possible notice is needed to convene Parliament.