With the eighth Prime Minister slowly getting into the thick of things, all eyes and ears are on the formation of his new Cabinet line-up, especially on who becomes Deputy Prime Minister. However, the position need not be filled as there is no provision for it under the Federal Constitution.
WITH the Cabinet line-up of the new Malaysian government yet to be formed, the entire country is relentlessly discussing who will be appointed to the post of ministers and deputy ministers.
So much so that every day, unverified Cabinet lists are going viral.
What’s amusing is that many actually fall for these “lists”.
Some simply want to believe it, while some ask if the list circulating is genuine – although it just takes a glance to know the answer.
Journalists have also not been left behind in forming their own predictions and assumptions – all based on “trusted sources”.
But the fact is, only Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the prime minister will know who is in his Cabinet line-up.
At the moment, the biggest question is who will hold the office of deputy prime minister.
It’s not only about who that lucky individual is, but also which party lands the No.2 post.
However, not many know that the office of the deputy prime minister is a position that is not mentioned in the Federal Constitution.
Yes, there is no mention of that particular office – not even a word – and the post is also not included as part of the Cabinet.
In Part IV, Chapter 3 – The Executive, in the Federal Constitution, under the heading “Cabinet”, Article 43 states that:
(1) The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall appoint a Jemaah Menteri (Cabinet of Ministers) to advise him in the exercise of his functions.
(2) The Cabinet shall be appointed as follows, that is to say:
(a) the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint a Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet, a member of the House of Representatives who, in his judgement, is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House; and
(b) the King shall on the advice of the Prime Minister appoint other Menteri (Ministers) from among the members of either House of Parliament (Dewan Rakyat or Dewan Negara).
Try to scrutinise the matters mentioned under the “Cabinet” heading.
It only specifically mentions “Cabinet of Ministers” or “Ministers” and the “Prime Minister”, without once mentioning in any form a need to appoint a deputy prime minister.
Right after specifying details on Cabinet ministers and the prime minister’s post, Article 43(a) of the Federal Constitution goes directly to the post of deputy ministers.
Under the heading “Deputy Ministers”, Article 43(a) states that;
(1) The Yang di-Pertuan Agong may on the advice of the Prime Minister appoint Deputy Ministers from among the members of either House of Parliament.
(2) Deputy Ministers shall assist Ministers in the discharge of their duties and functions and for such purpose, shall have all the powers of Ministers.
As soon as the provisions of the formation of the deputy ministers posts are mentioned, the Federal Constitution under Article 43(b)(1) mentions the provisions to appoint Parliamentary Secretaries.
It specifically mentions that the prime minister can appoint parliamentary secretaries from among the members of either House of Parliament.
Parliamentary secretaries are those tasked with helping ministers and deputy ministers in performing their duties and functions and in that sense, they must have all the powers of ministers and deputy ministers.
However, since the administration of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the country’s fifth prime minister, the position of parliamentary secretaries have not been filled.
Another office that is specifically mentioned in the Federal Constitution is the post of the political secretary. Under Article 43(c);
(1) The Prime Minister may appoint such number of persons as he may think fit to be Political Secretaries.
(2) A person appointed as Political Secretary by virtue of this Article need not be a member of either House of Parliament.
All of the posts above – prime minister, Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, parliamentary secretaries and political secretaries – are also at the same time known with the title “Administration Members”, meaning they are those involved in forming and deciding the policies of the Malaysian government.
So, considering that the Federal Constitution does not specifically mention in any part the appointment of any member of either the Dewan Rakyat or Dewan Negara to fill the deputy prime minister’s post, how then did this position exist?
According to history, it was formed based on convention – whereby it was an office created by the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj – to enable Tun Abdul Razak Hussein to fill it to help him carry out national administrative duties.
Since then, it has been customary for all the other prime ministers to appoint a deputy.
Watch and please take stock – because it was a position created by convention and not mentioned in the Federal Constitution, which is why it is compulsory for the deputy prime minister (since the Tun Razak era until the last office holder – Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail) to also hold a Cabinet post.
In the case of Dr Wan Azizah, she was deputy prime minister and the Women, Family and Community Development minister.
This was to justify matters relating to salary payment rules and her position among the Cabinet members.
Imagine if a deputy prime minister does not hold a Cabinet post, they will not only have no justification to receive a salary but will also be unable to attend any Cabinet meeting because the deputy prime minister’s post is not mentioned in any part, chapter or article under the Federal Constitution.
However, the prime minister is exempted from this.
That is why when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned as the seventh prime minister, he did not hold any post as a minister because his position as the prime minister is already stated under Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution which also affirms his position as a member of the Cabinet.
This does not apply to someone appointed to the post of deputy prime minister.
However, although the deputy prime minister’s office only exists based on convention and not stated under the laws or the Federal Constitution, it is still considered important, big and powerful.
That is why the post comes with certain honorific titles such as “Yang Amat Berhormat”, commonly known as “YAB”.
Only three posts in Malaysia are given the “YAB” title – the prime minister, deputy prime minister and mentri besar or chief minister.
Just like the prime minister, a deputy prime minister also gets the privilege of being accompanied by a motorcade and security detail.
And most importantly, a deputy prime minister is someone who is seen as poised to be the future prime minister although, in reality, many successfully held the No.2 post but still failed to reach the pinnacle of power as prime minister due to various circumstances.
For example, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman (due to his death while holding the post of deputy prime minister); Tun Musa Hitam, Tun Ghafar Baba, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Muhyiddin (who was previously fired as deputy prime minister by then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak), Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and the latest being Dr Wan Azizah.
It is interesting to note that during the two terms of Dr Mahathir as prime minister, only Abdullah managed to succeed him as prime minister while the four others –Musa, Ghafar, Anwar and Dr Wan Azizah – fell out of the way.