Caretaker PM's role is to 'keep the motor running', say legal experts

PETALING JAYA: With Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin appointed as caretaker prime minister, his job now is to ensure the government maintains its ability to function until a successor is chosen, say legal experts.

Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) director Fahri Azzat said a caretaker prime minister is expected to just manage the government until then.

"He has to just 'keep the motor running' without driving the 'car' anywhere,'' said Fahri.

However, People's Legal Team founder Dinesh Muthal said owing to convention, a caretaker Prime Minister will not be able to formulate policies or make important decisions, although he is appointed based on the same constitution as a full-term prime minister.

He cited Article 43 of the Federal Constitution, which does not mention the position of a caretaker or an interim prime minister, hence there is nothing stated legally on the powers of a temporary prime minister.

"'Caretaker' and 'interim' are political terms," said Dinesh, adding that these were not "legal" terms.

Incumbent of the Malay Rulers Chair at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and constitutional expert Professor Datuk Dr Shamrahayu Abdul Aziz said the powers of a caretaker prime minister are rather ambiguous other than that he is to hold office until a full-term prime minister is appointed.

"The functions and powers of the caretaker prime minister are not clearly stated, but the indication is that he has limited powers and functions,'' she said.

She said when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad became caretaker prime minister after he resigned last year, the term used to describe his duties was 'interim'.

She said that a caretaker prime minister appears to have full powers according to Article 40(2)(a) and Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution.

"What the caretaker prime minister can or cannot do depends on the Ministerial Functions Act,'' she added.

According to Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee member Nizam Bashir Abdul Kariem Bashir, a caretaker prime minister cannot enter into excessive contracts or spend huge sums of money.

"He is expected to maintain the status quo as much as possible," said Nizam Bashir.

Constitutional law expert Datuk Dr Gurdial Singh said a caretaker prime minister has no powers to introduce new laws or policies.

"He is only there to ensure continuity for the government machinery to move until a new prime minister is sworn in," he added.

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