A gentlemen’s agreement

KLANG: A caretaker prime minister is not without powers, says a lawyer.

According to Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee member Nizam Bashir Abdul Kariem Bashir, in terms of the established practice, 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.

People’s Legal Team founder Dinesh Muthal said a caretaker prime minister could do anything as he was considered the prime minister even though his tenure was temporary.

“The caretaker prime minister is appointed based on the same constitution as a full-term prime minister, but because of convention, he will not formulate policies or make important decisions,” he said.

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

“Caretaker and interim are political terms. When a caretaker prime minister sits in, it’s like a gentleman’s agreement (for him) to manage things until the new person takes over,’’ said Dinesh.

Constitutional law expert Datuk Dr Gurdial Singh said a caretaker prime minister had 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.

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 were rather ambiguous other than holding office until a full-term prime minister was 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.

According to Dr Shamrahayu, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad became caretaker prime minister after he resigned last year, the term used to describe his duties was “interim”, and she said that term was also unclear when it came to his powers and role.

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

According to Article 43, she said, Dr Mahathir had full powers as the interim prime minister.

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

Malaysian Centre For Constitutionalism and Human Rights director Fahri Azzat said under the current situation, the caretaker prime minister was expected to just manage the government until his successor was appointed.

“He has to just keep the ‘motor’ running without driving the car anywhere until the new person comes in,’’ he said.

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