Ordinary meaning in an extraordinary time

THE months leading up to GE14 were at times a period of uncertainty and confusion for many Malaysians. Through social media and press statements, politicians on both sides made plenty of allegations of wrongdoing. It was very hard for people to decide what to believe.

Fortunately, from nomination day to polling day, no serious legal issues arose from the general election as a whole.

As the overall outcome became clearer with each announcement of the results for a seat, there was certainly a growing sense of relief. Except for a few minor hiccups, the Prime Minister was subsequently appointed and the Cabinet formed.

For all the good that has taken place, I feel a tinge of sadness that Karpal Singh, who had stood up for fundamental principles and made many sacrifices in his life, was not around to witness the historic events after May 9.

He was a lawyer and politician who really cared for the long-term interest of the country and was one of those who made numerous selfless contributions that led to where we are today.

My only links to him was that we were alumni of the same school and that he started his practice in my hometown of Alor Setar, which gave me the opportunity to spend time with him back when I was still an undergraduate. We spoke in an informal and relaxed manner.

His deep commitment to what was right – sometimes to the point that he openly disagreed with his own party colleagues – was well known.

Such strength of character is difficult to find. Of course, he was not an ordinary man. It would be difficult to deny that in his own way, he contributed tremendously to the country, even though he was in the Opposition.

I think, and I hope others will agree with me, the powers that be should consider conferring Karpal an award or a title posthumously.

Even before the GE14 dust had settled, there was an issue over who could or could not be the Attorney General (AG).

Quite apart from the fact that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has certain powers granted by the Constitution, the issue has been clouded by divisive tendencies, much of it evident in the statements made based on flawed assumptions.

The Constitution clearly provides for specific powers and privileges, and there is little else to be said.

Many Malaysians are puzzled as to why this has become an issue. In this connection, it is necessary to refer to Article 145 of the Federal Constitution, in which sub-articles (1) and (2) read as follows:

(1) The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint a person who is qualified to be a judge of the Federal Court to be the Attorney General for the Federation.

(2) It shall be the duty of the Attorney General to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Cabinet or any Minister upon such legal matters, and to perform such other duties of a legal character, as may from time to time be referred or assigned to him by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Cabinet, and to discharge the functions conferred on him by or under this Constitution or any other written law.

I am not a constitutional expert but looking at the Constitution as a whole, whenever there is intended for any restrictions or additional qualifications, these are always specifically incorporated. In this case, these two sub-articles stand alone.

It is a basic principle of interpretation that the words used in a statute must be given their ordinary meaning.

Readers of this column represent the ordinary reasonable men, and I cannot say more than the meaning the readers would give to the above words.

The need to go beyond the ordinary meaning can only arise if there is any ambiguity. However, as far as Article 145 is concerned, there are no other words that would cause ambiguity. In fact, nowhere is it mentioned that race or religion is a factor in the appointment of the AG.

There can be little doubt that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the state Rulers will not depart from what is stated in the Constitution, and this is consistent with the fact that His Majesty and their Royal Highnesses are held in high regard by all sections of the population, irrespective of race and religion.

Any comments or suggestions for points of discussion can be sent to mavico7@yahoo.com. The views expressed here are entirely the ­writer’s own.

Bhag Singh , Law for Everyone