Youth outfit Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) has sued both the home minister and the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur, in a bid to finally be registered as a political party after months of waiting for approval.
In its lawsuit filed on January 12, Muda via its 13 co-founders, including Muar MP Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, is seeking a court order to quash the home minister’s and RoS’ written January 6 decision to refuse to register Muda as a political party.
Muda is also asking the court to issue a mandamus order to order the home minister and RoS to register it as a society under the political party category within seven days from the date of the court order.
As part of its lawsuit, Muda is also seeking compensation from the home minister and RoS.
The 13 who had filed the court challenge via a judicial review application are Syed Saddiq, Amir Hariri Abd Hadi, Dr Mathen Muniasupran, Dr Teo Lee Ken, Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier, Lim Wei Jiet, Luqman Long, Mohd Fakhruradzi Tajuddin, Mohd Saufy Nizar Abdul Rahman, Nur Afiqah M. Zulkifli, Shahrizal Denci, Siti Rahayu Baharin and Tarmizi Anuwar.
How it started and what the home minister said
In an affidavit filed to support the lawsuit, Syed Saddiq listed the chronology of events in Muda’s bid to be recognised officially as a political party, starting with Muda’s September 17, 2020 written application to the RoS, followed by a meeting with the RoS on September 28 at the latter’s invitation.
Syed Saddiq said RoS Societies’ Management Department’s director Mohd Rejab Ramli had at the meeting said changes needed to be made to Muda’s proposed constitution before its registration as a political party could be approved, with Muda on October 6 submitting a revised party constitution and informing RoS that it would provide full cooperation to speed up the registration process.
Syed Saddiq said Muda had on October 20 emailed RoS to ask about the status of the application, with RoS replying the same day to say they were waiting for feedback from other departments.
Syed Saddiq said that there was still no updates from RoS by early November, and that he had on November 3 morning met with Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin in Parliament to ask about Muda’s registration, claiming that Hamzah had then asked him to write a letter to ask for his assistance instead of just relying on the official route of registration through RoS.
Syed Saddiq said he had on November 3 afternoon written to Hamzah to seek help to expedite Muda’s registration with the RoS, and that he had subsequently asked Hamzah again about the matter while in Parliament.
“I was surprised at the minister’s reply. He said that I had so far never voted as a MP in support of government Bills. The minister went on to say that even if I opposed government Bills, I should not attend sessions of the Dewan Rakyat when voting took place.
“I was shocked. I replied to say that I cannot abdicate my duty as an MP and will always vote in accordance with my conscience and in the interests of my constituents,” Syed Saddiq said.
Syed Saddiq said Hamzah’s political secretary on November 10 informed him that Muda’s November 3 letter to Hamzah had been forwarded to RoS along with a note for RoS to take note, and that Muda had provided bankruptcy searches of all its 13 co-founders to RoS on November 25 as requested by the RoS.
Syed Saddiq said he had on November 26 requested for a meeting with the RoS to discuss Muda’s application but did not receive a response, and had on December 9 received a copy of Hamzah’s political secretary’s December 8 letter to RoS to request for immediate action on Muda’s November 3 letter.
Syed Saddiq noted that this was just days before December 15, where MPs in the Dewan Rakyat were scheduled to vote on the third and final reading of the Budget 2021, adding that there were much uncertainty and tension as the ruling government which Hamzah belonged to only had a very slim majority, and that failure to have the Budget passed would amount to a loss of confidence in Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the Cabinet’s resignation which would have also meant Hamzah losing his ministerial position.
Syed Saddiq said it was among such a situation that he had the chance to speak to Hamzah again on December 13 about Muda, but noted that Hamzah replied “to say that I should ‘commit myself’ to the prime minister”.
“He reminded me that I had hitherto been voting against the government in Parliament,” Syed Saddiq said, adding that he again responded by saying he has to vote according to his conscience and in the interests of Muar voters as MP for Muar.
The Budget 2021 was subsequently passed in the Dewan Rakyat but only by a very slim margin, with 111 MPs in support and 108 MPs objecting.
Syed Saddiq said that Muda had — after waiting over three months — on December 21 issued a letter of demand to RoS for the party to be registered within seven days, and was preparing to file a lawsuit against RoS when the latter finally made its decision in January 2021.
The rejection, four months later
Syed Saddiq said RoS had on January 6 emailed its decision to reject Muda’s application for registration as a political party but without giving any reason for the rejection, with Mohd Rejab making the decision on behalf of RoS.
Syed Saddiq said Muda later received a January 6 rejection letter by RoS which said that it had not complied with the Societies Act’s provisions on the party’s constitution.
But Syed Saddiq disputed this by arguing that Muda had complied with the provisions after sending in the revised constitution and that RoS could have informed Muda if there were anything that needed to be changed in order to comply, also noting that the January 6 letter did not specify the exact provision under the Societies Act’s First Schedule which RoS claimed Muda had not complied with.
Syed Saddiq claimed that the RoS’ rejection of Muda’s application is invalid as the government body had acted beyond its powers under the Societies Act’s Section 7, arguing that the provision gave RoS little or no discretion in the matter and that RoS was required under that law to register Muda.
He also argued that the decision to reject Muda’s application was in breach of the Federal Constitution’s Article 10(1)(a) and Article 10(1)(c) — the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to form associations—and Article 119 — regarding voters’ right to vote.
Syed Saddiq said that the “true reason” for Hamzah’s refusal to allow RoS to register Muda as a political party was shown by the remarks he had made to Syed Saddiq.
“In consequence, neither the RoS nor the minister exercised their statutory duties under the Act in good faith,” he said, adding that both Hamzah and the RoS had taken into account irrelevant factors while disregarding relevant considerations, further arguing that this made the January 6 rejection invalid in law.
Alternatively, Syed Saddiq argued that both Hamzah and the RoS had acted so unreasonably that no other authority would have acted in the same manner, arguing that this was a ground for the court to declare the rejection as invalid.
While acknowledging that Section 18 of the Societies Act gives Muda the option to appeal to the home minister over the rejection of the registration bid, Syed Saddiq said that Hamzah had already “pre-determined” the matter and that it would be “fruitless” to appeal to the minister, in light of the remarks allegedly made by Hamzah.
Syed Saddiq then asked the court to grant the orders that Muda was seeking.
Also in his affidavit, Syed Saddiq had highlighted how Muda and its supporters had been deprived of having a political party to exercise their rights to join in Malaysia’s political and democratic process, noting as an example that election laws would disallow Muda from using its party logo for its candidates in the next general election (GE15) if it was not registered by the RoS.
“The failure to register Muda will therefore gravely hamper the preparation by Muda and its candidates for GE15 or any future by-elections. This will result in severe prejudice to Muda, our candidates and our voters,” he said, adding that the failure of RoS would deprive voters of the opportunity to vote for Muda in any election and that this violates voters’ right to vote under Article 119.
The hearing for Muda’s application for leave for judicial review is set to be heard through video-conferencing at 10am tomorrow before High Court judge Datuk Seri Mariana Yahya. MM