Here’s why Sanusi can still contest PRN 2023 despite being charged under the Sedition Act in Court

The 2023 State Elections (PRN) are now underway, with all political parties now in full ‘war mode’, vying to form the State Government in the six participating states. One of those states, Kedah, is expected to see the most intense ‘battle’ to win voters’ support by the two main Malaysian political coalitions, incumbent Perikatan Nasional (PN) and the Unity Federal Government’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) pact, as despite PH winning the state in 2018 by a simple majority, PN had taken over Kedah after the infamous Sheraton Move.

Nonetheless, PH-BN has a tough challenge to overturn the so-called ‘green wave’ in Kedah though, as the 15th General Election’s (GE15) results show that a majority in the state is behind PN. This is also a testament to the influence and popularity of caretaker Kedah Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor which extends far beyond the borders of the state.

An outspoken figure, Sanusi has been embroiled in many controversies since becoming Menteri Besar post-Sheraton Move. However, he may have taken it a step too far recently at a ceramah in Taman Selayang Mutiara in Selangor.

After infamously being arrested by the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) at 3am on 18 July, Sanusi faced two charges under Section 4(1)(a) of the Sedition Act 1948 at the Selayang Sessions Court later that day. The first charge was for allegedly uttering seditious remarks that could incite disloyalty towards the Rulers for a statement in relation to the Sultan of Selangor.

Meanwhile, the second charge was for allegedly uttering seditious remarks questioning Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s statement on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s decree on the establishment of the Unity Government. Pleading not guilty, the caretaker Kedah MB is now out on bail at RM5,000 each for both charges, with the cases set to be heard on 4 October 2023.

Following this, many are quite puzzled as to how Sanusi is still able to contest the Kedah PRN. Named PN’s candidate for the Jeneri seat which he won in GE14, Sanusi is expected to win the seat again and potentially be elected Kedah MB again.

So, why can he still run for PRN despite his charges in court? Well, the answer lies in the relevant laws and regulations concerning elections in Malaysia.

Disqualification from contesting in elections in Malaysia

In relation to this, the most relevant law regarding Sanusi’s situation is Article 48 of the Federal Constitution. Prescribing the disqualification for a member of Parliament (MP), Article 48(1) is as below:

Specifically, Article 48(1)(e) asserted that a member of either House of Parliament will have their membership disqualified if they have been convicted of an offence by a court of law in Malaysia and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of more than 1 year or a fine of more than RM2,000 and has not received a pardon.

In relation to that, Article 48(4)(b) prescribed that should an MP appeal the sentence that has been given, he or she would only be disqualified 14 days after the court decides on the appeal.

However, the disqualification is immediate for the purpose of election, as prescribed by Article 48(5) below:

While these Federal Constitution provisions deal with members of the Houses of Parliament, similar provisions are also prescribed in the Kedah State Constitution. Specifically, Article 47 of the Laws of the Constitution of Kedah details the qualifications for becoming a Kedah State Legislative Assembly Member (ADUN), which include the requirement for the individual to not be barred from becoming one by the Federal Constitution. Furthermore, Article 47(e) of the Kedah Constitution adopts a similar stance as Article 48(1)(e) of the Federal Constitution in the disqualification of an ADUN.

Therefore, the caretaker Kedah MB is not disqualified from contesting in elections as he has yet to be convicted in a court of law in Malaysia. While the recent charges under the Sedition Act carry a maximum fine of RM5,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 years or both, which is more than the threshold set in Article 48(1)(e), Sanusi has only been charged and is not yet convicted. Therefore, he would not be affected by the provision.

Moreover, even if he was found guilty of the charges, Sanusi still has avenues to appeal and the disqualification from contesting elections only goes into force after appeals have been exhausted. Besides that, another relevant law on the matter is Regulation 7(d) of the Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981 below:

Through this provision, Sanusi is clearly not barred from contesting in PRN or any other elections in Malaysia. This is because he is not disqualified from being an MP or an ADUN as we’ve explained above. Hence, that is why he can still contest for PRN.

Moving forward, it would be interesting to see how Sanusi’s recent court charges would affect the PRN in Kedah. One thing’s for sure though, the upcoming PRN will allow us to gauge how the current political climate is post-GE15.

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