Reappointed Minister despite losing GE15, does Tengku Zafrul need to resign at the end of his Senatorship?

After the state of limbo that our country faced following the 15th General Election (GE15), Malaysia has thankfully moved forward and finally found a sense of political stability. Unprecedented during its formation back in November 2022, the Unity Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is now more than 5 months old.

Despite murmurs of a Sheraton Move-like plot behind the scenes, this union of former adversaries in the Federal Government remains resolute. A quick glimpse at the Cabinet lineup and their political party allegiance is a testament to our maturing political scene.

With that being said, one elephant in the room that still looms over the Unity Government is the appointment of Dato’ Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as Deputy Prime Minister (DPM). Facing multiple corruption charges in court, many see Zahid as a ‘liability’, though given his position as UMNO president, his appointment is understandable from a political point of view given the circumstances.

However, one appointment that is still perplexing to this day involves another Cabinet member from UMNO, Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz. Appointed as Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) despite losing GE15, he remains the only constant in three administration changes.

One of the most prominent technocrats appointed as Minister in recent history, the former Finance Minister has one of the most unique political careers to date. Nevertheless, his appointment as MITI Minister posed several questions from a legal point of view, especially because of his loss in the Kuala Selangor GE15 contest.

Currently a second-term Senator or Member of the Dewan Negara, his senatorship is set to expire in 2025. This means that he may lose his senatorship some 2 years before Parliament dissolves again.

Given that it is a requirement for a Minister to be a member of either House of Parliament, does Tengku Zafrul have to resign from his post when his senatorship expires?

Well, join us as we seek to answer that question in depth below:

Requirements for being appointed as a Cabinet member

First up, let’s define what exactly is meant by the Cabinet and the requirements of becoming a Minister in Malaysia. The executive branch of the Government, the Cabinet of Malaysia is a council of ministers who are accountable collectively to the Parliament and is led by the Prime Minister.

Article 43 of the Federal Constitution deals specifically with the Cabinet, prescribing its role and the requirements to be a Minister. According to the provision, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong appoints all Ministers in the Cabinet on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Relating back to the subject matter at hand, Article 43(2)(b) of the Federal Constitution prescribes that a Minister must be from either House of Parliament. The provision reads:

Hence, in order to become a Minister, one must either be a Member of the Dewan Rakyat or a Member of the Dewan Negara. That’s why Tengku Zafrul alongside 3 other Ministers who are not a Member of Parliament (MP), Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution, Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir and Datuk Dr Mohd Na’im Mokhtar were appointed as Senators on 3 December 2022 prior to their appointment as Minister.

In relation to that, the membership of the Dewan Negara is governed under Article 45 of the Federal Constitution. Specifically, Article 45(3) and 45(3a) prescribe the term of office for a Senator:

Essentially, a member of the Dewan Negara can only hold office for 2 terms, whether continuously or in different time periods. Moreover, each term lasts 3 years and is not affected by the dissolution of Parliament.

However, in the case of Tengku Zafrul, he is considered to have finished his first term of senatorship when he was reappointed as a Senator in December last year. This is because his incomplete term is considered as one term after he was reappointed into the Dewan Negara. For context, he was first appointed as Senator on 10 March 2020.

Tengku Zafrul must resign as Minister at the end of his senatorship

Therefore, the Federal Government will be forced into a Cabinet shuffle to replace Tengku Zafrul in December 2025 if Parliament is yet to be dissolved by then. Speaking of which, a Parliament dissolution in 2025 is very unlikely given that the current Parliament last for 5 years up until 2027.

In other words, the MITI Minister has no choice but to tender his resignation at the expiry of his Senatorship on 2 December 2025 because he is currently on his second and final term as Senator. What’s perplexing though is the decision to reappoint him as Senator when his first term was still valid.

Given that he was first appointed into the Dewan Negara on 10 March 2020 and that membership of the Senate is unaffected by Parliament dissolution, Tengku Zafrul could’ve straightaway been appointed MITI Minister without the need to be sworn in as Senator again. If he renewed his senatorship in March 2023 instead of December 2022, he could’ve stayed on a bit longer as MITI Minister and provided a slightly extended consistency to the Cabinet; a form of stability that many Malaysians are yearning for.

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