Court dismisses bid by 16 to determine legality of Umno

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla speaking to reporters after the court verdict.

KUALA LUMPUR: A leave application for judicial review by 16 members to determine the legality of Umno was thrown out today as the court is not empowered to interfere in the affairs of political parties.

Judge Kamaludin Md Said ruled that Section 18C of the Societies Act 1966 excluded the jurisdiction of the courts in such matters.

“Effect must be given to the intention of Parliament in legislating Section 18C,” he said in allowing the Registrar of Societies’ (RoS) preliminary objection to refuse the leave sought by the 16.

Kamaludin said he had considered two recent Federal Court rulings – Indira Gandhi v Pengarah Jabatan Agama Islam (2018) and Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd v Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat (2017) – relied on by lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who represented the Umno members.

“Those cases in my view can be distinguished from the present application,” he said.

Kamaludin said the rulings in general terms reminded the stakeholders that judicial power may only be vested in the courts, safeguarded by constitutional provisions to ensure judicial independence and separation of powers.

He said the cases were not dealing with the decision of a political party on any matter related to the affairs of Umno within Section 18C.

“I cannot ignore the Federal Court decision in Pendaftar Pertubuhan v Datuk Justin Jinggui (2013) that clearly excluded the court from going into the merit of any disputes between members of a political party,” he said.

Umno Seri Merpati Pandan Indah branch leader Salihudin Ahmad Khalid and 15 fellow Umno members, who have since been sacked, are seeking a judicial review against the party on grounds that it breached its constitution by delaying the party elections.

They named as respondents Umno executive secretary Ab Rauf Yusoh and the RoS.

The 16 said the party should hold elections every three years and the leadership could only delay them for an 18-month period. However the party was granted an extension by the RoS until next year.

The applicants allege that a second extension given to Umno is not provided for in the party constitution.

They also said the delay had denied them their right to pick their leaders.

Meanwhile, Haniff told reporters he had instructions from his clients to file an appeal.

He said another application for leave to initiate contempt proceedings against party secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor over his announcement that the 16 had been sacked would not be heard on May 16 following today’s ruling.

Haniff expressed disappointment over the ruling, saying Kamaludin had failed to appreciate the legal principle established in the Indira Gandhi and Semenyih Jaya cases.

“The judge appeared to have ignored the binding precedent of a recent ruling by a superior court,” he said.

Haniff said today’s ruling had also shut the doors to members seeking legal remedy against those administrating political parties.

He said the election of Barisan Nasional (BN) candidates could be questioned if today’s ruling was later reversed.

“BN will be in crisis if Umno, which is a coalition member, is declared an unlawful society later,” he said.

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