Federal Court reserves decision in appeal over disqualification of Pujut rep

Pujut assemblyman Dr Ting Tiong Choon had given up his Australian citizenship before accepting nomination as Pujut assemblyman. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court nine-member bench today reserved its decision to a date to be fixed later in the appeal by the Sarawak state legislative assembly (DUN) and two others over the disqualification of Pujut assemblyman Dr Ting Tiong Choon due to his alleged dual citizenship.

Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, who chaired the bench, deferred the court’s decision to a date to be fixed after the court heard submissions from parties in the appeal.

Sarawak DUN, its speaker Amar Mohamad Asfia Awang Nassar and former state Second Finance Minister Wong Soon Koh are appealing against the decision of the High Court and Court of Appeal that overturned the state assembly’s decision to disqualify Ting.

The other judges on the bench were Court of Appeal president Rohana Yusuf, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak David Wong Dak Wah and Federal Court judges Mohd Zawawi Salleh, Nalini Pathmanathan, Ong Lam Kiat, Abdul Rahman Sebli, Zabariah Mohd Yusof and Hasnah Mohammed Hashim.

Earlier, lawyer Cecil Abraham, representing the DUN speaker, argued that Ting cannot continue to sit in the DUN even though he had renounced his Australian citizenship.

He said Ting’s act of renouncing his Australian citizenship did not have the legal result in him being qualified to run as a candidate at an election.

Abraham said Ting’s acquisition of Australian citizenship and subsequent renouncement were not a redeemable act.

“A disqualification must be preceded by a qualification. A person must be qualified first before he can be subsequently disqualified.

“If one is already disqualified, what is there left to be disqualified?” said Abraham, in quoting the judgment by the then Court of Appeal judge Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim (now Federal Court judge).

Article 17 (1) (g) of the Sarawak Constitution stipulates that a person is disqualified for being elected as an elected member of the DUN if he has voluntarily acquired citizenship or exercised right of citizenship in any country outside the federation or has made a declaration of allegiance to any country outside the federation.

Sarawak state Attorney-General Talat Mahmood Abdul Rashid, appearing for the DUN, submitted that at the time the motion to disqualify Ting arose, the decision was made during the DUN sitting and hence it was non-justiciable.

Ting’s counsel, Chong Siew Chiang, submitted that there was no continuity of the disqualification factor if a person has renounced his foreign citizenship.

He said the decision of the DUN was justiciable and the court has the power to intervene.

“The speaker and the DUN had acted and stepped without and beyond their power, in which case, the court has the power to intervene,” he said.

The three appellants were granted leave by the Federal Court in July this year to appeal. Seven legal questions were posed for determination of the Federal Court.

Ting was disqualified as a state assemblyman on May 12, 2017, following a motion tabled by the then Sarawak International Trade and E-Commerce Minister Wong Soon Koh for allegedly having dual Australian and Malaysian citizenship.

He then filed an originating summons at the Kuching High Court on June 7, 2017, to challenge the DUN’s decision.

On June 17, 2017, the High Court ruled that it was unlawful for the DUN to disqualify Ting as Pujut assemblyman.

On July 13, 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that the DUN had exceeded its power in denouncing Ting’s membership as an assemblyman on the basis of his dual citizenship. Ting had given up his Australian citizenship before being nominated as a candidate for Pujut.