Mr Oxford, do mind your language

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently caught a lot of flak when he said “we” (the government) will “make life ‘difficult’ for those who do not vaccinate” against covid-19.

I’m not an anti-vaxxer but I recognise an individual’s right to refuse a vaccine he or she believes — based on the facts they have obtained — serves no purpose. Whether that position is right or wrong is not the issue here. In terms of public health policy, I 100 per cent support the worldwide vaccination programme as it is the only available means to arrest the fatality count of the covid-19 pandemic and offer protection against mutating variants. Vaccination, of course, must be implemented with ongoing testing and contact tracing.

But, everyone does not hold the same opinion. In any issue, there would always be people with differing points of view. As a public servant, should force, coercion and threats be used to make people conform to a public policy? Wouldn’t that be considered an abuse of power or authority?

In doing their jobs, public servants need to find a way to be effective without misusing the power and authority that come with their positions.

If Oxford University-educated Khairy (hence, my nickname for him, Mr Oxford!), who by the way speaks excellent English, had tempered his frustration with anti-vaxxers by saying that anti-vaxxers will be making life difficult for themselves, instead of the government making it difficult for them, he would have come across as more people-sensitive rather than dictatorial. And, perhaps, got more anti-vaxxers to convert.

Instead, he has incensed and cornered them, pushing them to dig in their heels and defend their position. The language one uses always reflects the attitude behind it. Khairy has revealed a tendency to use coercion when it isn’t warranted.

With regard to a public issue, a public servant needs to take extra care not to offend the recipients of public health services. If the Yang Berhormat (YB) had just changed his attitude slightly by explaining that with the protocols set or being set in place to enable us to live with covid-19, anti-vaxxers would naturally face difficulties, that would be less harsh than insisting on “making it difficult” for them which suggests that the government would victimize.

The consequences of anti-vaccination are self-evident. Anti-vaxxers won’t get scholarships and awards to further their careers because the government and other governments would require recipients to be vaccinated. Promotions may be harder to get if it involves interacting with people as that would require vaccinations. Anti-vaxxers won’t be able to dine out or travel.

Simple explanations of how anti-vaxxers will be making life difficult for themselves would let them see for themselves how restrictive work and life will be for them while showing that the government remains firm in implementing the SOPs without being abusive or dictatorial in coming down hard on them.

Learning to speak in a way that says the same thing but nicely, is a skill in public speaking, Mr Oxford! It presents a kinder, more endearing face of government and is more effective in winning more supporters to comply with your plans!

Good luck, YB!

Advice to elected officials: Don’t make deals, vote instead

The Malacca state assembly was dissolved on Oct 5 when four assemblypersons withdrew their support for the ruling coalition made up of Umno and Bersatu. Two of the assemblypersons were from Umno, one from Bersatu and the other was a coalition-friendly independent.

Former chief minister Sulaiman Md Ali said that he had advised the Yang DiPertua to dissolve the assembly. Do chief ministers advise the head of state, in this case, the Yang DiPertua, Ali Rustam? What was his reason for giving that piece of advice? He acted in anticipation of the resignation? What if the four changed their mind at the last minute?

Did Ali Rustam make the decision after consultation with the prime minister or his party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi? Can such a decision be made without the green light from the PM? What is the chain of command and was it respected?

This is the current state of politics, unstable, chaotic without clear protocols and with MPs acting with questionable motives. It is yet another consequence of the Sheraton Moves of February 2020 and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin will be held responsible for it.

He formed a government on the strength of the appointment by the Agong without seeking legitimacy by proving his majority in the Dewan Rakyat, which is an underlying constitutional requirement. Muhyiddin circumvented the constitution in order to become prime minister. He relied on relationships and deals and look at the political instability that followed. It was needless stress on the people in addition to the stress of dealing with the pandemic.

MPs initiating a change of leadership in Perak, the emergency controversy, suspending Parliament, Umno MPs resigning from Muhyuiddin’s Prihatin Nasional (PN) coalition, Zahid pulling out of PN leading to Muhyiddin’s resignation only to later support the current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and remaining in the same coalition. What came out of all that? Nothing good to the people but leaders got what they wanted. It was a futile, wasteful effort and the people received no benefit.

The only reason we have had to deal with all this political turmoil is because Muhyiddin set a precedent for a government to be formed outside of the Dewan Rakyat. As a result, look how quickly Malaysia fell from grace as a possibly developed modern nation of the future to the worst-performing nation in the world in terms of recovering from the pandemic. The economy is struggling to get back on the path to recovery with little help from the government while the government focuses on helping the B40 group which is their political base.

All this political instability could have been avoided if Muhyuiddin did just one thing right: Strictly setting the example of following the words, intent and spirit of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. He followed the constitution when it suited him but ignored it completely to legitimize his PN government. So, it remains an unconstitutional government, even under Sabri because he, too, didn’t face a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat to prove his majority.

Yet, the Opposition signed an MoU with an unconstitutional government to seek reforms in exchange for not voting against the government! Should a more intelligent leader become a subsequent prime minister, he or she may look at the MoU and decide not to uphold it on the grounds it was signed with an unconstitutional government. What kind of dazed thinking has overtaken our MPs? Supporting an unconstitutional government!

This is Muhyiddin’s modus operandi. Making deals based on relationships and bypassing the Dewan Rakyat. And Opposition MPs and the Dewan Rakyat Speaker have gone along with it when they should have fought tooth and nail to reinstate the supremacy of the constitution and taken the issue of the election of a mid-term prime minister to the Dewan Rakyat.

Now, look at Malacca. The same chaos prevails because an attempt was made to topple the state government outside of the state assembly. On Monday, we will know whether Malacca will have state elections or an emergency. There may be neither because, at the last minute, typical of Umno, the party may decide to join forces with the same components of the just-dissolved government and resume business as usual — just as they did when Muhyiddin resigned. Another exercise in futility.

That’s the state of the current Malay-majority politics: wheel and deal, no matter how shamelessly, as long as MPs and assemblypersons can stay in government.

If elected officials believe they can muster a majority to topple a sitting government, there is only one thing to do: Wait for the Dewan Rakyat or state assembly to convene and seek a no-confidence vote. If that fails, vote against the Agong’s or Sultan’s address or any money bill or the Budget. Don’t announce you are resigning. That position could change. Instead, use your vote.

The government automatically falls and it triggers the constitutional process to form the new government — in the Dewan Rakyat or state assembly. Everything falls into place according to the constitution. The decisions made would be legal, binding and indisputable. There would be no need to speak to the Agong or Sultans or engage in deals outside of the Dewan Rakyat just so elected officials can be in government. The instability that comes from wheeling and dealing will be eliminated.

So, elected officials, a little advice to you: If you want to topple a government, do it discreetly and decisively without any room for failure and that can happen only in the Dewan Rakyat. MPs must hold themselves to the gold standard of operating according to the constitution. The people deserve nothing less.

Playing nice at the Dewan Rakyat, but is it effective?

Recently, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob commented on how “calm” and “respectful” the Dewan Negara proceedings have become. He attributed it to the MoE signed between his government and Pakatan Harapan (PH). Yes, the Dewan Rakyat has become a tame affair, but how effective is that?

When RSN Rayer (Harapan-Jelutong) asked Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (BN-Bagan Datuk) if he has offshore accounts based in the British Virgin Island as revealed by the Pandora Papers and whether he intends to bring the money back to Malaysia, Zahid gave a lengthy account and said “do not assume that I was trying to run away from being taxed”.

Rayer tried to press the issue but was told by Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun that Zahid did not allow any more interruptions. Zahid then told Rayer that he could discuss this with Zahid in the canteen.

Is it Azhar’s role to speak on behalf of Zahid as if he were the latter’s counsel? As a Speaker his job is to moderate the debate and facilitate an exchanged of arguments no matter how heated the debate becomes. Azhar didn’t do that and instead discouraged the line of questioning by Rayer.

He was “playing nice” but the public are now deprived of an answer to Rayer’s question. We don’t know if Zahid has paid taxes or not. The public have a right to know if Zahid’s account was legally sourced and taxes duly paid. This is of public interest and not a personal matter that can be settled in a canteen. But the Speaker blocked the debate and now the public doesn’t know.

Is this what Ismail means by a calm and respectful Dewan Rakyat? The absence of debate with everyone playing nice by asking polite questions and getting polite answers so that government MPs can get away with whatever they are up to without being pressed further and badgered for an explanation?

In a latter session, PKR president and Port Dickson MP Anwar Ibrahim asked the government to expedite the introduction of reforms as according to the MoE, saying that the progress was “slow and deliberately delayed”. But, there was no response from the government side.

So, the people don’t know if the government is serious about fulfilling its end of the MoE or whether PH has been played.

What kind of Dewan Rakyat is this? There is no sensible and intelligent debate. No understanding of how MPs operate — sometimes belligerently when the interests of their constituents are at stake and they angrily demand explanations. Govt MPs should not feel cowed when a confident query is made. That’s part of the debate. They should respond with equal confidence. If they are unable then it’s time they learn and acquire the skills for public debate and rise up to the challenge, not protect themselves with rules and a pact!

The Dewan Rakyat is not a press conference where the government presents its information and then seeks polite questions. Pressing a point with more questions and demanding explanations are the rights of an MP. That’s how checks and balances are executed — not through polite questions and answers as in a press conference.

It’s no wonder that the DAP’s Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh questioned in the Dewan Rakyat if Parliament was now a reading class. “This is a reading class, right? All (the ministers and deputies) came here to read,” she said in reference to government MPs who were reading their answers from prepared scripts.

What has the Dewan Rakyat achieved from playing nice? Zilch. The public is still in the dark about what the current government does.

Government MPs should start practising the art of public debate and stop expecting everyone else to play nice so that their lacks are not exposed and they can remain in government unopposed.

Dewan Rakyat doing its bit, thanks to Saddiq

Even though we have an unconstitutional government, Parliament is carrying on and some good seems to be coming from it. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced on Wednesday that all ministers have been instructed to present a 100-day in office report card to the public.

His announcement came a day after Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman revealed in the Dewan Rakyat that ministers could earn around RM100,000 a month in salary and entitlements. A minister’s salary is RM55,000 a month plus a slew of additional income in the form of a luxurious house in Putrajaya, cars, drivers, and daily meal expenses that can be claimed back.

In addition ministers also get a gratuity of RM 1 million to RM 2 million depending on their length of service as MPs.

If the 100-day report card was instructed in response to Saddiq’s expose in the Dewan Rakyat, that means the Dewan Rakyat is working and Saddiq is doing his job! His expose is now putting the spotlight on ministers and why they are earning so much when the government is supposed to be cash-strapped as claimed by the previous Prihatin Nasional (PN) government.

Yet, the PN government spent RM38.5 million on renovations on Seri Perdana, the prime minister’s residence. Both former premier Muhyiddin Yassin and Sabri explained in reply to a written query by Datuk Mahfuz Omar (PH-Pokok Sena) that the renovations were due to faulty wiring and tarnished furnishings and that there was a need to undertake the renovations as Seri Perdana was also the venue to welcome foreign dignitaries.

So, how many foreign dignitaries did the prime ministers welcome at Seri Perdana during this pandemic period?

This is unnecessary spending just as a bloated 70-member Cabinet’s individual minister’s monthly earnings of about RM100,000 is needless expenditure during this pandemic when what really is there for ministers to do?

Taxpayers whose annual earnings have been curtailed by the pandemic are expected to keep supporting these ministers whose only job is to warm their seats?

Is Sabri’s intention to embarrass his ministers? What are they going to say on the report card? That there was nothing much to do because of the pandemic or cook up a list by hook or crook?

This is yet another poorly thought-through idea to appease public opinion, particularly that of the Malay electorate. It’s no wonder that Sabri acted. A fallout of Malay public opinion can be expected.

Wouldn’t it be better to just cut down the Cabinet to the barest minimum? That’s the smart thing to do but it is doubtful that Sabri would do the smart thing because he needs the votes of his ministers to justify remaining in government.

Apart from the vaccination programme, which is nothing more than the continuation of the previous PN government’s policy, what can the majority of the ministers do during a pandemic? So, taxpayers must foot the bill to keep redundant ministers in their positions to prevent the Sabri government from falling?

Apparently, they need a lot of money to do so. And it looks like they plan to get the money through debts. The Finance Ministry announced yesterday that the government would be tabling a motion on raising its statutory debt limit from 60 percent to 65 percent of gross domestic product “given the need for spending flexibility during this unprecedented pandemic crisis”.

More debts and the taxpayer pays. It will be interesting to see how the people will benefit when the Budget is presented in the Dewan Rakyat next month.

My conclusion: Don’t expect anything; It’ll be the same old same old!

Historic MOU? At what price?

The MOU signed by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob with Pakatan Harapan (PH) is touted as historic and no doubt it will be if the reforms are actually delivered. But at what price?

Firstly, the Sabri government remains an unconstitutional government because it hasn’t proven its majority in the Dewan Rakyat and signing an MOU with it is simply legitimising an unconstitutional government. I’m befuddled as to why MPs are willing to overlook this fundamental requirement to establish a legitimate government of Malaysia to make a deal outside of the Dewan Rakyat to get reforms.

Both Sabri and his predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, ignored the need for a confidence vote to prove their majorities and opposition MPs raised a hue and cry over it. But, now, they have gone silent. A proven majority legitimises the government but opposition MPs are closing their eyes to it and instead are making deals with an unconstitutional government for “democratic reforms” with no mention of a confidence vote. Doesn’t anyone see the irony in this? Selling out a fundamental constitutional right of MPs in exchange for other reforms that we are not sure the Sabri government can deliver according to the timeline or at all isn’t shortchanging Parliament?

Secondly, the MOU smacks of insincerity on the part of the opposition. PH wasn’t representing the entire opposition — just itself. It was not inclusive of other opposition parties and they have expressed the sentiments of being sidelined.

Another indication of its insincerity is evident in one item on its list of parliamentary reforms — equal funding for government and opposition MPs but not to the opposition MPs who didn’t sign the MOU. Why would Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim not seek equal funding for all opposition MPs? He is leader of all the opposition not just PH and all the opposition parties backed him to be prime minister when Muhyiddin Yassin resigned. But he reciprocated in the this way.

Why was PH willing to estrange its opposition allies and split the opposition to sign this MOU?

Perhaps, Anwar has realised that he may never become PM as long as he is in the opposition and feels the need to form new alliances to achieve his goal. Hence, his friendliness towards the Sabri government as Anwar has the support of the former’s party president Ahmad Zahid and party adviser former prime minister Najib Razak both of whom are his chums. Whether that relationship will benefit him is left to be seen. But one thing is certain. If he is pally with these two who lead the court cluster of Umno MPs facing criminal charges in court, it is likely he will drive other allies away who want to have nothing to do with the kleptocrats. The premiership will still elude him.

Unless, the brazen stubborn refusal to hold a confidence vote and the MOU are part of a larger behind-the-scenes conspiracy to prevent former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his candidates from returning to a position of influence in the government.

It is hard to understand why Sabri and Muhyiddin refused to hold a confidence vote. Their argument that the constitution doesn’t spell it out is a no-brainer. The spirit and intent of the constitution demand it and surely they know it?

Both, perhaps, know what a majority of MPs know. A confidence vote will topple them firstly. Secondly, the opposition under Anwar’s leadership will not get the desired majority. There’s no one of stature in the government to take over, except for Zahid and Najib, but they are too tainted by corruption scandals to win a majority. The next best candidate would likely be Mahathir or a candidate he endorses. The fear is that he might win because he has support from the government side to give him or his candidate the majority.

Muhyiddin and now Sabri evidently don’t want this possibility to be played out with that specific outcome. The question is why? Why are they willing to transgress the constitution just to keep Mahathir out? In the absence of a rational explanation from them as to why they refuse, one can only surmise that the conspiracy theory is true.

But, who are behind Muhyiddin and now Sabri that they are confidently willing to abandon a confidence vote to remain in government on the grounds of the Agong’s appointment without the validation of the people in the Dewan Rakyat as is required in a parliamentary democracy? Zahid, Najib, or vested interests outside of Parliament?

If these people have got prime ministers in their pockets and these prime ministers are refusing to face a confidence vote on account it, they must be called out because they are compromising the integrity of the Dewan Rakyat and MPs must fight to ensure that never happens.

Hence, PH’s sincerity of motive is questioned. To acquiesce to the position now held by Sabri to prevent a confidence vote and be willing to sacrifice it in the name of reforms? In doing so, PH is failing to do its job of ensuring the independence and integrity of the Dewan Rakyat.

Is the MOU an attempt by Anwar to become PM in the same way Muhyiddin and Sabri became prime ministers? With the support of powerful vested interests, at the expense of Parliament?

Thirdly, the ends do not justify the means. To prevent the exercise of a fundamental democratic process — the confidence vote — is a dereliction of constitutional duty. Political behind-the-scenes machinations are common and some may go as far as to influence the vote in the Dewan Rakyat in the election of a prime minister. But the votes of MPs will render them powerless because MPs vote on behalf of their voters, fully aware they may be punished if they vote against voter interests.

To deprive MPs of that vote even for the sake of much-needed parliamentary reforms is to allow the Dewan Rakyat to be manipulated by incumbent prime ministers and those who support them.

The MOU should have been signed on the condition of a confidence vote. No MP should deprive another of his or her constitutional right to elect a prime minister. It is unconstitutional and compromises the integrity of the Dewan Rakyat.

Now, we have a situation where there will be no confidence vote to test Sabri’s majority and no fear of bringing the government down. Opposition MPs can shout themselves hoarse. The government will let them, knowing fully well their position is secure. The Dewan Rakyat becomes a toothless tiger — thanks to PH.

DAP’s Damansara MP and party national publicity secretary Tony Pua has said that PH loses nothing from signing the MOU. O, really? Well, let’s see if PH parties would lose votes.

Spoilt Sunday

My Sunday was spoilt when I heard that Pakatan Harapan (PH) was planning to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government on Monday with regard to the latter’s 7-point institutional reform offer.

Sabri’s reason for the offer was to achieve political stability. But who’s causing the political instability? It isn’t PH but Sabri’s party Umno. So, what political stability will be achieved by making a deal with PH? None.

Sabri’s coalition is the only side which will gain from the agreement and it will strengthen the parties in the incumbent government because now PH won’t reject the Agong’s address, or any money bill or the Budget to bring about the fall of the government. It will be smooth sailing for Sabri’s side until the next general elections by which time they would have consolidated their position and enter the elections confidently.

In the next general elections all the Malay-based parties — including Pejuang and Warisan — will get a share of the Malay-majority votes and if the distance between PH and Pejuang and Warisan continues, these Malay-based parties with the support of East Malaysian parties and the token non-Malay parties will likely join forces to form a formidable Malay-majority government. Where will PH be? Out in the cold, on the Opposition bench.

A confidence and supply agreement (CSA) works when it is agreed upon with a minority government. But Sabri’s coalition claims it has a solid 114-vote majority in the Dewan Rakyat. So far, the MOU gives no indication that a requirement for signing it is that Sabri should face a no-confidence vote. A no-confidence vote is non-negotiable and if it is compromised, this Opposition’s intention for signing the MOU deserves questioning.

How binding will the reforms be? Can they be achieved in the next 22 months before the 15th General Elections (GE15)? Some of the reforms have to be tabled in Parliament and may need a two-thirds majority to pass. Can the Sabri coalition achieve it? If the Sabri team’s performance in the last 17 months is anything to go by, can this team be expected to deliver? How many of the reforms will be fulfilled within the short time?

If PH has faith in Sabri, it is simply exposing its gullibility. Sabri’s offer is aimed at preventing a test of its majority in the Dewan Rakyat because it is unsure of its majority and wants to split the Opposition so that it is unable to reject any of its important bills to bring about the fall of the government to form a new legitimate government. PH played into Sabri’s hands. Nice work, PH.

So far, there has been no word from Pejuang and Warisan with regard to the CSA with the government. If they were excluded, PH would be driving the two more progressive non-urban Malay parties away from any future collaboration with them for a comfortable Malay-majority-led multi-cultural, multi-religious truly Malaysian government. This now may not happen in the GE15. Nice work, PH.

If PH thinks cooperation now will elicit future collaboration with Umno or Bersatu especially in the GE15, think again. Will the Umno and Bersatu voters prefer to work with PH or the more like-minded Pejuang and Warisan?

If PH works with Pejuang and Warisan to form a government, it would have the chance to introduce the reforms as part of its manifesto. It would strengthen Parliament as a PH initiative instead of a seeming sellout to an unconstitutional Sabri government.

Why PH has capitulated to the Sabri and his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin’s culture of wheeling and dealing for personal and party gain to obtain parliamentary reforms is puzzling. Wouldn’t it be better to form a government and legislate the reforms according to constitutional processes?

The Red Flag Sabri and PN govt have raised

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s refusal to hold a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat does not inspire confidence that, like his predecessor’s coalition, his coalition is committed to upholding parliamentary democracy enshrined in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

The issue isn’t whether the Agong’s appointment of a prime minister as stated in Article 43(2)(a) of the federal constitution, that “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representative who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House” is illegitimate and unconstitutional. It is neither.

The process of appointment by the Agong is legitimate and constitutional but by itself, without the proof of majority, the process of legitimacy is incomplete because it does not affirm the parliamentary democratic process of demonstrating a majority as demanded by the constitution.

As lawyers and constitutional experts have repeatedly explained proof of majority is necessary and provided for in Article 43(4): “If the Prime Minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, then, unless at his request the Yang di-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament, the Prime Minister shall tender the resignation of the Cabinet.”

According to Article 43(2)(a), the Agong appoints a prime minister “who in his judgement is likely (italics, mine) … ” Likely does not mean proof or certainty. Read in the context of Article 43(4), the constitution thus allows scope for proof and certainty to be obtained through a democratic process, which in this case is a confidence vote.

By recognising the Agong’s decision, the Sabri coalition has upheld constitutional monarchy as according to the federal constitution. By refusing to prove the coalition’s majority, the Sabri coalition continues the previous government’s stance of failing to recognise the requirement of the parliamentary democracy we practise according to the federal constitution, of proving a majority.

Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy must be upheld at the same time for the appointment and election of a prime minister to be legitimate and constitutional. One can’t preclude the other. That isn’t constitutional according to the federal constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.

So, we now have an unconstitutional Cabinet and a prime minister who is yet to be sworn in.

To make matters worse, the rights of MPs under the parliamentary democracy we practice have not been duly recognised. The motions that the MPs submitted have been dismissed. It is reported that 15 motions were submitted to remove the Speaker of the House Azhar Harun.

The Speaker should realise that if 15 motions were submitted against him, he does not have the confidence of the house and he should resign. But he doesn’t, beholden to those who put him in that position, and ignoring the independence of the house.

His brother, Idrus Harun, the Attorney General, holds to the narrow interpretation of Article 43(2)(a) that the Agong’s appointment is sufficient for legitimacy according to the constitution, ignoring the spirit and intent of the federal constitution.

When the Cabinet, Attorney General and Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat have such a limited understanding of the constitution and downplay the role of parliamentary democracy, what certainty do the people have that the government will uphold and honour the constitutional rights of the citizens under parliamentary democracy as enshrined in the federal constitution?

That is the reason why this — like the previous Perikatan Nasional (PN) government — is a dangerous government. It interprets the federal constitution to fit its justification to remain in government. That leaves the people unprotected by the constitution and at the mercy of leaders who have the power of government to do as he/she pleases.

This has been proven under the PN government and now under the Sabri coalition. There are open double standards, selective prosecution, questionable dismissal of cases, the appointment of politicians facing criminal charges in court to official positions, and mismanagement of the covid 19 pandemic resulting in soon-to-reach 20,000 deaths. In all of these cases, the people suffer while politicians get off the hook.

We can not have such a government!

Now, secure of a place in the Malay-Muslim majority government, PAS is attempting to introduce legislation aimed at restricting the development of non-Malay religions — again without consideration for the non-Muslim citizens’ constitutional rights.

The Bersatu-led government in Sabah has rejected Putrajaya’s plan to introduce a new law that would restrict the propagation of non-Muslim religions. But Sabahans should not be fooled by the gesture. Bersatu wants Sabah votes in the next general elections and will block PAS which is initiating such laws. But, if Bersatu gets a comfortable majority with PAS’ help, the law will be back on the table!

PAS’ position of influence in the Sabri and previously PN coalitions make the latter cause for concern for non-Muslims. They may be controlled now but they won’t be if by remaining in a governing coalition they acquire power and influence which can be translated into votes in an election. The Malay-Muslim majority can identify with the conservative politics of PAS, Bersatu and Umno and it is very likely these parties will continue to get their support.

Should the Malay-Muslim majority’s politics get messy and out of control, PAS might emerge the strongest party and win the support of the Malay-Muslim majority like the Taliban got control of Afghanistan because the Muslim majority did not oppose.

We can’t wait for such a possibility to happen first before acting to stop it because it would be too late. We have to prevent it from ever happening by depriving PAS and its allies from the one resource that empowers them to entrench control — the power to govern.

The time is now to consider if this Malay-Muslim coalition is good for the future of this nation. All the MPs must decide. Sabah and Sarawak MPs especially must decide if supporting this conservative coalition is in the best interests of Sabahans and Sarwakians.

Sabahans and Sarawakians have to stop whining about the poor treatment they received by past prime ministers. They have to ask themselves now if they are allowing history to forfeit their future.

In the next sitting of the Dewan Rakyat starting on Monday, at the first opportunity they get, the MPs should reject the unelected and unconstitutional Sabri Cabinet. It would be best to do it early and let the process begin in the Dewan Rakyat to elect the next and legitimate prime minister. It would be resolved within days.

We will know by their vote which MPs voted for a progressive Malaysian future where the federal constitution is the supreme law of the land, and who did not. We will leave it to the voters to decide how to handle those who did not.

Some very important questions to address first

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Sabri Yaacob announced yesterday that the Covid-19 pandemic management will now be officially known as the Special Committee on Pandemic Management and will include representatives from Opposition parties. A day earlier he said that the Special Covid-19 Aid (BKC) for the hardcore poor, B40 and M40 groups will be channelled to recipients from September 6-11.

These are carry-over programmes set up by his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail may just be announcing their continuation. The question, however, is whether he can make these decisions as prime minister when he is yet to be be sworn in?

It is unusual — and never done in any country — when Cabinet ministers were sworn in before the prime minister was sworn in. How can the prime minister carry out official business without being sworn in? How can a prime minister function legitimately as the prime minister without passing a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat and proving his majority?

The reason given was that Ismail is under quarantine and couldn’t be sworn in with the Cabinet. The reason why he is yet to pass a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat is yet to be given. He doesn’t need to be physically present in the Dewan Rakyat for a confidence vote. There is such a thing as Zoom conferencing!

The procedure of first appointing a prime minister by the Agong and then swearing him/her in and having him/her face a confidence vote in Parliament are constitutional requirements. Until these requirements are met, the prime minister and his/her Cabinet will remain an unconstitutional government.

Until the prime minister is sworn in and his majority proven in the Dewan Rakyat, the caretaker prime minister continues. This is the procedure to install a new government when a previous government falls mid-term from a lack of majority or when a prime minister and his/her Cabinet resigns.

It is extremely disappointing that Umno and Perikatan Nasional (PN) MPs don’t seem to realise the importance and significance of following constitutional requirements and procedures to prove their majority and thus ensure the legitimacy of their government.

The Agong followed the constitution in appointing the prime minister. It is now up to the appointed prime minister to follow the constitution by facing a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. Until he passes a confidence vote, he remains an unconstitutional prime minister.

Ismail may be following in Muhyiddin’s footsteps and in doing so, like Muhyiddin, he may be operating outside of the constitution.

I am puzzled why the Opposition is not calling out Ismail with regard to the confidence vote. They are unusually quiet. Instead, I am astonished that Opposition parties are willing to negotiate with an unconstitutional prime minister for reforms. If their “silence” is a “ceasefire” in exchange for perks, it is unconstitutional and must be exposed.

Soon after Ismail was appointed, Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders met with him to discuss the possibilities of introducing reforms such as equal allocations for all MPs, input from opposition parties to participate in the National Recovery Plan, introducing an anti-hopping law, increased participation of Opposition parties in select committees and raising the position of the Opposition Leader to the level of a senior minister.

Such reforms are no doubt good for the nation, but they must be instituted constitutionally by a constitutional government and the first people to demand for constitutional adherence should be opposition MPs. Instead, we have opposition parties making deals with an unconstitutional government.

Please put the cart before the horse or bullock! Make sure the government is constitutional first before making deals for perks for the Opposition!

Making deals is part and parcel of politics but deals that are made to enhance the position of MPs or ministers with no benefit to the people are just plain corrupt practices. Buying MPs over which was evident in Muhyiddin’s time was simply aimed at propping up an illegitimate government. Muhyiddin’s example must not be followed!

In the current political scenario, any deal with an unconstitutional government is corruption. Deals that are made with a rightful government without contravening the constitution and which will benefit the people and not MPs will, of course, be morally acceptable.

For example, a clear current issue regarding facing a confidence vote is the fact that it is not spelt out in the constitution. Weak politicians without the mandate of the people and who want to set up a backdoor government will use this omission to sneakily form a government without a confidence vote and claim it is constitutional.

Strong leaders who understand that a confidence vote is the democratic right of MPs to cast a vote on behalf of their voters to support or reject an appointed prime minister may, instead, rally the majority of MPs to agree to a procedure to elect the PM through a confidence vote and present it to the Speaker or the Agong for endorsement. In exchange for the support of the Opposition MPs, the appointed PM may agree to a reform that would strengthen the Opposition and hence the parliamentary system.

Such a deal is ennobling because it rallies bipartisan help to plug a technical gap in the constitution in the election of a PM during mid-term. Once the PM is elected and his government becomes constitutionally legitimate, a law or amendment can be passed that clearly states the need for a confidence or no-confidence vote in installing a mid-term prime minister.

Such “deals” are commendable because they solve problems and result in consequences that directly strengthen the constitutional rights of citizens.

For all intents and purposes, Ismail’s leadership and Cabinet are a continuation of Muhyiddin’s PN coalition. The country is where it is today because of the latter’s leadership. The economy is in the dumps and the covid-19 pandemic continues to spread unabated beyond the Klang Valley. Vaccination arrests the spread but between now and vaccination the virus keeps spreading because only 48.3% of the population is fully vaccinated according to the Our World in Data website.

Our figures are telling. As of yesterday, we have a total of 1.79 million covid-19 cases, and a total of 17,191 deaths. Could these figures have been much less if we had a better government?

Right now, that is our No 1 priority. Can we bring the daily cases and deaths down? And the most important question to address urgently and immediately is whether the Ismail Cabinet can arrest the raging pandemic so that deaths are fewer?

A confidence vote will determine if the MPs have confidence in Ismail to arrest the pandemic. Govt and Opposition MPs must put the people first and vote accordingly. If they have no confidence, they must make it clear so that an administration is installed that has the confidence of the majority of the MPs to solve this problem immediately.

It is such a rightfully elected administration that will succeed in controlling the pandemic because it will get the support of the whole nation.

So, a confidence vote needs to be urgently and immediately introduced. Deaths by covid-19 are on the heads of those who delay or will not introduce it.

Set the precedent, PM; face a confidence vote

What is more disappointing than new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s rehashed lacklustre Cabinet is the fact that he has not passed a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. By not facing a confidence vote, he has failed to uphold the spirit and intent of the federal constitution.

His Cabinet is no different from the previous prime minister, Muhyuiddin Yassin’s Cabinet — over-sized and packed with mediocrity or less of it. That is to be expected since Umno, Perikatan Nasional and its partners offer Ismail limited choices. But, why did he go ahead and make a prime ministerial decision without first proving his majority through a confidence vote, and finding legitimacy from it?

Ismail’s party, Umno, may argue that that his appointment is constitutional and democratic. Constitutional? Yes. But democratic? That can be argued. By not facing a confidence vote, he has opened himself up to questions regarding the legitimacy of his government.

Doesn’t Ismail know that in a democracy, if the prime minister and his Cabinet are not elected through a general election and is installed during mid-term because the previous government lost its majority, the new administration must first prove its majority through a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat before it can govern?

In the absence of a general election, passing a confidence vote is considered as rightful election to govern by the elected representatives of the people. In a democracy, a confidence vote is the only available instrument left for the people to elect a government of their choice through their elected representatives.

Critics can claim that the federal constitution says nothing about a confidence vote with regard to a mid-term takeover of a government. Article 43 (2)(a) of the federal constitution states that “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representative who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House”.

The Agong “in his judgment” based on the statutory declarations (SD) of 114 MPs rightly appointed Ismail as prime minister. It is also correct for the Agong to swear in the Cabinet based on Article 4(6) which states: “Before a Minister exercises the functions of his office he shall take and subscribe in the presence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong the oath of office and allegiance and the oath of secrecy set out in the Sixth Schedule”.

This far, the steps taken by the Agong are correct since no where is it stated here that the appointed PM must face a no confidence vote as suggested by some constitutional experts.

However, between the appointment of the PM and his/her swearing in, no time frame is specified, which suggests there is room for MPs to devise a procedure where after the Agong’s appointment of the PM, the latter faces a confidence vote in the spirit of democracy and if the latter wins, the swearing in can proceed.

This would ensure that the Dewan Rakyat has irrefutable records that the appointed PM won or lost the confidence vote and that position can’t change as MPs who sign SDs might in a vote in the Dewan Rakyat. In this way, the legitimacy of the appointed PM will no longer be in question and if at all the Opposition strives to remove him/her, it would not be because of the legitimacy issue but because of the performance of the PM and his/her Cabinet.

A procedure or precedent must be set now to deter MPs from undermining a legitimately elected government if they can’t face a confidence vote to prove their majority.

In Ismail’s case, it is very unlikely that he will lose a confidence vote — unless by an unexpected twist of fate! Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has declared that the Opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) will not “complicate” things. What he means by that we don’t know, but Anwar lost yet another golden opportunity to take over the government when he failed to get the support of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) on his very strong and secure 105 Opposition votes.

It was the second time he lost the chance to become PM. The first was last year when he sent a message out to the Opposition MPs to NOT vote against the Budget. If the Budget was not passed, Muhyiddin’s government would have fallen and Anwar might be PM today!

So, Ismail has nothing to worry about in facing a confidence vote. The Opposition is faltering; he might win it. He will lose it only if Anwar clearly demonstrates his leadership abilities and works out a fair and permissible power-sharing deal with GPS.

So, it is puzzling why Ismail hasn’t announced yet that he will be introducing a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat — unless, of course, he isn’t confident of his majority. All the more reason why he should face it and MPs should demand it!

Even if not spelt out in Article 43, a confidence vote is the final step in proving an appointed PM’s majority and we should set the precedent now to introduce it in accordance with the spirit and intent of the parliamentary democracy we practise and the federal constitution.

It’s the people’s hope that Ismail will set the precedent.

What went wrong

Perikatan Nasional (PN) leader Muhyiddin Yassin’s 17-month government will go down in history as the only government Malaysia has had so far that failed to prove its majority. From Day 1, he circumvented the issue when he should have faced a no-confidence vote in Parliament which until the last day, he never did.

In not facing a no-confidence vote, he showed an unwillingness to follow democratic conventions and adhering to the words, intent and spirit of the federal constitution. Instead, he made decisions according to his own judgement or on the advice of the people he surrounded himself with.

He insisted soon after he was sworn in that the Agong had sworn him in and that was enough to prove his legitimacy. He failed to understand that when a prime minister resigns or a government falls from a lack of majority, it is followed by a period of political fluidity where political positions can change quickly and that in the spirit of democratic competition such changes must be accommodated.

When Muhyiddin was nominated as prime minister in February last year, he may have had a majority according to the statutory declarations (SD) his supporters made. But, at the same, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad got PKR’s support and the support of other MPs with a total of 113 which means Muhyiddin didn’t have a majority. Muhyiddin jumped the gun and went ahead with the swearing in when Tun’s majority should have been tested.

Soon after, Tun was expelled from Bersatu and he took a number of MPs out of PN with him leaving Muhyiddin without a majority. That was the beginning of Muhyiddin’s efforts to lure MPs over to his side with all sorts of baits.

This is history but the point is that Muhyiddin thus could not prove his majority and, hence, his legitimacy was always questioned. If he had faced a no-confidence vote earlier on, the MPs might have booted him out and we may have better managed the pandemic. The reason for all the political instability that followed was due to the fact that Muhyiddin did not follow the procedures demanded by democratic conventions such as backing off when another MP claims he has a majority and/or facing a no-confidence vote. Both claims should be tested.

Muhyiddin made the same mistake in the current political situation. When the Agong called the 114 MPs who supported Umno’s candidate Ismail Sabri Yaacob to be the next prime minister, he said PN’s support for Sabri was conditional. Constitutionally, as pointed out by lawyer and activist Ambiga Sreenevasan, support for a PM must be unconditional otherwise there might be a change later and the government may fall again. Umno, aware of the significance of the comment, has decided to meet later to discuss its implications before making a decision.

But Muyhiddin’s ex-aide clarified that it is nothing unusual, failing to comprehend that when it comes to a prime minister, it is of great significance. But, that is Muhyiddin’s way: can be a little lax on following the constitution for the sake of political expediency. Look where it has got us.

After the meeting with the Agong, it was reported that Sabri left with outriders. His team must have thought they were going to be sworn in and Sabri named prime minister and hence outriders would be needed to escort the new prime minister. Again, whoever provided him the service — probably under Muhyiddin’s advice — jumped the gun thinking the Agong would repeat the way he swore in Muhyiddin’s team. They just didn’t understand that nothing is final until it is official.

It is a reflection of the lack of knowledge of parliamentary procedures that was the hallmark of Muhyiddin’s tenure.

This time around, the Agong wants to make sure he is truly appointing someone with a majority and so had called the 114 MPs to individually ask them to state their stand. He has also said that the appointed prime minister must face a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat.

The Agong must be credited for nudging the MPs to uphold parliamentary democracy. He kept advising Muhyiddin to face a no-confidence vote in the special Dewan Rakyat sitting but Muhyiddin kept delaying preferring to resign or hold elections knowing fully well that the latter would be impossible in the midst of the raging pandemic. So he resigned.

If he had understood the significance of a no-confidence vote, he would have taken the risk and faced it. In a no-confidence vote, MPs are free to vote anyway they like, and, who knows, he might have won. But, we’ll never know because Muhyiddin had no confidence in a no-confidence vote.

It is really pathetic that it is the Agong who is seen advising the prime minister, Cabinet and MPs on following the tenets of parliamentary democracy when it should be the latter group who should be advising the Agong on the procedures to follow. I wonder if he is being adequately advised by the Attorney-General.

How can we allow such MPs to lead a parliamentary democracy? No one in the Umno-PN camp right now should be allowed to govern until leaders are raised from their ranks who demonstrate a clear understanding and commitment to the federal constitution.

In a couple of hours we’ll know who will be our prime minister. I hope the Agong chooses wisely.