The ills of reviving Umno

There’s a new Umno chief minister in Malacca, Ab Rauf Yusoh. New political appointments to government agencies, statutory bodies, and GLCs which include and will include Umno politicians. The Court of Appeal has permanently released Umno president and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s international passport.

These events raise questions as to the amount of leeway this unity government’s junior partner Umno enjoys under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership. Is this what the people voted for? In Umno’s heartland in the rural Malay-majority region, voters abandoned the party and gave their vote to Perikatan Nasional (PN). Yet Umno seems to be wielding considerable influence in Anwar’s government.

There may be a couple of reasons for the weight Umno has in Anwar’s administration. A single statement by Deputy Public Prosecutor Abdul Malik Ayob in hearing Zahid’s request to have his passport back permanently is telling. He said he was instructed not to raise any objection to the application, which can only mean that the DPP had objections but was not allowed to make them on instructions.

In the absence of any objection, it is not surprising that the three-person Court of Appeal bench allowed Zahid’s request on the basis that circumstances have changed and Zahid was made a minister and his personal and diplomatic passports were needed to perform his duties.

This is what happens when politicians facing court charges are placed in government. It becomes necessary to accommodate them by bending the rules.

Anwar can’t be accused of influencing the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) as he doesn’t need to as the current AGC will perform as it has and the outcome is as what the public has witnessed in the past three years.

The current performance of the AGC, however, is benefitting the politicians who are facing court charges. Evidently, Anwar is not interfering even if it makes him look as having betrayed the reform agenda on which he built his support.

Another reason for compromising on reforms to have Umno on his side, perhaps, is to indicate Malay support for his unity government.

Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition only won 13% of the Malay vote in Peninsular Malaysia and combined with Umno’s 32% (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20), it comes up to a tally of 45%. Together with the Malay vote from Sabah and Sarawak, he could claim a Malay majority but it is a weak majority as the unity government did not get the mandate of the people but was instructed and appointed by the king.

Being the party with the biggest Malay representation in the unity government, Anwar may be giving Umno a stronger voice in government by accommodating its requests for political appointments and being silent on some of the compromises being made to revive Umno. A revived Umno could mean more Malay support for PH.

Banking on a revived Umno to deliver Malay votes for Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in the future, however, may be a risky undertaking. In the Malay heartland, Umno’s support dropped from 44% in GE14 to 32% in GE15 (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20). The clear message from the Malay voters in this rural and semi-rural region is that their preference is for PN.

The state elections in June will reveal if this trend will continue. If it continues, Umno will lose more Malay support.

PH’s best bet in getting Malay support is in the urban areas. That, too, may be an uphill task considering the fact that PH lost more than half its Malay support in GE15. PKR’s Malay support dropped from GE14 to GE15 from 30% to 14%, DAP’s from 34% to14% and Amanah’s from 22% to 12% (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20).

Again, the state elections in June, particularly in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan which have dominant urban Malay populations, will reveal Malay support for PH and Anwar’s leadership.

Without a demonstrable reform agenda while in government and accommodating Umno at the same time may have a negative outcome rather than what is hoped for.

It would be better for PH to win support by sticking to its reform agenda rather than resorting to the political expediency of unsavoury alliances, unacceptable compromises and undemocratic Memorandums of Understanding.


Prove reforms are better

A second former prime minister (Muhyiddin Yassin) has been brought to court to face corruption charges. Who’s next?

Muhyiddin’s arrest was made by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission based, according to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s statement, on MACC’s independent investigations.

MACC should continue to nab the crooks based on its own investigations but it must not be seen as selective prosecution in that some are investigated for whatever reasons while others are not.

If there’s proof that leaders have stolen money from the government then they deserve to face the full brunt of the law. But, Anwar needs to show proof that there is no selective prosecution under his leadership and that he isn’t engaged in revenge politics.

Another consideration that Anwar needs to think of is whether this course of action to take past leaders to court is an effective deterrent in curbing corruption in government.

Is it effective? Or, is it a start of a trend to take past premiers and politicians to court with the next leadership doing the same with the previous leader/s in a tit-for-tat?

If Anwar was serious about reforms, he would let MACC initiate investigations on its own, while he concentrated on improving good governance and the economy and instituting reforms.

Without sufficient proof of more reforms and good governance, his credibility as a reformist is at stake and, perhaps, already shot. His administration doesn’t look like a reforming government and appears no different from the very governments he and his party and coalition used to criticize.

With a two-thirds majority in government, Anwar could have easily introduced a few necessary laws that would have confirmed his seriousness to introduce reforms.

The first law he should have passed was to amend the federal constitution to include provisions for a no-confidence vote to legitimize any government formed due to the collapse of an incumbent government. Such a no-confidence law should be made mandatory without a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure MPs are free to vote to represent their constituents.

Another law he could have introduced was the Political Funding Act, and another putting a maximum limit to commissions the government can receive.

Without laws, politicians holding public office are simply going to continue in the bad practices we have seen in the past and future leaders will take past leaders to court. With laws, such practices will have to stop.

A third consideration Anwar has to think about is whether the trajectory he is on now will strengthen his party PKR and his coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) as a viable alternative government after the next general election.

He has become prime minister and may retire after his term but what will become of PKR and PH in the future? After Anwar, what will become of PKR and PH? Ensuring their future should be his priority by proving that his party’s and coalition’s trademarks are reforms and good governance.

Give the public full disclosure

Former premier Muhyiddin Yassin was charged with four counts of abuse of power and two money laundering charges involving RM232.5 million at the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur today. He pleaded not guilty and has claimed trial.

If based on the investigations by the Malaysian Ant-Corruption Commission (MACC), there are grounds for his arrest and charges in court, of course, he must face the full force of the law. Since Muhyiddin has claimed trial, he now has the chance to prove his innocence.

Muhyiddin’s arrest, however, overshadows another equally important case — Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s overruling of the Registrar of Societies’ (ROS) decision that Umno’s decision to prevent election for the top two positions was invalid. An ROS letter to that effect was widely shared online although, in a later letter to Umno, ROS did a U-turn and gave Umno the green light for a no-contest for the top two positions.

This was followed by a statement by Saifuddin that he had invoked Section 70 of the Societies Act to prevent Umno from being deregistered over its no-contest decision for its top two posts.

Section 70 states that “the Minister may at his discretion in writing exempt any society registered under this Act from all or any of the provisions of this Act”. Saifuddin said, specifically, he had exempted Umno from compliance with Section 13(1)(c)(iv) which empowers the Registrar of Societies to deregister a party for contravening its rules.

According to media reports, ROS’ second letter sought for the party to take “corrective actions”. Umno now won’t need to take corrective action because, by the stroke of a pen invoking ministerial privilege, Saifuddin saved it from being barred.

Now, why would the Home Minister do such a thing? ROS did its job. If it didn’t do its job rightly, Saifuddin could have invoked Section 70 and directed it to correct where it had erred. But, he didn’t do that.

Instead, the Home Minister invoked ministerial privilege not just to overrule ROS’s decision but to interfere in the internal politics of a political party that is a partner in the coalition government. Isn’t this abuse of authority?

He interfered in the politics of another political party by using his authority in government. What justification can he have to invoke ministerial privilege using his position in government to play politics involving another party?

When the issue was brought up in Parliament, he said his rationale for the decision was a secret and could not be divulged. This is not a government matter that needs to be protected as a “secret”. This is clearly a case of a government minister using his powers to interfere in the politics of another political party.

This is unacceptable and Saifuddin can not hide behind the Official Secrets Act (OSA) or the explanation that it is a “secret”. It is a political issue that the government should not be interfering with.

Unfortunately, a precedent was set in invoking the OSA in not giving full disclosure when Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), Azalina Othman Said, said in an earlier report, that the terms of settlement of the civil suit by former attorney general Apandi Ali against former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the government are classified as confidential under the OSA.

The plaintiff and the Attorney-General’s Chambers had agreed when the case was ongoing to keep the settlement confidential. Shouldn’t that have been sufficient? Why put it under the OSA unless there were concerns that it could be made public at a later date?

The case involved a financial settlement by the government using taxpayers’ money. Taxpayers have the right to know how the government was using their money. Putting the case under OSA seems to suggest that the government has something to hide. This is not good governance.

Likewise with the current case involving Saifuddin’s exemption. Both of these cases involve Umno. Apandi was the AG who had said that former prime minister and Umno president Najib Razak was not implicated in the 1MDB scandal.

Why is there a need to keep the rationale for keeping these two cases involving Umno a “secret”? And, this is only happening now under the unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

If Saifuddin did not invoke the ministerial privilege, Umno would have had to take corrective action, and, if it didn’t, ROS would have the authority to deregister it. If Umno was deregistered, it would no longer be in the ruling government.

Whether Saifuddin acted on advice or at his own discretion is another question that begs an answer. This and other questions should be asked in Parliament and MPs, especially those in Umno who disagree with the no-contest decision, should not relent until the home minister gives full disclosure.

Saifuddin has told his opponents to take the issue to court as he would answer all questions then. Well, then, perhaps the courts should decide whether the Home Minister can invoke Section 70 to interfere in the internal politics of a political party that ROS has reason to believe has contravened its own rules.

What is baffling is that even if Umno was deregistered and left the unity government, Anwar’s 146-seat majority will be reduced by only 26 seats and he would still have a majority of 120 seats.

So, it is difficult to understand why Anwar’s government is willing to use government authority to interfere in the internal politics of a partner party unless there is a hidden agenda that the parties involved do not want the public to become aware of.

It would be timely now for the Anwar-led Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and Umno to reveal the entire list of conditions that Umno wanted PH to accept before it agreed to join the unity government. It would clear all doubts the public would have as to the reason why Anwar wants Umno to remain in his government at the risk of compromising its ministers.

Pro-Malay rhetoric, pls tamp it down

In the Dewan Rakyat this week, PAS president Hadi Awang issued a veiled threat that the current government should not point fingers at the Opposition should it collapse. Perhaps it was unintentional and said in the heat of the moment, but the possibility of a change of government merits attention.

In a raving rant against the federal government, Hadi (PN-Marang) said that should the government fall it would be because of its own inadequacy and weaknesses due to “the roof leaking, the doors are left ajar, and the walls are crumbling”.

What that meant nobody knows as he gave no indication of how a collapse would happen although, a few hours later, at a dialogue session organised by a book publisher, Hadi predicted that the Anwar Ibrahim-led government’s collapse was imminent.

By now, most discerning Malaysians dismiss Hadi’s statements as reflective of anachronistic Islam which most people can’t relate to except for his ardent followers who gave his party 42 seats in the Dewan Rakyat and which is a very good reason why a possible change of government should be taken seriously.

A new government can only be formed if GPS and GRS with 23 and 6 parliamentary seats respectively leave the unity government and join the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN), which has 72 seats, which only gives it a total of 101 seats, and is insufficient to form a majority government. With PAS the dominant partner in PN, it is unlikely that the multi-religious GPS and GRS would join PN.

If there’s any truth in Hadi’s prediction, it can only imply that other MPs from other parties in the government will defect.

Such a possibility may be hatching behind the scenes and while it is not apparent, Hadi’s prediction signals discontent among the Malay-majority Opposition MPs and that should be taken note of.

The current so-called “unity” government has a comfortable two-thirds majority with 146 seats. But, a major flaw in this government is that it excludes the majority representation of the major race in the country, the Malays. For the first time in Malaysia’s short history, the Malays have lost their majority control of the government and are now in opposition.

While the majority of the Cabinet is made up of Malay ministers, statistics are lacking to prove that they represent the majority of Malays in the country. The only figure that seems undisputed is that 54% of the Malay vote went to PN in the last general election (GE15) and that is represented in the Opposition.

Malay discontent is understandable. And it may express itself by posturing and manoeuvring to reinstate the Malay majority in government and that is their right to do so. If the people want a change of government so that they are better represented in government that is their democratic right and should not be denied — as long as a change is effected constitutionally and not illegitimately like what Bersatu did with PAS’ and Umno’s help in 2020 and Umno did to collapse the PN government in 2021.

Any change of government by the will of the majority must be respected as long as it is done constitutionally. There’s no point in invoking the words of the constitutional monarch; in a parliamentary democracy, the will of the people supersedes. When a majority is formed, the constitutional monarch simply installs the representative government of the people and affirms their will.

In the current situation, a change of government is unlikely unless government MPs leave their parties triggering by-elections under the Anti-hopping Law and the seats are won by the opposition parties. It may take some time for enough MPs to switch sides and by then it may be time for the next general election.

Meanwhile, though, Malay-based parties can be expected to ride on the narrative that the majority race, the Malays, have lost control of the country and swing to an acutely pro-Malay position as former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has taken when he explained why he decided to join Putra.

Tun, of course, is appealing to Malay sentiments to justify his role in Putra. With all due respect, Tun needs to understand that that same strategy cost his former party, Pejuang, a disastrous outing in two elections, the Johor state elections and GE15.

If Tun plans to win seats for Putra, he will be entering a crowded field in the rural Malay voter base where the voters have clearly shown their preference for PN in GE15. Putra may win a few seats. But, if it differentiates from its competitors by seeking Malay rights while respecting the rights of minorities, it may appeal to those segments of rural Malay voters who are not ultra pro-Malay.

That message may also resonate well with the urban Malay voters who have peacefully co-existed with other races for decades.

Asserting Malay rights is a legitimate concern but turning it into a race issue may backfire on Tun’s efforts. He may need to modulate the pro-Malay rhetoric with a more accommodating stance on minority rights. Malay voters now may be more open to such a message rather than the traditionally alienating pro-Malay rhetoric. One will never know for sure until it is tested.

Malay parties, desiring to take control of the government, need to be careful not to go overboard with the pro-Malay rhetoric. They need non-Malay parties to form a majority government. A Malay-based-others-inclusive strategy is the best bet for a stable political future.

Resignation is a good move

Budget 2023 was retabled at the Dewan Rakyat today as the latter was dissolved before the budget was passed in October last year. In the next couple of days, the experts will discuss its pros and cons. Hopefully, it will not divert attention from the equally significant issue of good governance.

When Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) Tasik Gelugor MP Wan Saiful Wan Jan resigned from his post as PN information chief following charges in court for corruption, it was an example of good governance. He was charged in court with two counts of corruption early this week, the first for soliciting a bribe of an unspecified sum and the second for receiving a RM6.96 million bribe related to the Jana Wibawa programme that was instituted when PN president Muhyiddin Yassin was the prime minister.

Wan Saiful has claimed trial to prove his innocence but resigned from his position in his party, Bersatu, which is a partner in PN. A point of note is that the Jana Wibawa programme has been cancelled under Budget 2023. It will be left to be seen if others investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in connection with Jana Wibawa will also face corruption charges in court.

Nevertheless, it is commendable that Wan Saiful chose to resign. Hopefully, it will be an example others will follow.

If MPs hold public office, they too, like Wan Saiful, must resign from their positions. This is the political culture that must be practised by our politicians. Anyone holding public office must resign from their positions if they are charged in court whether for corruption or any other crime or suit. If they are acquitted of or pardoned for all charges, they can return to their positions.

If the person charged is an MP, he/she need not resign as an MP for the duration of the case until found guilty. Whether that MP can continue to represent his/her voters will depend on the decision the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat makes according to the law or the MP’s party makes.

Former prime minister, Najib Razak, remained an MP while his corruption case was going on on the grounds that a person is “innocent until found guilty”. That’s true but it would have been better if he hadn’t in order to ensure good governance. Anyone charged in court will raise doubts about his/her integrity and whether he/she can be trusted with taxpayer’s funds and resources.

Politicians should not force such doubts on voters as voters may react and vote against them. To avoid the risk of losing votes and demonstrating that the MP is worthy of the voters’ trust, it would be better for MPs facing court charges to step down from public office.

Wan Saiful and PN have set a bar for political conduct. Although PN became a government through a coup, without the mandate of the people, it appears as if it is taking measures to correct itself. It’s a good start and if PN MPs continue holding themselves to the highest standards of public service, it can only augur well for the coalition.

The big question now is whether the Pakatan Harapan (PH)-led unity government will do the same with regard to its ministers who are facing court charges. Against Wan Saiful’s resignation, Anwar’s unity Cabinet, which includes Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and other Umno MPs facing court charges in court, doesn’t look too good.

PH started off well, whipping up support with its calls for reforms and good governance. Now, in government, while implementing some reforms, it seems to be acting no differently than previous administrations with regard to good governance.

PH needs to be very careful how it conducts itself in government. If it doesn’t, it may lose its pole position as the advocate for reforms and integrity in government as other parties and coalitions take over that role.

Why didn’t Nurul Izzah say ‘No!’

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has appointed five experts to an advisory body to advise him as the finance minister. The team will be led by Petronas adviser Tan Sri Hassan Marican. The others are FVSB executive chairman Datuk Ahmad Fuad Md Ali, Sunway University economics professor Dr Yeah Kim Leng, Universiti Malaya economics professor Datuk Dr Rajah Rasiah and, Sarawak Energy Bhd chairman Datuk Abdul Hamed Sepawi.

It was not stated if the team includes Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah who was appointed as senior finance adviser and has been serving in that capacity since Jan 3 on a pro bono basis (So, are the experts!). So, what then does Nurul do in the finance ministry?

According to Anwar, her duty is to ensure transparency in the administration and to monitor government tender procurement to ensure that they are done in an orderly manner, the New Straits Times reported.

Anwar may be serious about his reason or reasons for Nurul’s appointment but it seems dubious as it raises questions on the need for such an appointment.

Aren’t there staff in the finance ministry already doing the job assigned to Nurul? Will she be duplicating their job or checking on them? Why would she have to do this job which ministry staff should be doing, anyway? Surely, there are senior staff these staff report to to check on them? So, why is Nurul needed to duplicate their duties? Just appoint a finance minister!

Her job is redundant unless there’s an ulterior motive — to dig up dirt. If so, Anwar needs to tread very carefully because he has to contend with the Official Secrets Act. If Nurul is working for the government — even for free — she is subject to the Official Secrets Act and if found having divulged official secrets to the prime minister, she — and the prime minister, too — could be taken to court.

So, Anwar is putting his daughter in a compromising position. Having the ear of her father, she will also put the staff on tenterhooks because they won’t know what feedback will be brought to her father’s attention. Is this creating a positive work environment reflective of a reform-minded prime minister?

By placing a close relative in a position with access to government information and reporting to him, Anwar has blurred the lines between filial loyalty and professional accountability.

It is the same with Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul who has denied claims that his son was appointed as a special officer to assist him in Parliament. He went to great lengths to explain that his son Muhammad Iqbal was working for him and is paid out of his own pocket.

If Muhammad Iqbal is not working for the government, then, he shouldn’t use government resources to help his father; he shouldn’t have an office in his father’s office. He can work from anywhere else to help his father but not in the government.

If Nurul’s position in the finance ministry is to help her father and not the government, then she should not have an office in the ministry nor have the authority to access information privy only to government staff.

Even if technically not illegal, family members should not work for their parents in an official capacity in government. Anwar may follow the practice of former US President Donald Trump who appointed his daughter and son-in-law to key positions.

Surely, Anwar is aware that that was one of the factors that led to the loss of support from both his own Republican Party and those who voted for him previously and which led to Trump failing to win a second term as president.

If Anwar continues making indefensible decisions, he, too, risks losing ground support and it may not bode well for his unity government.

It is hard to believe that Nurul is not aware of the issues surrounding her appointment. What is most baffling is that this child of Reformasi who for two decades chanted “corruption and cronyism” alongside her father quietly acquiesced to the latter when put in a similarly compromising position.

She must have her reasons but what is demonstrated is an inability to say “No!” when the situation warranted it, and, as a result, she has disqualified herself from public office. If she can’t say “No!” to her father, can she say “No!” to his supporters who come to her for help? What proof has she demonstrated that she would not be influenced or manipulated?

Has Nurul been infected with the common Malaysian political malaise? Vocal and strident in calling out corruption, cronyism and bad governance and demanding reforms when in the opposition, but when the power of government is within grasp, all such lofty principles and constitutional adherence are thrown out and replaced by gutter-driven political expediency or convenience or plain cheating?

It is because of this one characteristic that Malaysian politics is in the state it is in. Malaysian politicians can’t say “No!” to power and position and that is the reason why they can be easily bought. Woe on the people if they are placed in public office!

It is extremely disappointing that the poster girl of Reformasi was unable to resist the Malaysian political malaise. Very, very disappointing indeed.

There’s a silver lining …

… to those who were sacked or suspended by Umno last Friday! The Umno supreme council sacked 44 party members and suspended four. They included big names such as former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Selangor Umno chairman Tan Sri Noh Omar who were sacked and Sembrong Member of Parliament Hishammuddin Hussein who was suspended.

There were other key people too among them such as the former Johor state assemblyman Datuk Maulizan Bujang, former Jempol MP Datuk Seri Mohd Salim Sharif, and former Umno information chief Shahril Sufian Hamdan.

According to Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan, they were sacked or suspended for ‘becoming independent candidates, candidates for parties other than Barisan Nasional (BN), and being involved in assisting opponent parties during the 15th general election (GE15).”

Their party may have punished them for whatever reason and it may be a bitter pill to swallow but consider the options because the choices these 48 make may well change the course of Malaysian politics in the very near future!

Those sacked will now have to decide whether to continue in politics or join a new party or form a party. They have one very positive factor in their favour; they no longer carry the corruption and arrogance baggage associated with their former party. And that may work to their advantage!

Those who have been suspended may choose to sit out their six-year suspension period or choose to leave the party. If they want to start all over again without the Umno baggage, the latter is a suitable exit strategy! Since only Hishammuddin is an MP in the purged group, the departure of the rest will not trigger the application of the Anti-hopping law.

Should Hishammudin decide to leave Umno, the Sembrong MP will trigger a by-election which may be a safe test to gauge his support and/or lack of support for Umno. If he is sure of his grassroots support he can either stand as an independent or join another party. He may lose but with the current mood against Umno and the Umno-Pakatan Harapan (PH) tie-up, it’s a risk that could pay off.

The point is that with the purge an opportunity has now opened up to form a new coalition without the Umno and Umno-PH baggage. So, these 48 politicians now in limbo need to think through the options clearly and shop around to form the best possible alternative to the current status quo.

Firstly, they need to size up the current political climate correctly. In doing so, the 48 need to keep in mind three key points.

1. Don’t let the desire to become prime minister be the overriding factor. If it does, the 48 will willingly make compromises to assume and stay in power and agree to the formation of backdoor governments, and lose their credibility in the process. The Perikatan Nasional (PN), Umno-led, and now the so-called PH-led unity governments of Muhyiddin Yassin, Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Anwar Ibrahim respectively are proof of it.

All three administrations were established with the help of the king without the mandate of the people, even if at that time, the unity government was the choiceless alternative to keep radically Islamic PAS as the single party which won the most number of seats out of government.

2. Determine to do everything within the leeway the federal constitution provides and according to the norms and conventions of parliamentary democracy. It is the MPs who must fight to ensure the sovereignty of the government and that can only happen if they alone form a government without being indebted to anyone outside of Parliament.

There will be attempts to interfere by external forces such as the constitutional monarch and rulers, businesses and/or a superpower like the United States. This will happen only if MPs let them. If MPs stand firm on the constitution and refuse to let any external force influence the outcome of a general election, and make no compromises, there will be no interference, and the government will be indebted to no one except the people.

MPs must find their conviction in defending the rights of the people — not that of power brokers. When they find that conviction they would be in a strong position to fight on behalf of the people and the sincerity and strength of their conviction will make it easier to sell their position to other parties and to negotiate around. The end result will be a sovereign government respected by the people and other nations.

If the 48 form or join a party or coalition and become MPs or assemblypersons and a few of them are nominated to become a menteri besar (chief minister) or prime minister without making any constitutional compromise, he/she achieves the position in the proper way and will be respected.

3. With the above two factors in mind, either form a new party or join an existing one. But there are some parties that must not be courted. PN, PH and PAS.

Join PN if the intention is to advance PAS’ Islamic state. PN’s lead partner, Bersatu, is bent on keeping PAS in tow to get the numbers and all other parties recognizing the multi-cultural characteristics of Malaysian society will eschew both parties.

PH must not be courted as long as it embraces the court-cluster-led Umno. Some of the 48 may want to join PH partner Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as its philosophy may be closer to their beliefs. They should think before they leap.

PH won only 11% of the Malay vote and how much of that went to PKR is yet to be known. In other words, PKR probably won seats on a combination of urban non-Malay or mostly Chinese, and Malay votes.

Right now there are rumblings on the ground as to whether the voters made a mistake in voting for an Anwar-led PH as a result of the latter’s decision to include Umno MPs facing court charges for corruption, in the Cabinet, the constitutional basis for forming the unity government and accommodation of the rulers in government matters.

The 48 should stand for election either as independents or as candidates of a party in the state elections to test voter support. It would be better if they formed a new party or joined an existing party like Warisan or Pejuang to see if voter disgruntlement will be expressed for an alternative Malay-based party/coalition. The small parties can join together to form a new Malay-based coalition.

In GE15, Pejuang tested the voters through Gerakan Tanah Air but failed miserably. But the current sentiments on the ground are different. There is disquiet over the lack of firmness to deal with corruption while reforms take a back seat. The risk is that the 48 may lose but they would have tried and, in reality, they lose nothing.

Should the coalition of small parties make headway in the state elections, the momentum may begin for a repeat in a general election. It may pull parties not altogether happy to be associated with the court-cluster-led Umno and its accommodating partner PH, out of the unity government in a general election and a new, baggage-free axis of Malay-based power inclusive of parties representing other communities may emerge that is democratic, constitutional, representative of the people and confident because it has the mandate of the people.

To the 48, think of what you can do to change Malaysia’s political landscape, perhaps, forever. Think and act for the good of the country. In the cloud of gloom you may be in, there IS a silver lining.

What’s the basis for Anwar’s decisions?

Just before Chinese New Year, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said that the status of Sabah and Sarawak as regions rather than states must be referred to the rulers before the issue is submitted to the Cabinet for consideration.

Speaking to reporters after chairing a Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) meeting, he said, “We need to respect the process.” However, he gave no explanation as to whether this process was spelt out in the federal constitution.

The people have a right to know if the decision he has made to refer a government matter such as the MA63 to the rulers before they are discussed by the Cabinet and then Parliament, is within the ambit of the federal constitution.

In the parliamentary democracy that Malaysia practises, the prime minister is the head of government and is first and foremost accountable to Parliament and presents all matters of government such as amendments to the federal constitution to Parliament first. When Parliament approves the amendments, they are then sent to the king who knows what he should do and what he need not do as according to the constitution.

If Anwar is departing from the usual procedure, he needs to explain on what constitutional grounds he has made the decision. In the absence of a reason for such a decision, it appears as if he is deferring to the rulers and seeking their approval/input before sending the amendments to Parliament. If this is the correct procedure, he needs to back it according to the constitution on the advice of the Attorney-General (A-G).

The A-G’s advice should also come under the scrutiny of his peers to ascertain if he has interpreted the constitution correctly. If he hasn’t, then he should be removed and replaced with an A-G who has a better and fuller grasp of the constitution.

The people have a right to know if the prime minister is making decisions according to the constitution and if he is getting the correct advice on an important issue such as referring government matters to the rulers first when the latter are not supposed to interfere with government matters.

Likewise with Anwar’s decision to include Members of Parliament facing court charges in the Cabinet. It will have a bearing on court decisions as clearly seen as Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has filed an application in the High Court to have his passport returned permanently.

The passport was previously surrendered to the court as an additional bail condition after he was charged with 47 charges of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering involving Akalbudi Foundation funds. Zahid’s reason is to carry out his duties as the DPM.

Whether the court will reverse its decision is yet to be seen but it puts the court in an awkward position and begs the question as to whether Anwar’s decision places added pressure on the court to revisit its decision. Shouldn’t a prime minister’s responsibility include refraining from adding pressure on the courts?

Anwar may have other reasons for making the decisions he is making which the people don’t need to know. The people only need to know if he is acting according to the constitution and the accepted conventions of parliamentary democracy. That remains invisible, especially in the above decisions.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Drive safe, eat well, enjoy family, relatives and friends and if you are out holidaying somewhere, soak in the new experience! It’s a long weekend, so all Malaysians can enjoy the occasion too in whatever way we want to.

Enjoy Yee Sang. These days we can get it from anywhere. Toss the ingredients together and raise your noodles as high as you can raise it for longevity! In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit signifies longevity — so do noodles, and hence the tradition of raising your noodles as high as you can go when tossing yee sang! The rabbit also signifies peace and prosperity and the Year of the Rabbit 2023 is said to be a year of hope.

So, wishing all of you a peaceful, happy and prosperous new year and one that is full of hope and health that will give you good long years ahead!

Folks, this long weekend, take a break and be full of hope for a better year.

Wishing all a wonderful Chinese New Year!

The problem with the AG’s proposal

Attorney-General Idrus Harun’s proposal to make the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Federal Constitution the authoritative text was surprising in terms of timeliness.

He has been a fairly quiet AG having made only a few press statements in his position since he was appointed two years ago and it is hard to understand why at the close of his tenure he would make a proposal that would have great significance in the interpretation and application of the constitution.

It is very likely that Azhar would be replaced by the new government. So to make such a proposal now would seem like he wanted to get it started immediately so that subsequent AGs can follow through on it.

There’s nothing wrong with making the BM translation of the Federal Constitution the authoritative text especially since it is stated in the constitution. However, it is a project that requires much study and should be undertaken by experts who know both English and BM to make the translation as accurate as possible to the original. That would require intellectual skills to grasp the breadth and depth of the Federal Constitution and the nuances each law encapsulates.

In the absence of such able experts, the translation might be a watered-down version of the Federal Constitution and would be detrimental to serving justice.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), in expressing its concern over Idrus’ proposal, said it could impact cases where one parent converted his or her child or children to another religion.

It noted that the Federal Court ruled in the M Indira Gandhi case that in Article 12(4), the singular word “parent” included the plural “parents” whereas the BM translation of the Federal Constitution, stated that “The religion of a minor below the age of 18 must be determined by the mother, father or guardian.”

The BM translation thus allows one parent or guardian to determine the religion of the minor whereas the court interpreted the English version of “parent” to include parents, which means both parents must agree to the minor’s conversion.

The issue is still being considered by the courts. It, however, shows how the BM translation did not include the concept of parenthood as a combined responsibility of both parents rather than one parent or guardian and chose to limit the definition to a narrower and literal rendering of the English word “parent”.

The BM translation of Article 12(4) is an example of how a word or words not carefully chosen could create a divergence in interpretation that would affect the lives of citizens seeking redress in the courts.

Any BM translation of the Federal Constitution must eliminate such divergence in interpretation. It’s a mammoth job requiring years of research and study and should not be proposed by an AG who might not last long in his job.