Factors to consider in strategies for GE15

There are two distinct outcomes of the Malacca state elections to take note of seriously in preparing for the upcoming 15th General Election (GE15).

Firstly, opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) should realise by now that it would be foolhardy for it to go into an election alone. PH, led by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, entered the election without the help of other opposition parties like Pejuang, Muda and Warisan.

Warisan is Sabah-based and could not have been much help but Pejuang and Muda, which are Peninsula-based, could have lent their election machinery or shown their solidarity with PH parties by their presence on the campaign trail. Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s statement that Anwar should consider other opposition parties in seeking cooperation is telling.

Muda had wanted to contest in the state elections under PH but apparently changed its mind when PH decided to accept the two Umno assemblymen from the four who withdrew their support for the Umno-led state government causing the Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Ali Rustam to dissolve the assembly and call for fresh elections. The two were then sacked from Umno but PH coalition parties PKR accepted one and Amanah the other.

Muda apparently did not want to be associated with a coalition that accepted the defectors whose action triggered the state elections. Both Muda and PH might have had their reasons for making the decisions they did but Syed Saddiq’s point is worthy of note: PH should consider the sensitivities of its fellow opposition parties rather than choose a course of action where they go it alone.

Pejuang had previously announced it was not participating in the state elections but if PH had cordial relations with Pejuang the latter might have helped in some other ways that might have worked in PH’s favour.

Yet, Pejuang chairman helped from a distance. On the eve of polling day, Pejuang chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad asked for bloc voting (where every MP’s vote is recorded) rather than voice voting in passing Budget 2022 at the policy stage at the Dewan Rakyat. He failed in his attempt because PH MPs bound by the MoU did not vote for it. A minimum of 15 MP’s votes is required before the request is carried through.

If bloc voting was allowed and the Budget was defeated or won by a very close margin it might have affected the votes in the Malacca state elections. A strong united assault by the opposition would have suggested a possibility that it could win and swing more votes to PH.

It was a missed opportunity and we will never know how it would have affected the state elections. It just showed that PH failed to seize an opportunity that offered itself and use it to its advantage. PH demonstrated that same indifference in not voting against the previous Budget last year and in failing to do so legitimised an unconstitutional government. It did the same when former premier Muhyiddin Yassin resigned in August. PH could have approached Sarawak’s GPS to join it to gain a majority or let Warisan president Shafie Apdal take the lead in approaching GPS. That didn’t happen. So, we will never know now if PH could have succeeded on any of these three occasions.

These events were missed opportunities for PH to show it can work with and lead a multi-party coalition to win. If the PH leadership can not demonstrate the resolve to unite the opposition to face GE15, it will be unable to form the next federal government.

Secondly, the bank of votes in Malay-majority constituencies are no longer guaranteed to Umno. According to DAP’s Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming, Barisan Nasional’s (BN) vote share in the Malacca state elections saw only a slight increase of 1%.

However, political analyst Bridget Welsh, who is also an honorary research associate of the University of Nottingham, in her preliminary analysis of the state elections said that while Umno got a 5% increase in votes PKR lost only a small share of the vote, from 10% to 9% in its wiped-out seat losses. In eight seats Umno won by narrow margins of less than 5%.

This suggests that with a concerted and united effort, PH may be able to win back the seats it lost and, perhaps, even win new seats.

Of all the parties that took part in the state elections, it is said that Bersatu performed beyond expectations because it was expected to be wiped out but, instead, won two seats in Sungai Udang and Bemban. Welsh attributes this to the younger voters who were looking for alternatives to Umno and found it in Bersatu.

Bersatu president Muhyiddin however may not be jumping for joy. With all the cash that he poured into the hands of the B40 group during his administration under the guise of covid-19 aid and which continues under Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Muhyiddin believed he could make a clean sweep. After all, just before he resigned he did say that “millions” supported him.

That would be a sobering fact that the support he thought he had was illusory.

The Malacca state elections reveal that the Malay-majority voters have seen through the antics of their leaders and have not fallen for it. Voter turnout was low at around 66%; cash aid didn’t tempt voters to surge out of their homes to vote. Fear of covid-19 and being fatigued by self-serving politics could be the reasons for the poor turnout. But, it can also mean that an increasing number of Malay voters are now ready to vote for candidates other than Umno.

If Umno believes its performance in the Malacca polls will be repeated in GE15, it is going to be disappointed. Malay-majority seats will become the battlegrounds in GE15 and it will be fought hard by multiple parties in multi-cornered fights.

Umno, Bersatu, PAS, Amanah and PKR in some cases, and Pejuang will be contesting in the Malay-majority seats. Pejuang has already announced that it intends to contest in 120 of the traditionally Malay seats held by Umno.

Malay votes are going to be split. No one Malay party is going to get a majority to form a government on its own. It will be forced to form coalitions. The Malay parties like Umno, PAS and Bersatu may go it alone and when unable to get a majority will join forces together with Sabah and Sarawak parties, post-elections.

If, however, Pejuang emerges with a significant number of Malay seats, it would be interesting to see how the coalitions change to accommodate it. The first choice of Malay-based parties will be other Malay-based parties, which means PH will only get the leftover parties and it may not be enough to form a government.

It would be in PH’s interests to preempt that possibility by entering the elections with an already firmed-up coalition. Otherwise, it may be left in the cold on the opposition bench.

The Sarawak elections on Dec 18 will see if Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) will slice into GPS’ super majority. If it does, that is another party PH has to consider to form a PH-Plus coalition.

PH should first consider fellow opposition parties like Warisan, Pejuang, Muda and PSB to form a PH-Plus coalition. It will be the only progressive coalition that will be led by both urban and non-urban Malays and represent all the major people groups that make up Malaysia. It would be a formidable coalition that will be hard to defeat.

That is an opportunity that GE15 offers. PH should make sure that it does not become another missed opportunity. It is up to Anwar to make sure that that opportunity happens.

Will the Budget be passed?

Likely? Maybe? It has already been passed at the policy stage by a voice vote. Warisan, Pejuang and Muda MPs’ request for a bloc vote — which would have recorded every MP’s vote or whether he/she abstained — was rejected because it failed to get the minimum 15 MPs’ votes needed to allow it.

Pakatan Harapan MPs, bound by the MoU they signed with the Ismail Sabri Yaacob unconstitutional government, did not support the three other opposition parties’ request. That is a pity because a bloc vote would have revealed the actual level of support for Budget 2022. Now, we will never know because the MoU has prevented the gauge of actual support.

Understandably, MPs in the Sabri government who may not be supportive of the race-centric budget did not support the request for a bloc vote. They, too, upheld the pacts their parties made with partners in the government.

As a result, because of the pacts made, MPs have their hands tied up and have failed to follow the norms of parliamentary debate and use the tools available in a parliamentary democracy to vote according to the interests of their constituents.

What checks and balances are there now in the Dewan Rakyat? They have been neutralised by the pacts political parties have made with each other. PH MPs do question the government and express their criticisms but the government continues as it likes. What is evident is that more MPs have become silent.

In the face of a weak Dewan Rakyat, the government continues to function with impunity. This isn’t what we, the people, elected our MPs for.

In this culture of pact-beholden compromised MPs, it is heartening to see Pejuang, Warisan and especially Muda MPs conducting themselves in the way parliamentarians should — as free agents in the Dewan Rakyat.

Muda’s young MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman stands out for supporting the request for bloc voting. Though young, he understands the significance of an MP’s vote and knows how the game should be played according to the rules of the Dewan Rakyat, discerning when to support an initiative and when not to. My hope is that he doesn’t get sucked into the current culture of making pacts to get what the leaders want.

In answer to my headline question, Budget 2022 will likely be passed at the final stage because PH will honour the MoU. Unless, however, the outcome of the state elections in Malacca tomorrow favours PH and it forms the state government.

If PH wins, it might reject the budget — on the confidence that the people may be willing to vote for it — and trigger the process to form a majority coalition in the Dewan Rakyat or be prepared for a general election, following a defeated budget.

PH got a helping hand from Pejuang chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who exposed former premier Najib Razak’s request for a piece of free land — under an Act that offers such gifts to former prime ministers — in the Dewan Rakyat. Najib has been convicted and found guilty of corruption charges. Until the Appeals Court rejects the High Court decision, he is considered guilty and Mahathir questioned why the current Cabinet was considering such a request from a convicted premier.

That expose might cost Umno candidates some votes that might benefit PH. We will have to wait to see the results of tomorrow’s election to know for sure. My inclination is for PH to win because it is the logical best choice for Malacca.

Whether PH wins or loses tomorrow’s elections, it is hoped that the coalition will initiate or support a request for bloc voting when Budget 2022 is presented for final reading.

It’s the people’s right to know how their elected MPs voted with regard to the budget that will affect every citizen. No pact or deal should deprive the people of that right.

Should this Budget be passed?

In Malaysia’s RM332.1 billion Budget 2022 — the largest Budget so far — RM11.4 billion have been allocated to bumiputras and only a 2.6% equivalent or RM300 million to non-bumiputras. This works out to RM577 per bumiputra and RM75 per Indian and RM15 per Chinese. How on Earth can Members of Parliament ever pass this brazenly racist, grossly unbalanced distribution of wealth to citizens with a clear conscience?

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government no doubt represents the more undeveloped bumiputra majority and allocating more funds to this community to develop and bring them up to par with the more developed urban communities is justifiable. But the Ismail government is an unconstitutional government waiting to hold a general election as soon as possible, perhaps, as early as next year, to seek legitimacy. If so, how much of that RM11.4 billion plus all the other allocations for Islamic development and such will go into actual development plans for the bumiputras in so short a time before the elections?

The most the Ismail government can do is to find ways to put that money as cash in the hands of the target community which is their political base to ensure their support in the event of a general election. If the bumiputra allocation was a moderate sum calculated based on the cost of programmes to bring about long-term benefits to bumiputras with a similar need-based allocation for the Indian community and a sensible allocation to help the Chinese especially during these trying pandemic times, such allocations would be acceptable because it is need-based and fair, even if the bumiputras got more.

As it is, the RM11.4 billion for bumiputras is clearly not need-based. It is an inordinate sum diverted to the Ismail government’s political base and combined with the one-off RM700 handout to civil servants are evidently aimed at ensuring the survival of the current leaders in the face of a general election. It’s as good as broad daylight highway robbery because much of that money comes from taxpayers the majority of whom are not the bumiputra majority.

The people can no longer be foisted with an unconstitutional government and one which uses taxpayers’ money to ensure its survival rather than make funds work for the people. This government can’t be allowed to continue to govern with impunity.

It does not heed constructive criticisms and compromises the law as it plays politics among the coalition partners in order to maintain a simple majority and at what costs?

The prosecution looks suspiciously compromised. Former prime minister Najib Razak who was found guilty of corruption walks around free and is able to get his passport to visit his daughter in Singapore who is about to deliver a baby. A three-judge panel gave him the approval.

Similarly, Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar Radin obtained a 13-day release of his passport for a business trip to the Middle East this month from the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court where he is facing criminal charges. While we do not question the judges’ rulings, we certainly question why the prosecution didn’t raise objections. Would the judges’ decisions have been different if the prosecution had raised objections?

Najib was convicted by a court and Bung Moktar is facing criminal charges of corruption yet they got approval to travel out of the country. If it had been any other citizen, would the prosecution have been so caring and lenient?

MPs should have grilled Attorney General Idrus Harun to answer why Najib is walking around free. No doubt he is appealing his conviction but why is the appeal not being heard soon as if it isn’t a priority?

This is the kind of AG and prosecution we’ll have under the Malay-majority government.

Businesses, especially small-and-medium-sized ones, are floundering with little support from the government. Despite former premier Muhyiddin Yassin helming the National Recovery Council, we see no concrete course of action to stimulate economic recovery and Bursa Malaysia remains in the doldrums. The business community apparently is showing no confidence in either Muhyiddin’s or Ismail’s leadership.

We may have achieved close to a 76% vaccinated population (latest Health Ministry figures as reported in The Star on Nov 13 (updating figures)) but the more than 2.5 million active covid 19 cases and a fatality count of 29,535 as of today is on Muyhiddin’s and Ismail’s governments. The figures might have been less if aggressive testing, contact tracing, and vaccination were conducted earlier on. But, we will never know why that didn’t happen.

Prime Minister Ismail seem powerless to control his own party; he was unable to prevent the Malacca state elections, appearing beholden to those who put him in that position and failed to advise the state leadership and prevented unnecessary state elections.

Why are the people stuck with such leadership? Won’t our MPs do what we elected them for? Act on our behalf.

Happy Deepavalli!

As Hindus celebrate the Festival of Lights, Deepavalli, I hope all Malaysians will get a needful present from Budget 2022 tabled today at the Dewan Rakyat. But, don’t be too hopeful. It’s expected to be an election Budget which means, the government’s political base, namely the M20 and B40 groups will get most of the goodies.

Even so, the rest of us might get something. Pakatan Harapan (PH) will be waiting to see if its proposals under the MoU it signed with the current government have been included in the Budget. If the proposals are met, under the MoU, PH will not vote against the Budget or any money bill in order to topple the government.

The current government, however, is an unconstitutional government and for that reason alone — even if they present a forward-looking budget — PH should vote against the Budget. Government revenue and taxpayers’ money should never be put in the hands of a government that has not received the stamp of legitimacy by surviving a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

Should the Budget be passed, the only solution left is to call for elections which I hope will happen sooner rather than later.

So, we are going through uncertain times. But it’s Deepavali, celebrating the hope that light eventually always triumphs over darkness! So, enjoy the festival (which by the way falls on next Thursday) and the holiday it offers and just get on with our lives — until general elections. Then, we will tell our MPs exactly what we think of them!

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?