Anwar Ibrahim has now become Malaysia’s 10th prime minister, and with Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) joining the Pakatan Harapan (PH)-led unity government, the new prime minister has announced that he has a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat. A commendable achievement.
Nevertheless, it is worth examining if he earned it.
Winning only 82 seats in GE15 with its ally, Muda, against its opponent Perikatan Nasional (PN)’s 73, PH was unable to form a majority government. Neither was PN. Anwar approached GPS (which won 23 seats) who apparently initially declined, then Barisan Nasional (BN) who wavered to commit to PH. Meanwhile, PN claimed to have a majority while the criticisms rose to give the coalition with the most seats the first chance to form a majority.
After two days the Palace summoned both parties and suggested the plan of a unity government which PN outrightly rejected on the basis it had the majority. The king did not accept the claim and neither did he ask Anwar to form the government.
At this point, Anwar was in the position face-to-face with the king to tell the reigning monarch that according to the federal constitution, he should be called to form the new government. We don’t know if he did. And, if he did, neither were we told of the response.
It was an opportune moment for Anwar to prove his willingness to fight for the upholding of the constitution which every prime minister-designate must demonstrate. In our form of constitutional monarchy-parliamentary democracy, it is the prime minister who leads the fight to ensure that in all his/her dealings and in the affairs of government, he/she and the government abides by the constitution in every way.
Anwar missed that chance. Understandably, he lacked the confidence to assert his claim because he was unsure he could muster a majority. Or, he may have been beholden to the king as, after all, he was pardoned by the reigning monarch after serving time for a sodomy charge when PH was in government.
Whatever his reason, he failed to demonstrate that determination to advise the constitutional monarch to abide by the constitutional requirement to let him as the leader of the coalition with the most seats to form the majority government.
The king may not have listened but Anwar would have made the point clear: it is the prime minister who advises the constitutional monarch when the latter steps out of his authority as stipulated by the constitution and gets involved in government affairs and political manoeuvering and assumes the role of kingmaker. A prime minister-designate should be able to say so.
Anwar did not stand up for the constitution and the king went about summoning BN and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) who went along with the king and agreed to join a PH-led unity government. GPS only agreed after it demanded an apology from PH component partner DAP for saying that the state government would go bankrupt with its hefty spending bills. DAP humbly apologized and GPS accepted and joined the unity government and gave it a majority.
The king then called for a ruler’s conference and it was only after that that he named Anwar the 10th PM and called on him to form a majority government.
Now Anwar is beholden to the king because without his “help” he could not have formed a majority government. Yesterday, the Johor Sultan congratulated Anwar and it is left to be seen to what extent Anwar will maintain the independence of the government without interference from royals.
Anwar is also indebted to the DAP who make up nearly 50% of the 82 seats PH won. But he now has to pay the price of winning the most seats on Chinese support in order to become PM. As a result, the conservative Malay heartland swung to PAS (42 seats) and its ally Bersatu (30 seats).
GE15 has exposed PAS president Hadi Awang’s influence and the country is now even more polarised in Peninsular Malaysia between the rural Malays and the urbanites and between their religions and it poses a threat to national integration. To diminish that threat, GPS and GRS came to Anwar’s rescue to form a majority government. The alternative would have been a PN-led PAS-influenced conservative government going backwards. Anwar is indebted to both GPS and GRS.
Yet, all of this could have been avoided if Anwar was willing to give up his desire to be PM and worked with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA) which was wiped out because it went alone in GE15 without the backing of a coalition. With GTA and Mahathir in it, GPS might have joined it and PH would have won more seats — albeit without Anwar — to confidently form a majority government indebted to no one.
That, perhaps, is what Mahathir had in mind. Mahathir is always 10 steps ahead and if people can’t catch up to him, he is mistrusted and or demonized. But, he is far-sighted politically. PH missed that opportunity because of its insistence that Anwar becomes PM. Now, Anwar is, but lacking in confidence because he is indebted to everyone who put him there.
To strengthen his confidence to lead this nation and become a “PM for all” as he has declared, he must face a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat and win it. His coalition partners who must be credited for admirably putting the nation first and joining the PH-led unity government must give him their full support. A PN-led alternative with PAS as the dominant partner will be disastrous for the nation.
Before the vote, however, Anwar must show in the selection of his cabinet that he will do the right thing and put the nation first. He must choose a solid candidate for the post of deputy prime minister who has the backing of his coalition partners. Anwar will be facing a sodomy case in court and should he be found guilty, he will have to step down and let his deputy ride out the full term of this unity government.
Anwar must demonstrate his willingness to conform to the constitution and uphold the rule of law by doing the right thing. Though convicted, he stood for election. That certainly isn’t a demonstration of complying with the rule of law. He will have no confidence to stand up to opposing forces unless he demonstrates a willingness to do the right thing according to the rule of law. The people accept nothing less. And when he does, his victory will be sweet.