Sabah got it right

Sabah Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin should be commended for the way he managed the transition of government from the previous to the new after the recently concluded state elections.

The election results were inconclusive; no party won a majority of seats. In the absence of a majority by any party, he did the right thing in calling on the party which won the most number of seats to form a coalition. Parti Warisan Sabah, headed by former chief minister Shafie Apdal, won 18 seats against Umno’s 14 and Bersatu’s 11.

Juhar gave Shafie time to form a coalition. When the latter failed to get the numbers because Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) chose not to join the Warisan Plus coalition, Umno and Bersatu were next called to form the government. PBS with its seven seats joined Umno and Bersatu to form the majority government under the banner of Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS).

This is the democratic convention of forming a government when election results are inconclusive. It must be noted here that GRS isn’t a registered coalition and should not have claimed victory when the results were announced. In fact, when Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin first announced the name on the eve of nominations, the Election Commission (EC) should have declared that the parties could not campaign under the GRS label because it wasn’t registered. The parties, anyway, decided to go it independently under their respective party symbol. When they didn’t get a majority they decided to join forces under the GRS banner which is typical of the BN-PN (Prihatin Nasional) government to seize whatever loophole they can get to get power. That would have been preempted if the Election Commission had knowledge of the law and enforced it.

It would also be advisable for the EC to present the official results to the Yang di-Pertua Negeri so that he knows which party to call to form a government when results are inconclusive.

It’s imperative that such conventions are followed to avoid chaos so that no party can claim victory. If such conventions were followed, we would not have an unelected government as we do now. When the Sheraton Moves took place and former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned, it created a very fluid political situation that should have been managed with the same caution that the Sabah Yang di-Pertua Negeri showed. If other candidates were claiming a majority it should have been tested as Juhar did and we would not be stuck with an unelected government with questionable legitimacy. Instead it appeared as if there was a hurry to swear in Muhyiddin as prime minister.

In a changing political landscape, it is necessary to look to the constitution to ensure that the rule of law is followed. Constitutional experts must be consulted so that politicians are seen following the law. The public needs to see that politicians are observing the rule of law in order to accept them as the rightful leaders even when their side loses.

So, even if Warisan lost the Sabah elections we can accept it because the rule of law was followed. The same can’t be said of the PN government because of the way it was installed when it didn’t have a majority.

As such it opens itself up to be toppled by a party or coalition which can summon a majority. That may be necessary to install a government with a majority. So, we are now faced with political uncertainty because the rule of law was not observed.

In Sabah, Shafie has said Warisan would not “entice” GRS assemblymen to defect to topple the new government. That is the right thing to do because essentially the rule of law was followed and the votes of the people are respected, hence there’s political stability.

That’s something we can learn in Peninsular Malaysia. Until a legitimate government is set in place, there will be political uncertainty and instability.

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