The only option left for the PN coalition

I’m dumbfounded after reading a news report which quoted two local “political analysts” who claimed that the call for a parliamentary sitting was aimed at questioning the government’s legitimacy for having lost its majority.

In a Malaysiakini report today, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) geostrategist Azmi Hassan said, “The problem is when the Parliament sitting is exploited for political agenda, such as to pressure the prime minister to resign, to dissolve the Parliament, to question the majority, and so on.” And that it is not used for check-and-balance of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thinking along the same lines, another political analyst, Jeniri Amir, said that the Parliament sitting can be resumed “if the lawmakers only focus on five aspects – namely Covid-19, security, education, the people, and policy”.

Unbelievable! This coming from so-called scholars! Firstly, if such scholars need to be told that a government can’t operate unless it is legitimate, I don’t know if it’s worth considering their input. Secondly, if such scholars are advising the Prihatin Nasional (PN) coalition, then, it’s no wonder that the coalition refuses to resign from occupying the government of Malaysia.

I wonder if people who hold such notions understand democracy and democratic practices and conventions. The fundamental basis of democracy is rule by the majority. If a party or coalition can’t get a majority, it can’t rule.

Any democratic government must first establish it has the support of the majority. If it can’t prove that support, it can not rule. It’s as simple as that! Parliament’s role includes establishing if a ruling government has that majority. It’s not a case of “politicking”; it’s the MPs’ job to ensure that the votes of the majority are respected.

Scholars need to be told all this?

Does Muhyiddin Yassin, Bersatu president and head of the PN coalition, need to be told this? Is he adhering to democratic principles or using political expediency to remain as prime minister?

On Jan 9, when the Machang MP Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub (Umno) withdrew his support for Muhyiddin and the number of MPs supporting Muhyiddin dropped to 110 of the 220 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat, the PN coalition lost its majority. The PN government automatically fell on Jan 9 and it should have resigned and advised the Agong to call for a new government with a majority. But, it didn’t do that.

It continued to remain in government although it is now an occupying government — not elected, a minority and operating without legitimacy. On Jan 12,  the Padang Rengas MP Nazri Aziz (Umno) announced his withdrawal of support for Muhyiddin and the number of PN’s MPs went down to 109, clearly showing PN has lost its majority. Why didn’t PN resign?

Instead, as an illegitimate government, Muhyiddin ran to the Agong and sought for Emergency purportedly to manage the covid-19 pandemic, which he got, and when it was gazetted, the government prior to Jan 11 (the day he saw the Agong) was retroactively recognised as the government of the day. But, between Jan 9 and Jan 11, the PN coalition was an illegitimate government. So, an illegitimate government was allowed to rule under Emergency, thanks to Muhyiddin’s clever politics.

Since the Emergency was declared by the Agong, everyone is respecting that decision and not questioning it. But, does Muhyiddin realise that since he was given emergency powers only to manage the covid-19 pandemic, all the decisions he can make can only be related to the management of the covid-19 pandemic?

Neither he nor any of his Cabinet members can represent the government of Malaysia in any other capacity except in relation to the management of the covid-19 pandemic. They can’t make official visits abroad or locally. They can’t make any appointments or policy decisions. They can’t make new allocations. They can’t make public addresses. They can’t do any of the above or any other aspect of government except where it concerns the management of the covid-19 pandemic.

If the PN emergency government does anything other than that related to the pandemic, all of it can be thrown out when a new government takes over or challenged in court.

The best option for the PN coalition is to resign. It’s not just the person assuming the prime minister’s position who should resign, but all the PN members assuming Cabinet positions must resign. The reason for this is because it is an unelected minority government that was not reinstalled officially when it lost its majority on Jan 9 and automatically fell as a government.

If the PN coalition had resigned and then reinstalled by the Agong as an interim government until a majority government is formed, there would be no question of its legitimacy. But if the PN government resigns and another coalition is able to command a majority, that coalition becomes the new government.

It is when a ruling party or coalition loses its majority that it falls — automatically. It is not when the prime minister resigns that the ruling party or coalition falls. When a PM resigns because he has lost the support of the ruling party or coalition, someone else from the party or coalition can become the PM. But if the ruling party or coalition loses its majority, the prime minister must tender his resignation and the resignation of his entire Cabinet.

That’s what has happened in Italy. The previous Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned when the small Italia Viva party withdrew from the ruling coalition leaving him with a minority. He didn’t resign because he lost the support of his party. Italian president Sergio Mattarella then called on former European Central Bank president Mario Draghi to form a majority. He succeeded and faced a confidence vote in Parliament which he won handsomely.

That’s the procedure for forming a majority government when a ruling government loses its majority in a democracy. If that procedure was followed in Malaysia, we would not be in the state we are in now.

A year ago, when former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition remained intact. Bersatu, his party then, could have replaced him with another candidate and submitted that name to the PH coalition for consideration. PH could have accepted, rejected and/or nominated its own candidate until a consensus was reached through negotiations.

However, that possibility did not materialise because, within hours of Mahathir’s resignation, Muhyiddin withdrew Bersatu from PH causing it to lose its majority and hence that government fell automatically. Muhyiddin was subsequently named as PM because he could get a majority with Umno’s support. The expectation was that that nomination would face a confidence vote in Parliament and there was still time for another coalition to be formed. Within a day, Mahathir was able to form another coalition with 113 MPs’ support, which means Muhyiddin lost his majority.

By right, Muhyiddin should have told the Agong then that he had lost the majority and advised him to contact Mahathir to test his majority. That’s how it is played out in a democracy. But, Muhyiddin did not do that.

One year later, Muhyiddin has done the same. He lost his majority on Jan 9 and he should have resigned. He didn’t resign and is continuing as an uninstalled government. He may have non-democratic reasons for wanting to remain in government. If that is so, he should announce what those reasons are and seek reelection and if he gets a two-third majority he can amend the Federal Constitution to suit his purposes. Until then, he has to abide by the Federal Constitution and follow the correct procedures of establishing a legitimate government. Failing to do so would simply make the PN coalition an illegitimate government. He needs to speak with constitutional experts to guide him in the decisions he has to make.

If Muhyiddin is serious about setting a good example for future potential prime ministers, he and his Cabinet will resign. That’s the only option left and the honourable thing to do.

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