Perikatan Nasional (PN) leader Muhyiddin Yassin’s 17-month government will go down in history as the only government Malaysia has had so far that failed to prove its majority. From Day 1, he circumvented the issue when he should have faced a no-confidence vote in Parliament which until the last day, he never did.
In not facing a no-confidence vote, he showed an unwillingness to follow democratic conventions and adhering to the words, intent and spirit of the federal constitution. Instead, he made decisions according to his own judgement or on the advice of the people he surrounded himself with.
He insisted soon after he was sworn in that the Agong had sworn him in and that was enough to prove his legitimacy. He failed to understand that when a prime minister resigns or a government falls from a lack of majority, it is followed by a period of political fluidity where political positions can change quickly and that in the spirit of democratic competition such changes must be accommodated.
When Muhyiddin was nominated as prime minister in February last year, he may have had a majority according to the statutory declarations (SD) his supporters made. But, at the same, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad got PKR’s support and the support of other MPs with a total of 113 which means Muhyiddin didn’t have a majority. Muhyiddin jumped the gun and went ahead with the swearing in when Tun’s majority should have been tested.
Soon after, Tun was expelled from Bersatu and he took a number of MPs out of PN with him leaving Muhyiddin without a majority. That was the beginning of Muhyiddin’s efforts to lure MPs over to his side with all sorts of baits.
This is history but the point is that Muhyiddin thus could not prove his majority and, hence, his legitimacy was always questioned. If he had faced a no-confidence vote earlier on, the MPs might have booted him out and we may have better managed the pandemic. The reason for all the political instability that followed was due to the fact that Muhyiddin did not follow the procedures demanded by democratic conventions such as backing off when another MP claims he has a majority and/or facing a no-confidence vote. Both claims should be tested.
Muhyiddin made the same mistake in the current political situation. When the Agong called the 114 MPs who supported Umno’s candidate Ismail Sabri Yaacob to be the next prime minister, he said PN’s support for Sabri was conditional. Constitutionally, as pointed out by lawyer and activist Ambiga Sreenevasan, support for a PM must be unconditional otherwise there might be a change later and the government may fall again. Umno, aware of the significance of the comment, has decided to meet later to discuss its implications before making a decision.
But Muyhiddin’s ex-aide clarified that it is nothing unusual, failing to comprehend that when it comes to a prime minister, it is of great significance. But, that is Muhyiddin’s way: can be a little lax on following the constitution for the sake of political expediency. Look where it has got us.
After the meeting with the Agong, it was reported that Sabri left with outriders. His team must have thought they were going to be sworn in and Sabri named prime minister and hence outriders would be needed to escort the new prime minister. Again, whoever provided him the service — probably under Muhyiddin’s advice — jumped the gun thinking the Agong would repeat the way he swore in Muhyiddin’s team. They just didn’t understand that nothing is final until it is official.
It is a reflection of the lack of knowledge of parliamentary procedures that was the hallmark of Muhyiddin’s tenure.
This time around, the Agong wants to make sure he is truly appointing someone with a majority and so had called the 114 MPs to individually ask them to state their stand. He has also said that the appointed prime minister must face a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat.
The Agong must be credited for nudging the MPs to uphold parliamentary democracy. He kept advising Muhyiddin to face a no-confidence vote in the special Dewan Rakyat sitting but Muhyiddin kept delaying preferring to resign or hold elections knowing fully well that the latter would be impossible in the midst of the raging pandemic. So he resigned.
If he had understood the significance of a no-confidence vote, he would have taken the risk and faced it. In a no-confidence vote, MPs are free to vote anyway they like, and, who knows, he might have won. But, we’ll never know because Muhyiddin had no confidence in a no-confidence vote.
It is really pathetic that it is the Agong who is seen advising the prime minister, Cabinet and MPs on following the tenets of parliamentary democracy when it should be the latter group who should be advising the Agong on the procedures to follow. I wonder if he is being adequately advised by the Attorney-General.
How can we allow such MPs to lead a parliamentary democracy? No one in the Umno-PN camp right now should be allowed to govern until leaders are raised from their ranks who demonstrate a clear understanding and commitment to the federal constitution.
In a couple of hours we’ll know who will be our prime minister. I hope the Agong chooses wisely.