Some very important questions to address first

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Sabri Yaacob announced yesterday that the Covid-19 pandemic management will now be officially known as the Special Committee on Pandemic Management and will include representatives from Opposition parties. A day earlier he said that the Special Covid-19 Aid (BKC) for the hardcore poor, B40 and M40 groups will be channelled to recipients from September 6-11.

These are carry-over programmes set up by his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail may just be announcing their continuation. The question, however, is whether he can make these decisions as prime minister when he is yet to be be sworn in?

It is unusual — and never done in any country — when Cabinet ministers were sworn in before the prime minister was sworn in. How can the prime minister carry out official business without being sworn in? How can a prime minister function legitimately as the prime minister without passing a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat and proving his majority?

The reason given was that Ismail is under quarantine and couldn’t be sworn in with the Cabinet. The reason why he is yet to pass a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat is yet to be given. He doesn’t need to be physically present in the Dewan Rakyat for a confidence vote. There is such a thing as Zoom conferencing!

The procedure of first appointing a prime minister by the Agong and then swearing him/her in and having him/her face a confidence vote in Parliament are constitutional requirements. Until these requirements are met, the prime minister and his/her Cabinet will remain an unconstitutional government.

Until the prime minister is sworn in and his majority proven in the Dewan Rakyat, the caretaker prime minister continues. This is the procedure to install a new government when a previous government falls mid-term from a lack of majority or when a prime minister and his/her Cabinet resigns.

It is extremely disappointing that Umno and Perikatan Nasional (PN) MPs don’t seem to realise the importance and significance of following constitutional requirements and procedures to prove their majority and thus ensure the legitimacy of their government.

The Agong followed the constitution in appointing the prime minister. It is now up to the appointed prime minister to follow the constitution by facing a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. Until he passes a confidence vote, he remains an unconstitutional prime minister.

Ismail may be following in Muhyiddin’s footsteps and in doing so, like Muhyiddin, he may be operating outside of the constitution.

I am puzzled why the Opposition is not calling out Ismail with regard to the confidence vote. They are unusually quiet. Instead, I am astonished that Opposition parties are willing to negotiate with an unconstitutional prime minister for reforms. If their “silence” is a “ceasefire” in exchange for perks, it is unconstitutional and must be exposed.

Soon after Ismail was appointed, Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders met with him to discuss the possibilities of introducing reforms such as equal allocations for all MPs, input from opposition parties to participate in the National Recovery Plan, introducing an anti-hopping law, increased participation of Opposition parties in select committees and raising the position of the Opposition Leader to the level of a senior minister.

Such reforms are no doubt good for the nation, but they must be instituted constitutionally by a constitutional government and the first people to demand for constitutional adherence should be opposition MPs. Instead, we have opposition parties making deals with an unconstitutional government.

Please put the cart before the horse or bullock! Make sure the government is constitutional first before making deals for perks for the Opposition!

Making deals is part and parcel of politics but deals that are made to enhance the position of MPs or ministers with no benefit to the people are just plain corrupt practices. Buying MPs over which was evident in Muhyiddin’s time was simply aimed at propping up an illegitimate government. Muhyiddin’s example must not be followed!

In the current political scenario, any deal with an unconstitutional government is corruption. Deals that are made with a rightful government without contravening the constitution and which will benefit the people and not MPs will, of course, be morally acceptable.

For example, a clear current issue regarding facing a confidence vote is the fact that it is not spelt out in the constitution. Weak politicians without the mandate of the people and who want to set up a backdoor government will use this omission to sneakily form a government without a confidence vote and claim it is constitutional.

Strong leaders who understand that a confidence vote is the democratic right of MPs to cast a vote on behalf of their voters to support or reject an appointed prime minister may, instead, rally the majority of MPs to agree to a procedure to elect the PM through a confidence vote and present it to the Speaker or the Agong for endorsement. In exchange for the support of the Opposition MPs, the appointed PM may agree to a reform that would strengthen the Opposition and hence the parliamentary system.

Such a deal is ennobling because it rallies bipartisan help to plug a technical gap in the constitution in the election of a PM during mid-term. Once the PM is elected and his government becomes constitutionally legitimate, a law or amendment can be passed that clearly states the need for a confidence or no-confidence vote in installing a mid-term prime minister.

Such “deals” are commendable because they solve problems and result in consequences that directly strengthen the constitutional rights of citizens.

For all intents and purposes, Ismail’s leadership and Cabinet are a continuation of Muhyiddin’s PN coalition. The country is where it is today because of the latter’s leadership. The economy is in the dumps and the covid-19 pandemic continues to spread unabated beyond the Klang Valley. Vaccination arrests the spread but between now and vaccination the virus keeps spreading because only 48.3% of the population is fully vaccinated according to the Our World in Data website.

Our figures are telling. As of yesterday, we have a total of 1.79 million covid-19 cases, and a total of 17,191 deaths. Could these figures have been much less if we had a better government?

Right now, that is our No 1 priority. Can we bring the daily cases and deaths down? And the most important question to address urgently and immediately is whether the Ismail Cabinet can arrest the raging pandemic so that deaths are fewer?

A confidence vote will determine if the MPs have confidence in Ismail to arrest the pandemic. Govt and Opposition MPs must put the people first and vote accordingly. If they have no confidence, they must make it clear so that an administration is installed that has the confidence of the majority of the MPs to solve this problem immediately.

It is such a rightfully elected administration that will succeed in controlling the pandemic because it will get the support of the whole nation.

So, a confidence vote needs to be urgently and immediately introduced. Deaths by covid-19 are on the heads of those who delay or will not introduce it.

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