The stumbling path to better leaders — hopefully

With regard to the appointments of Members of Parliament to the Cabinet or any other public office, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has said he would consider all points of view, including the argument that all are innocent until proven guilty.

However, he failed to consider the only factor that matters to voters: when MPs face any charge in court, it sows a seed of doubt on the integrity of the MP in the minds of the voters. It’s a doubt that can only be cleared when the MP is cleared of the charge or charges.

When such MPs stand for election, they are, in fact, robbing the voter of his/her right to choose from equals. If the voter is a popular figure, it forces the voter to select the candidate despite the court case hanging over the candidate’s head for whatever reason, justified or not. That is not democratic; it manipulates his/her choice without respecting his/her free choice.

It’s the responsibility of leaders to never put voters in a position to choose a candidate whose integrity is in doubt. But in GE15, Umno’s court cluster, Anwar (who’s facing a sodomy charge in court), DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng and Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman stood for election and won.

If Anwar appoints them to his Cabinet or to any other public office, he will be disregarding a fundamental principle of democracy for the sake of the political expediency of staying in government, in which case he would be no different from former prime ministers Muhyiddin Yassin and Sabri Yaakob.

So far, Anwar has made one good decision: calling for a confidence vote in the unity government the king manoeuvred for him to lead. The unity government was not presented to the electorate and therefore does not have the mandate of the people. The unity government was mandated by the king but remains unconstitutional in terms of parliamentary democracy until the elected MPs vote in favour of it on behalf of their constituents. If Anwar’s motion of confidence in the unity government he leads is passed, he gets the mandate of the people.

In adherence to the norms of parliamentary democracy, the unity government’s cabinet must pass a confidence vote before the cabinet is officially installed by the king. In Malaysia, however, unfortunately, there is no leader who can confidently establish this convention. So, things will happen the way they will and the masses will be happy that political expediency was served, with the exception of the discerning few who will always be wondering if we are a parliamentary democracy or a constitutional monarchy or a convenient mish-mash!

How have we come to this point of political wimpiness? When constitutional adherence is sacrificed for political expediency? The answer is simple. Poor leaders. Leaders who either have a weak grasp of parliamentary democracy or who prefer the easy way of political convenience.

Take the Sabah and Sarawak parties which have a large non-Malay Muslim representation. When the GE15 results were announced and it became apparent that PAS has become the largest and dominant party in Perikatan Nasional (PN) with 49 seats, Sabah and Sarawak parties who are allied with PN should have seen that as a loud and large red flag and a threat to national integration and immediately withdrawn from PN. But, they didn’t do that because neither Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) nor Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) wanted to ally with Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition which won the most seats.

GPS and GRS preferred to sacrifice the interests close to their constituents rather than lose an opportunity to form a government with PN. They probably thought that in government they could better serve the people but failed to realise that with a powerful PAS in their coalition they may be hampered.

With such leaders, blinded by their limited understanding of serving the people and who failed to see the national threat, it was no wonder that the king stepped in and summoned these parties and Umno who were dragging their feet about joining forces with Anwar and proposed the notion of the unity government.

It is not the king’s role to form a government. That is the duty of elected representatives and our leaders failed to perform their duty for the good of the nation post-GE15. Apparently, even the king has no confidence in the ability of the elected leaders to do their job in forming a stable government that would maintain peace and order in the face of a national threat. He had to push for a unity government to avert the threat that a dominant PAS posed.

If elected leaders had acted decisively, closed ranks, and formed alliances to keep PAS out of government to protect the nation, the king would have no reason to intervene. It’s purely academic to question if the king had acted according to the constitution and that issue can be left to the experts but the fact is he acted for the good of the nation when elected leaders failed to do so.

From PAS’ post-GE15 outbursts and vitriolic reactions, hopefully, Umno, GPS and GRS will realise which parties match their constituents’ interests most and ally with them.

Many mistakes were made in GE15 and after. The hope is that it is a learning experience for elected leaders to know what it means to become true representatives of the people, acting with integrity according to democratic principles and recognizing a threat immediately when it happens and swiftly closing ranks to ward it off.

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