What was accomplished by yesterday’s special parliamentary session held to discuss the recent flood disaster? Apart from Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob pointing fingers at the Selangor government for failing to galvanize immediate rescue efforts and Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders pointing to Cabinet ministers for failing to provide federal-level crisis leadership (both points of view, by the way, are valid), what was achieved?
At the end of the debate, there was no motion or bill tabled and put to a vote to give a stamp of approval to the government’s national policy on managing and preventing floods. So, what was the point of the parliamentary session?
All the points that the Cabinet ministers made could have been made when the floods occurred from Dec 17 to 19 during the parliamentary session which was ongoing at that time. Why didn’t the government make its defence then and, instead, chose a more expensive way of doing it by calling for a parliamentary session three weeks later?
I suspect the reason for the delay is that Sabri and his Cabinet ministers were unable — despite their numerous advisers and government staff at their disposal — to move their personnel to issue press statements in swift responses to the crisis and keep the people informed of what they were doing. The government behemoth, perhaps, was just too much for Sabri and his ministers to move to act swiftly? Hence, the need for more time to prepare their defence and for an opportunity to present it to the public — through a parliamentary session.
If it were a public relations exercise and nothing more, then, Sabri stands accused of trivialising Parliament and reducing the august assembly to nothing more than a glorified press conference. The Dewan Rakyat Speaker, too, must be held responsible for not protecting the sanctity and independence of the House and acting as an appendage of the executive.
Sabri may think he has won in the public relations war to win support. But, he needs to keep in mind that the voters in urban areas and especially in Selangor, which has the most number of urbanites, can not be so easily fooled as the B40 group which forms the bulk of his support base. The latter trustingly may believe whatever their leaders say but the former know better.
While many urbanites in Selangor may still be angry with the state government for failing to provide a swift response to the floods last December, they would be able to see through the Sabri government’s charade. As long as the Sabri government keeps covering up for incompetency, people will be able to see through it.
And as long as the Sabri government is kept going, we can expect more such failures in government. This time, only PH is to be blamed for supporting this government through the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) PH signed with it.
PH goes all out to criticise the Sabri government but will continue to support it. PH’s reluctance to break up the MoU is understandable. It would trigger a general election and, after the lashing it got in the Malacca and Sarawak state elections, it evidently isn’t confident it can deliver the votes to form an alternative government.
PH is so scared of a whipping in an election, it has offered a “commitment of stability” to the Johor state leadership to prevent state elections. Like the MoU, this commitment will only give the state government unfair advantage over the opposition. It may give the PH time to recoup but what guarantee is there that it will do better in a future general election than one now?
In a comment piece in Malaysiakini today, Setiawangsa MP and PKR chief organising secretary Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad discussed the various ways opposition party PKR can win back the support of voters. He targets the Undi18 voters who may be more aligned to PKR’s progressive policies than other parties. He then suggests that PKR develop a viable policy on climate change and demonstrate an uncompromising commitment to full responsibility for the welfare of the people and national interests.
Nik Nazmi’s ideas are worth considering. If the people see that their politicians are serious about putting their interests first, they may back them despite their past failings. The way the Selangor state government — which is PH-led — manages the state is crucial. If it clearly puts into place the ideas Nik Nazmi suggests and delivers, it will be an example of good government and may continue to get the support of the people.
The first half of this year is not a good time for any election because of the omicron threat. If Johor goes ahead with state elections, the people may not be pleased and may take out their frustrations through the vote.
It’s thus best for opposition parties not to negotiate with any government. Opposition parties should be prepared for any election. If they develop a realizable manifesto with emphases on a clean government and climate change, demonstrate a commitment to competency and professionalism and multi-culturalism, they should take the calculated risk of facing any election at any time. Urban voters, which is the opposition parties’ political base, can think for themselves. They should be allowed to make their choice at a time that does not burden them.