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Rural Malay voters will be the kingmakers in GE15

Despite the bombastic rhetoric by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi — who is facing corruption charges in court — and his party cohorts — who are also facing corruption charges in court — that the Malays will only vote for Umno, that opposition parties can’t handle a general election during the monsoon period and that they are doomed to lose, they don’t seem entirely convinced.

If they were, they would go into the 15th General Elections (GE15) alone with its small Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in a do-or-die fight. For a long time, Zahid declared that Umno/BN would go into GE15 alone without its former coalition partners Bersatu and PAS. But, yesterday, Zahid gave orders to its cyber troopers to stop attacks on PAS, which can only mean, at the barest minimum, that Umno is now open to working with PAS again and especially as a partner in an expanded BN coalition.

Either Zahid wants to go along with PAS’ notion of a united ummah (Muslim community) or he knows but does not want to publicly admit it for fear of losing Malay votes that he is not confident of en bloc Malay support for Umno/BN in the Umno heartland and need partners to form a government.

The battleground in GE15 will be the Umno heartland where its Malay majority voters will become the kingmakers of GE15. It would do well for all political parties to factor this fact into their election campaign strategies.

The Malay rural heartland is synonymous with the Umno heartland because this is where most of the Malay constituencies are found and which traditionally gave Umno its unassailable majority. Though the number of Malay voters is a minority as the majority have left their rural homes to the urban areas where they are now a majority, the number of parliamentary constituencies there remains the same and advantageous for Umno to defend and hold.

But in GE14 that Umno stronghold broke when former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was able to swing about 10% of the rural Malay vote to Pakatan Harapan (PH) which he led to form the next government. PH lost much of that vote back to Umno in byelections and due to other factors, the PH government fell.

The point, however, is that a 10% swing in rural Malay vote was possible then. Is a 10% or more swing possible in GE15? It is possible on one factor alone — former prime minister Najib Razak’s conviction and incarceration.

In Malaysia, there has been no precedent of a former prime minister being sent to jail. Now, one has and GE15 will show if there will be a fallout that results in a change in the voting patterns of Malay voters who once supported him.

GE15 will prove whether Malay voters in Umno’s traditional stronghold have been convinced of Umno’s culpability and buckle the traditional trend of blindly voting for Umno, or not.

Right up to Umno’s successes in recent elections Najib was still a free man and he could present an image of himself as being still innocent until proven guilty. But, he is now in jail and his fellow cohorts in Umno will find it difficult to sell his innocence to their Malay voter base.

Najib’s jailing and the appeal of Zahid’s recent corruption case will cast doubts on Umno’s narrative that the corruption cases are “politically-motivated”. So, Umno will suffer some loss of votes but the extent of it is what GE15 will show and will be of concern to political parties.

Where will Umno’s loss of votes go to? There are only two other parties that can offer any challenge to Umno in its stronghold, namely Bersatu and the new NGO, Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA), led by Mahathir’s new party Pejuang. Both will pick up some votes. Whatever votes GTA gets will show the level of support it has in the Malay heartland. Against Mahathir, Bersatu is unlikely to win enough votes to gain an advantage over other parties.

Bersatu and PAS, due to their association with Umno and their poor performance in government should also expect a loss of votes, which would turn out to be to GTA’s advantage.

Treating GTA as unproven and irrelevant would be a grave mistake. As events have turned out up to now, GTA is the only untainted organization that can offer Umno a good fight. Umno would want its voter base to believe Bersatu is its threat but it isn’t because against it, Umno is likely to win because it is more experienced. Against GTA, it is harder to predict now.

However, GTA is alone in the fight to defeat Umno. Even if it wins a number of seats it may not be able to form the next government unless opposition parties choose to ally with it. Opposition parties stand to gain much more if they allied with GTA than stand against it.

In the urban areas where opposition parties have solid support, diehard supporters will continue to vote for them. It is the fence-sitters who failed to support them in the recent state elections who need to be wooed. Among them are those who are dead set against any alliance with Mahathir and those who are not.

By allying with GTA, opposition parties stand to lose the support of the anti-Mahathirists but may gain the support of the rest because an alliance with GTA could mean a return to government which opposition supporters may want. The latter strategy holds greater sway over the former because a government with GTA and its allies would mean that Umno will be unable to form the next government.

The strategy for GE15 should be to ensure that Umno does not return to government. An Umno government will hold the nation to ransom to compromise national institutions so that Umno leaders get what they want for themselves as evidenced in the past.

As long as opposition parties keep a distance from GTA, they are communicating to the fence-sitters that they are leaving open the possibility of a tie-up with Umno/BN. They would then lose the support of the non-anti-Mahathirists. Whether the latter is a bigger majority than the anti-Mahathirists is left to be seen but it is a risk that should not be taken because any union with Umno/BN is detrimental to the nation and should be ruled out completely.

A loose tie-up with GTA as an ally, on the other hand, will send a clear signal to voters nationwide that opposition parties are keen to form the next government without the Umno/BN baggage and will present a united front to achieve that objective. That message may appeal to the majority again, including urban and rural voters.

It will certainly give rural Malay voters who wish to abandon Umno the hope that their votes won’t go to waste. That would definitely break Umno’s stronghold in the Malay heartland.

For that to happen, PH must be prepared to give up PKR president Anwar Ibrahim as the next prime minister. Whether with Umno or GTA, Anwar will not be prime minister, that is certain.

In a government with GTA, in the absence of experienced candidates for the prime ministership, Mahathir may be needed, preferably, in an advisory capacity with a prime minister-designate he can work with. Opposition parties need to work that out among themselves.

The conclusion is simply this: Working with GTA will give rural Malay voters a boost to consider a practical and real alternative and give hope to the rest that a non-Umno government can be formed which can only mean more votes for opposition parties. Working against GTA will leave the status quo unchanged, which means woe upon Malaysia!

GE15 date must be good for Malaysia, not Umno

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has been acquitted of all graft charges by the Shah Alam High Court in his case involving the Foreign Visa System. Umno’s Baling MP Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim has been granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) by the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court with regard to corruption and money laundering.

To the layperson, the question is why were these politicians even charged in the first place if they got off the hook so easily? Didn’t the prosecution do its job? Or were they and the courts influenced by the tirade of criticisms against the authorities over former prime minister Najib Razak’s conviction?

If one Umno politician went free, the judge’s reasons can be accepted as independently arrived at even if many may be disappointed by the decision. But, when two from the same political party as the prime minister get off scot-free on the same day in different courts, in the current context of questioning the independence of the judiciary, the question does arise in one’s mind if justice was done?

We will never know but it presents the same lack of credibility that has characterised the Malay-majority governments of the past two years. It has been a government by political pacts and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and not a government by constitutional rule. As the former, decisions are made according to what has been agreed upon by coalition partners in a pact and that takes precedence over constitutional rule.

This is so clearly apparent in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s indecisiveness in naming the date for the 15th General Election (GE15). It was a hotly debated issue in the media but we are yet to hear of his decision and we may have to wait a little longer because he is not in the country. He is in New York to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

A general election is necessary to restore constitutional rule in Malaysia, the fundamental basis of which is obtaining the mandate of the people. No doubt it is difficult for Sabri to choose the right date as his hands are tied.

Apparently, according to media reports, a document was signed between him and Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin that elections should be called only after consultations with Bersatu. At the same time, he is being pulled in the other direction by Umno members who want an early election.

An election is urgently necessary so that the country has a prime minister who is not bound by pacts and loyalty to a party president that he can’t make independent decisions based on the rule of law.

The only good reason to not hold the GE15 in the coming months is the risk of floods that may cause the loss of life. This may lead to a low voter turnout which may benefit Umno as its supporters may come out to vote but the majority may not.

A low voter turnout in GE15 will be unfavourable to all parties, except Umno. It could mean that Umno may win a number of seats on a smaller percentage of votes and form a coalition with other parties with even smaller representation to form a minority government.

A date must be chosen which will bring out the most number of voters so that a government is formed on a majority in order to ensure political stability.

While in New York, out of the hot seat where he is pulled in many directions, hopefully, Sabri will clear his head and arrive at a date for GE15 which will draw out the most number of voters so that the government that follows will be a majority government and good for Malaysia.

Happy Malaysia Day!

Today we remember and celebrate our diversity. We are indeed a nation of diverse peoples — bumiputra Malays, bumiputra first peoples of Sabah and Sarawak, Chinese, Indians, the Orang Asli (the first peoples of Peninsular Malaysia), a small community of Portuguese even, and pockets of Bangladeshis, Filipinos, and Indonesians.

Our diversity is our strength for each people group has strengths that can be built on to uplift and unite the whole. Generally, we Malaysians are quite sensitive to each other — only when we come to politics then our differences become points of conflict.

Such conflicts are most evident between not the people groups but between two economic classes — the poorer rural Malaysians the majority of whom are bumiputras and who are the majority in the country and the richer urbanites, the majority of whom are Chinese. When these two groups are in conflict, it often takes on racial undertones when in fact the real issues are economic rather than racial.

Malaysians need to understand that our diversity is not only in the various people groups that form Malaysia but also in the distinct economic classes between the rural communities and urbanites which include the urban poor.

The political parties representing these groups often reflect the bias of their voters and when in a coalition tend to ignore the rights of the other groups in wanting to advance their own respective agendas.

This Malaysia Day, I would like to suggest that the urban rich who have access to the most resources in Malaysia demonstrate more tolerance in considering the rights of the rural and urban poor. The urbanites are richer, more educated and more developed than the rural and urban poor and want higher standards of living and performance by public servants. While these are good objectives to aspire to, urbanites need to understand that these can not be achieved at the expense of the poorer communities.

So, I hope urbanites will be more accommodating of the parties representing the rural communities and elect candidates who can form an effective team in marshalling our diverse strengths to build up the poorer among us and bring about reforms that will benefit all Malaysians.

That is my Malaysia Day wish!

Azalina an example, not the rest

Umno MP Azalina Othman Said’s resignation as the special adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was the right thing to do. She questioned the absence of his decision to change the Attorney-General publicly at her party’s special meeting. That isn’t what an employee would do to his/her boss. Azalina did it and faced the consequences.

The Pengerang MP must be commended for going without a fuss. Not only did she embarrass her boss, but she also undermined his authority. As a special adviser, she could have settled her differences privately which she didn’t do, and instead made a public statement that made her boss look bad. Resigning was the right thing to do and she did it without further ado.

This is how politicians should conduct themselves. Not remain in a coalition and create a ruckus for being badly treated as Azalina’s party, Umno, has done. Umno has demanded, intimidated and threatened as a partner in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government but didn’t do the one thing it should have done if it really felt betrayed by Bersatu and PAS — resign.

If Umno is not happy to be in a coalition government with Bersatu and PAS and is disappointed with its vice president who is the prime minister, just resign. Why huff, stomp and create a cloud of hot air but remain in government?

If Umno or any of the other PN coalition partners resign, Sabri’s government will fall and a general election will be called. There would be no need to pressure Sabri for an early election.

The suspicion is that none of the PN partners will resign and trigger a general election because at the back of their minds they are aware they may not be able to form a majority without one of the other partners’ support!

So, they rather stay in government and create a lot of trouble as we have seen in the past two years but not collapse the government because they may need each other to form the next government. Instead, they put pressure on their prime minister to name the date of the general election and leave the option open to a continuing commitment with PN partners.

Contrary to what they say about themselves, this is the style of PN/Umno politicians: say one thing and do another!

Voters must judge according to the actions of the candidates standing for election. Listen to what they say but feel free to reject their candidature if their actions do not measure up!

A tough decision for Sabri

Former prime minister Najib Razak’s conviction by the High Court for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering was upheld by the Federal Court and he is now in jail beginning his 12-year sentence. He has been proven to be guilty. So, it is mind-boggling that his supporters are demanding a royal pardon!

He hasn’t even served one week in jail and his supporters are already clamouring for a royal pardon. Blinded by loyalty, they can’t see that if their request was granted, it would put the royal institution in a bad light — as one which does not respect the judgement of the courts. I like to think that the king with good counsel at his disposal will not play into the hands of Najib’s supporters.

It is unbelievable that Najib’s supporters want a royal pardon — as unbelievable as former prime minister and Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin accepting to be installed as prime minister when he knew he could not prove a majority.

This is what happens when power is put in the hands of Umno and former members who abuse the power of their positions. They use power for their own ends even if it goes against the rule of law. We have seen it in the way Najib ran the country and he is in jail now for it! We saw it in the way Muhyiddin governed by installing a huge bloated Cabinet and luring MPs to join it with all sorts of enticements although he got away with it. And, we are now seeing it as Najib’s supporters demand a royal pardon for him.

The fear is he will get away with it too if his supporters have their way! Although Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is a vice-president in Umno, in this case, he should not be swayed by party politics. He should think of restoring the good name of the nation already marred by the 1MDB scandal and act according to the rule of law and ensure that Najib, too, doesn’t get away with it!

Najib must first serve a portion of his sentence and complete all his court cases before he is considered for a royal pardon. If Sabri caves in to the demands of Najib’s supporters, he will be proving what all of Malaysia except his supporters knows — that Umno will use its privileged position for personal gain rather than national gain.

Hopefully, Sabri will make the right decision though it may be a difficult decision. It may cost him his premiership but it would make him look good in history for not letting a crook off the hook!

The power is in the people

If Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties PKR, DAP and Amanah are open to forging a pact with Umno post the 15th general elections (GE15), they should come out in the open and say so. They should not make non-committal statements and then after GE15 declare that they have no choice but to join forces with Umno. That would be deceiving the people!

DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke recently said that DAP may have to be open to working with Umno in order to form a majority government to save Malaysia. This was followed by a statement by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim who said that any alliance with Umno would only be a “worst-case” scenario.

Both these leaders’ statements clearly reveal that they are willing to work with Umno in the event no party or coalition wins a clear majority to form a government.

That should not be the case. Umno should not be allowed to form a government by itself or by leading a coalition of parties simply because it will see the return of money politics as has been revealed by the ongoing court cases. And only Opposition MPs can stop them by resisting them — not joining them!

If for whatever reason PH parties are open to forming an alliance with Umno, they should make their intentions clear to their voters before the latter goes to vote! If the voters still vote for them, then, of course, the parties are free to go ahead with any alliance with Umno.

The fact that they have not firmly declared their intention seems to imply that PH parties are not confident their voters will accept their reasoning if they expressed it, which can only suggest that PH parties are playing a game with the voters by not clearly stating their stand on this issue.

Don’t deceive the voters. PH parties are already facing a credibility gap judging by the fact that they have lost most of the seats they held in the recent state elections, which means their voters are unsure of the credibility of their leaders.

If PH parties want to restore their credibility in the eyes of the voters, tell them the truth and explain the difficult position their parties are in and trust the judgment of the voters.

PH parties need to understand that there is no such thing as a “worst-case scenario”, as if they have no choice. The truth is that they have a choice but they don’t want to take it.

The choice is in two areas. Firstly, they have to work with other opposition parties not necessarily in a coalition but in a loose collaboration where opposition parties do not undermine each other. As a result, should the election results favour them, it would be easier to form a coalition government.

Even if Umno turns out to be the Malay-based party with the largest number of seats (considering the negative publicity created by the court cases of its leaders, the figure may be less than the 39 seats Umno currently holds), and if no party joins it, Umno will be unable to form a government.

However, the combined number of Malay seats and non-Malay seats won by Opposition parties will be sufficient to form a government. In other words, Umno can be ignored and should be!

Secondly, Anwar has to rethink his ambition to become prime minister. If after an honest explanation to the voters, PKR wins more seats, Anwar will be in a commanding position to negotiate with fellow Opposition parties, including regarding his candidature as PM.

If, however, he fails to win enough seats he will have to accept the fact that he has lost leverage to negotiate and go along with other nominations for the premiership.

The confidence to negotiate comes from the support MPs get from the grassroots. Malaysian politicians need to understand that their confidence comes not from government positions or who they know or pacts and alliances but from their voter base.

There is no point in holding government positions and making a mess of governance as we have witnessed in the past two years. And, there’s no point in submitting memorandums to the king to call for a royal commission of inquiry as Bersatu and Amanah politicians did with regard to the RM6 billion spent on ships that were not delivered. What can the king do aside from making a comment like he did regarding the Smoking and Tobacco Control Act where he added that it was up to Parliament to resolve the issue?

The king knows what Malaysian politicians don’t seem to understand: that the latter has been vested with authority by the constitution to resolve such issues in Parliament. The fact that Malaysian politicians immediately seek the king’s or China’s or the US’s help simply reflects their own lack of confidence to navigate the authority bestowed on them to solve political issues. If they can’t solve problems, how on earth can they govern and, therefore, why elect them?

Confidence comes from the support of the voter base. So, it is to them that politicians must first go to get support. Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad understands this very well and that is the reason why he has got small parties, including his own, Pejuang, to form Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA) which plans to contest in Umno-held seats.

GTA may lose all the seats it contests in GE15 or it may win a few which would dent Umno’s count of MPs. GTA should not be written off. If it wins some seats from Umno, it may be a game changer in GE15 because it means a loss of support for Umno from its very own voter base. That may trigger a domino effect and swing support to GTA.

This happened to some extent in GE14. GTA is new and with little support. That support may pick up in the near future. Until then it is hard to predict if GTA will lose all or win some in GE15. But the strategy of going to the people is commendable. GTA just needs more believers to follow it.

Finding the way to political stability

In thanking the MPs for passing the anti-hopping bill, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the bill was important to ensure long-term political stability in the country.

The anti-hopping bill will no doubt bring about some measure of political stability to the country but it has no bearing on the fundamental flaw that caused the political instability that followed the Sheraton Moves.

The country plunged into political instability the moment Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin took Bersatu out of the legitimate, elected Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government after the then prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, resigned. When Tun resigned, PH was still the government but within a couple of hours, Muhyiddin pulled Bersatu out of PH. That was when the PH government fell, because it lost its majority when Bersatu pulled out of PH.

Muhyiddin then got his new alliance, Perikatan Nasional (PN), installed as the new government without facing a confidence vote in Parliament to prove his majority. There was no proof he had a majority and that was when the party-hopping began as politicians were enticed to join PN ostensibly to show a majority.

So, party-hopping was a consequence not the cause of the political instability that followed Tun’s resignation. The cause was Bersatu’s withdrawal from PH which felled the PH government — not the party-hopping.

While the anti-hopping bill enables political parties to stop their MPs from switching parties (which, perhaps, was the primary motive for mooting such a law), there is no guarantee that a coalition government will not fall in the future when one party decides to leave it and leave it without a majority.

Meanwhile, the current status quo in which an illegitimate and unelected government is supported by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Opposition remains, with Sabri’s party, Umno, standing to gain most from the anti-hopping bill because its MPs won’t be able to leave it to join other parties. Umno becomes stronger because it will be the only Malay party with the most number of MPs and if it wins a good number of seats in the next general elections, other parties will have no choice but to negotiate with it to form a coalition.

On the other hand, if a law was passed to ensure that an unelected party or coalition faces a confidence/no-confidence vote in Parliament, the instability of the consequences of a minority government is eliminated. When the numbers are proven, party hopping will be irrelevant with only a few rare exceptions when MPs leave for their own reasons.

MPs need to demonstrate better judgement in prioritising the new laws or amendments that need to be addressed.

However, since a precedent has already been set, the anti-hopping law or any other law can be tabled again for further amendments. The Sabri government set a precedent when it tabled again the motion to extend the enforcement of Section 4(5) of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) for another five years from July 31 after it was rejected in the previous sitting of the Dewan Rakyat. The motion was passed in the current session.

It’s a dangerous precedent because it undermines and diminishes the significance, dignity and authority of the Dewan Rakyat. It reflects a government that does not respect the decisions made in Parliament and would use its position in government to bulldoze laws through Parliament until they get a majority to pass them. This is another example of abuse of power.

Since a precedent has been set, a subsequent government can overturn passed legislation. Why then have a Parliament? Do as you please as what is happening now.

Being an unelected illegitimate government, legitimised by an MoU, the Sabri government needs to ask itself on what constitutional authority it is acting. It’s unelected, so it does not have the mandate of the people. It’s illegitimate because it has not proven its majority, so it has no confidence to act on behalf of the people.

So, on whose authority are they introducing bills? Themselves? Apparently so. Its ministers are introducing laws that don’t seem to come from the people such as the Sosma amendment and the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill. Do these laws help the people or the ministers to help produce results they are unable to achieve through proper, well-thought-through humane policies and campaigns? Instead, they want to produce results with punitive laws like a whip in the hand.

Sabri needs to understand that his government does not have the mandate of the people to introduce laws that affect the people. So, they should stop introducing such laws. The only authority the incumbent government currently has is to do according to the MoU.

The Sabri government may claim they have the support of the majority of Malays and therefore the majority — as the Malays are a majority — as represented by the number of Malay MPs on its side. The truth is that that is a misnomer.

Most of the Malay parliamentary constituencies are in the rural areas which at one time held the majority of Malays and hence a large number of constituencies in that region to ensure that the Malays are adequately represented in government. That demographic has changed and the 2020 census records that most of the Malays are now in the urban areas where they are not represented.

Although the Malay-majority Sabri and previous PN governments have a majority of Malay MPs, they represent only about 25% of the Malay population because according to the 2020 census 75% of the rural population has migrated to the urban areas. In other words, the current government represents a minority and it has no moral grounds to impose its minority concerns on the majority. That is tyranny.

Sabri is a lawyer, so he should understand the political conundrum he is in. A general election is the best solution to reset Malaysian politics and get back to following the constitution in installing a legitimate, elected government. Unfortunately, since Umno is led by leaders facing corruption charges in court, a general election could bring them back to power.

So, Sabri needs to think through rationally and carefully to choose the earliest date for a general election that would also ensure that corrupt leaders do not come back to power. It may seem like a tall order but a clever politician can find the right date for the next general election.

Take a leaf out of the UK’s book to choose a PM

The United Kingdom is in the midst of a race to elect the next prime minister after incumbent prime minister Boris Johnson resigned on July 7. What makes it an event to take note of here in Malaysia is that — unlike in Malaysia — the prime minister’s resignation was NOT followed by a period of political instability.

Johnson resigned as a result of a wave of resignations from his Cabinet and government which triggered a series of events that led to the loss of support of his party for his premiership. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also resigned when he realised that he had lost the support of his then party, Bersatu, which had engineered an alliance that included Umno leaders Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib Razak who are facing corruption charges in court.

When a prime minister loses the support of his party or the voters who elected him/her, he/she should resign. That is democracy.

The political instability that followed Tun Mahathir’s resignation is still reverberating through the country while the UK is going through its change of prime minister calmly through an organised, orderly process of electing the next prime minister. That begs the question as to why Malaysian politicians failed to ensure political stability when a prime minister resigned.

There are several factors to take note of to explain this dismal failure in political accountability. Firstly, in the UK government, there wasn’t any predator politician or a cohort of them waiting in the wings to seize the opportunity offered by the resignation of a prime minister to advance their own agendas.

The prime minister resigned but his party or coalition remains the elected government. When Johnson resigned, his Cabinet fell as well but he and his Cabinet remain in government until a new prime minister is elected. That is the democratic convention in a parliamentary democracy-cum-constitutional monarchy.

Johnson’s party, the Conservative Party, is recognised as the elected government and no one attempts to seize the opportunity the instability of a transition offered to force himself or herself and his or her team into government; that’s a coup. The mandate of the people is respected and left untouched while the resigning prime minister’s party undertakes the responsibility of electing the next prime minister.

But, did that happen in Malaysia? No, Malaysian politicians disrespected the mandate of the people and installed themselves as the government as if it were their right, blissfully ignorant of the fact that they were not following democratic conventions and that that is not the rule of law!

Secondly, how did Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin become prime minister? Did his party nominate him? What was the process according to the party’s constitution? Was the process of nominating a prime minister described in the party’s constitution? Or, did he assume as party president that position was automatically his, and his supporters in the party went along with it? Perhaps, it was decided at a meeting of his top party leaders but was there a proper nomination and election process?

UK’s Conservative Party has a clear and orderly process with a committee that oversees the election of a prime minister when the incumbent resigns. They go through rounds of election by the party’s elected MPs until the candidate with the highest vote in the final round emerges as the prime minister-elect, which, in the current situation, is expected to be announced in early September. It’s a long and tedious process and no one rushes it, with the interim prime minister and his Cabinet running the government until then.

In Malaysia, prospective prime ministers unilaterally announced they are the chosen candidates of their parties. Muhyiddin never claimed it but through a series of political pacts, he became prime minister. Without following democratic conventions he named Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister and Muhyiddin’s legacy of an illegitimate government continues.

Tun Mahathir has said his party wants him to be the next prime minister if his new party, Pejuang, wins the next general election. PKR president has announced that he would reduce petrol prices if he becomes PM. It’s a political party’s right to name its candidate for the premiership. But is it an arbitrary decision or a name that emerges at the end of a nomination or election process?

Political parties need to spell out clearly in their constitutions the process of how to choose a prime minister. It then becomes clear to the public that the majority in the party chose the candidate and it is a choice that must be respected.

The only party that has a clear nomination and election process is Umno. It is Umno’s tradition that the president becomes the prime minister if Umno or an Umno-led coalition wins. How Sabri became the prime minister is a break from tradition. Again it was an arbitrary decision made by Muhyiddin and the country — like everything after the Sheraton Moves — was stuck with an unelected choice!

While the UK’s Conservative Party is choosing its next prime minister, Parliament gets ready for a vote of confidence. Again this is the democratic convention. A government must prove to the people it has a majority and the only way to show it is through a vote of confidence/no-confidence. This is not a negotiable issue and the British Parliament practices it without debate.

Did the Malay-majority government led by Muhyiddin follow this fundamental principle of the rule by a majority which is the basis of any democracy? Definitely no. What followed was simply to use their positions and pacts to ensure they remained in government. The current so-called “Malay-majority” government needs to ask itself if it followed the rule of law or bent it to keep itself in government.

A third factor to note is the role of the Queen. The Queen has not breathed a word about the political changes taking place in her realm. She does not intervene but leaves it to the politicians to resolve the issues on their own. The politicians know their role. They don’t involve the Queen. According to a recent BBC report, once the Conservative Party has chosen the next prime minister, he/she will be invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen who — on the advice of the ruling party — appoints a new prime minister.

Did we follow a similar process? No. Instead, our politicians went racing to the palace to show proof of majority, and, somehow, Muhyiddin, got installed as prime minister although he didn’t prove he had the numbers.

The point is that the party chooses the prime ministerial candidate who then goes to Parliament — not to the king or the royals — to face a confidence vote to prove that the candidate has the support of the majority of the House. When that is demonstrated for the public to see, the invitation comes from Buckingham Palace to meet the Parliament-approved candidate who is then appointed prime minister on the advice of the party.

Malaysian politicians need to understand that all political issues involving the people must be resolved among themselves and finalised in Parliament. They should have enough confidence in themselves to resolve all political crises by themselves without seeking the help of the king or sultans. Then, we won’t have a case of an unmandated menteri besar or one who receives fancy shoes from royals!

Malaysian politicians have to understand how parliamentary democracy-cum-constitutional monarchy works and there is no better example to consider than the people who first set it up — the British.

Hopefully, Malaysian politicians are following the UK PM race and learning how to conduct themselves as responsible self-respecting politicians. If they can’t learn and correct themselves, then, it is crystal clear that they should not be reelected.

Just consider what happened in the past two years: abuse of power through double standards, intimidating political policing, an Attorney-General’s Chambers that allowed out-of-court settlements involving politicians, a Dewan Rakyat Speaker who has failed to understand that his overriding responsibility is to ensure the independence of the House and not to protect the government, poor governance, weak efforts at recovery and bungling incompetence. Only the judiciary remains an uncompromised institution.

The country can’t afford further decline at the hands of this batch of leaders. Only the people can stop them by voting them out and voting in leaders who know what the rule of law is and uphold it. Otherwise, we will be freely offering garlands to monkeys.

A compromise …

Pejuang has declared that if it wins the 15th General Elections (GE15) it wants its chairman, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as prime minister. The party is riding on the stature and support that Tun is still able to command from the people. The question, however, is if these factors are enough to put Pejuang candidates in Parliament to form the next government.

Tun, no doubt, has considerable support from the people as evidenced in the Johor state elections. Although the party lost in all the constituencies it contested, it garnered 1.8% or 18,000 of the total votes. However, the votes were distributed over the state. There was no evidence in the Johor state elections that there was a significant concentration of support for Pejuang in any one of the constituencies to effectively change the outcome of the results.

In other words, Tun’s support is spread all over the country but not necessarily concentrated in any particular constituency where it can win. So, Pejuang needs to think carefully as to the wisdom of going it alone in the GE15 in the hope it can form the next government on Tun’s support.

On the other hand, if Pejuang joined a coalition, Tun’s widely-distributed support can be significant in giving the edge to the coalition candidate, enabling the coalition to win the election and form the next government. Pejuang’s survival, perhaps, lies in working with the opposition coalition rather than going it alone.

In fact, all the opposition parties stand to lose rather than win if each goes it alone in the GE15. The outcomes of their contests may be no different from the results they obtained in the Malacca and Johor state elections where they were wiped out losing the seats they held and winning only a handful!

The “Big Tent” strategy is the best course of action for all the opposition parties if the overriding priority in GE15 is to prevent Umno from returning to power.

Should Pejuang win a sufficient number of seats while going it alone and then decides to form a coalition with allies with Tun as prime minister, Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties may not oblige. The consequence could be a hung Parliament — again!

Opposition leader and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim has already made it clear in a recent media statement that his grassroots are not open to Tun Dr Mahathir being prime minister again and that it would be difficult for him to convince them to agree with Pejuang’s plan.

PKR grassroots and PH may want Anwar to become the next prime minister although it is unlikely that either he or Tun will assume the post if their parties go it alone in the GE15!

The candidacy for the premiership may become a divisive factor in preventing a formidable alternative opposition coalition from being formed. The solution, perhaps, is for neither to become prime minister.

Let the opposition parties choose a candidate for the premiership that both senior leaders can work with and accept, and all coalition partners back the nomination. This will remove the block to the formation of a strong and viable opposition coalition to challenge Umno/Barisan Nasional.

Such a compromise is needed for the formation of an opposition alliance that has a chance of winning the GE15.

Why Umno still stands today

It can be easily concluded from the exposés by Umno politicians of their leaders that their party, Umno, is heading towards self-destruction. That may happen in the future but unlikely in the imminent future such as in the coming general election.

The point to note is that it is not the leaders who determine Umno’s political standing. Leaders come and go but it is the supporters who ensure that whoever stands representing Umno in their constituency gets voted in to represent them in government.

Since Merdeka, Malay voters in the traditional rural heartland have been ingrained with the belief that Umno is the only Malay party that represents them and that their support ensures Malay dominance in government. That thinking has not changed and until it is challenged, the rural vote is expected to go to Umno despite the fact that its leaders are facing criminal charges in court.

If Umno politicians are honourable and rise up to the trust their voters unquestioningly place in them, they will hold party elections and change the top leadership. If they can’t solve party issues, how then can they govern a nation and solve national issues?

The hope is that rural voters will be able to see that their leaders aren’t acting on behalf of their supporters but for their own interests. If they can see it, then, there’s a good chance that they may not vote for Umno.

The only way to make them see the truth before their eyes in order to defeat Umno is for other Malay parties to contest the same seats Umno contests and present an alternative to Umno.

The only parties that can do that are Bersatu, Pejuang and Warisan. If past elections are anything to go by, Bersatu seems to have lost support and the small parties, Pejuang and Warisan, remain untested.

Yet, that is the only way to defeat Umno — put another Malay candidate against the Umno candidate and go on an anti-corruption campaign that the voters can understand and relate with, together with their nasi periok issues.

This is Pejuang’s strategy. If it works, it may succeed in swinging some seats away from Umno as Bersatu under former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad succeeded in swinging about 10% of the rural Malay vote to Pakatan Harapan (PH) and enabled it to form the first PH government.

If the PH-government was short-lived, the underlying factor was its inability to hold on to the 10% Malay swing vote. It went back to Umno because Umno politicians went to town claiming that the PH government was dominated by non-Malays — a sufficient argument to spook the Malay voter!

Opposition parties understand this but their supporters may not. Opposition candidates may need to explain the realities of Malay politics to their constituents so that there is give and take between Malay and non-Malay parties rather than the typical confrontational standoff.

Malay-based opposition parties like PKR and Amanah could stand in the Malay rural seats if they are able to reach the Malay voter base but if they go on a campaign of good governance and reforms it will fall on deaf ears! The rural Malay voter wants to know if his/her nasi periok issues take priority.

There is, however, one particular demographic that has been largely overlooked — the Malay urban voters who, according to the 2020 census, are a majority and underrepresented in Parliament. PKR and Amanah, perhaps, need to target this voter base and win them over.

It’s a tough task but not impossible to achieve.

If opposition parties don’t change their strategies and convincingly reach out to Malay voters, the trend to vote for Umno will continue.