When Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced the extension of the Movement Control Order (MCO) from April 14 to April 28, he called on the people to adapt to the “new normal”. He said restrictions may be enforced for a longer period and urged the people to practise the new normals of avoiding mass gatherings and crowded places and looking after one’s personal hygiene.
It was good advice because the restrictions may continue as covid-19 is not going to disappear any time now. Until it runs its course and new cases stop or a cure is found, people have to keep practising the new social norms of frequently washing hands, maintaining social distances, wearing masks and avoiding large crowds even as we carry on with life.
However, the prime minister made no mention of what the new normal will be in government. What is apparent in his short tenure so far of less than two months is that he has sidestepped democratic processes. Is that going to be a new normal in his form of government?
He had three clear opportunities to show that he respects, honours and upholds the democratic conventions Malaysia practices as a parliamentary democracy but in all three cases, he chose NOT to follow them.
Firstly, when the Agong chose him as the 8th Prime Minister, there was a time span of about a day before he was sworn in. In that time span, the previous prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was able to get a minimum of 112 MPs to back him as PM but the king by then had stopped all communication with him. (Tun said the palace had no communication with him.)
The whole country saw Tun had 112 signatures, which means Muhyiddin couldn’t have had a majority out of the 222 MPs, and, surely, Muhyiddin knew it too. If he respected the democratic practices that this country follows, as prime minister-designate, he would have realised he had lost majority support and declined the position in the democratic tradition. The fact that he didn’t do the obvious, that alone immediately disqualifies him as prime minister because it is the prime minister — not the king (as constitutional law experts repeatedly have said in the past) — who upholds the democratic processes of this country and advises the king accordingly, who concurs with the mandate of the people.
That’s the Westminister-style parliamentary democracy we follow but with that one decision NOT to decline Muhyiddin dismissed the democratic processes and chose to become prime minister by appointment.
If, in upholding democratic traditions, he then faced the Dewan Rakyat to test if he had the majority and won a vote of confidence, he would have received the respect and support of the people. But, he failed to test his appointment in the Dewan Rakyat and continues to lead an illegitimate government. Is that another new normal we are expected to adapt to?
Secondly, when covid-19 was declared a pandemic, he should have developed a plan of action and presented it to the Dewan Rakyat for approval. Again, he failed to follow democratic practices.
Thirdly, when he introduced the RM250 billion (later upgraded to RM260 billion) economic stimulus package, he should have presented it to Parliament as is customarily practiced by parliamentary democracies, for approval before announcing it. Again, he failed to follow democratic conventions.
How can a prime minister of a democracy fail to uphold democratic procedures and continue in that position? For failing to abide by the democratic practices by which he was elected to Parliament in the first place, he must be censured by his peers — at the Dewan Rakyat. The people should not be forced to adapt to a government where an unelected prime minister governs as if it were the new normal.
The May 18 Dewan Rakyat session is crucial as the people need to know if the MPs they elected will fight to establish parliamentary democracy as the supreme rule of law in this nation.
What the Dewan Rakyat must do
The issue isn’t to topple Muhyiddin’s Prihatin Nasional (PN) government by a vote of no confidence. The issue is to affirm the democratic processes and hold a prime minister who strayed from those principles to become accountable to the people again. The Dewan Rakyat must be seen upholding the democratic process and fighting for the mandate of the people to be respected by all, especially the prime minister.
A vote of confidence/no confidence must be called by the MPs because it is the democratic process. Whether PN wins or loses is of secondary importance. Both sides will lobby to get majority support and will be prepared for either outcome: win or lose.
Should PN fail to win a no confidence vote, the Dewan Rakyat must make it clear as to who has their majority support. The support can’t be split between a few names. The MPs must be clear their support is only for one name.
Fully aware of the sentiments against the previous prime minister, I wish there is another name I can mention here. But, in the current circumstances, I believe Tun Mahathir needs to be brought back to helm an interim unity government to steer this nation through the uncharted territory that is before us. He is the only one who can command the respect of both sides, ensure that democracy is practised, prevent corruption and fairly distribute increasingly dwindling national resources for the benefit of the nation.
The current inexperienced PN government may be out of its depth dealing with a deteriorating economy and a restless people facing salary cuts and layoffs and a pandemic. If the way it distributed the RM260 billion economic stimulus package is anything to go by, it is apparent that the priority of the PN government is to throw money at its political base which is mainly in the B40 group, in the style of the former prime minister, Najib Razak.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has declared that the world economy has contracted by 3% and that developing nations will be hardest hit. Malaysia, too, will be hamstrung by a contracting economy. Economists, according to media reports, predict the Malaysian economy will contract by 2.5% to 4%.
Faced with a grim immediate economic future, can the PN government be trusted to make the right decisions or submit to political expediency which is the trademark of this government?
Is it prepared to trim its oversized Cabinet of 70 ministers and deputies? Is it prepared to cut Cabinet salaries? Is it prepared to make the tough decisions of trimming the civil service? If it does the above, it risks losing support and what happens next may be another Sheraton move to seize power for survival. To avoid such an eventuality, the PN government may resort to channelling funds from Petronas, Khazanah, EPF and the government-linked companies (GLC) to bail itself out. Unfortunately, the reserves of these would also be depleting. How much money can they spare to bail out the government?
There might have been a monetary reason in making PAS president Hadi Awang the Special Envoy to the Middle East — in the hope funds can be obtained from these nations to help out the PN government. Again, unfortunately, these nations’ gross domestic product (GDP) have also declined as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. How much help can they give?
To make matters worse, the first thing Hadi did as Special Envoy was to send a letter to Muslim leaders disparaging Pakatan Harapan leaders, his fellow Muslims and Malaysians. Clearly, he was operating out of his depth.
Yet, due to tightening funds, if Umno and Bersatu start squabbling over who gets whatever little is available, the only party that will emerge stable enough through the turmoil will be PAS because they don’t have much problems living with less. The situation will play right into Hadi’s hand, as there is nothing now to stop Hadi — as the next most senior person in government — to be appointed prime minister. And, that will be the end of democracy in this nation.
The above, no doubt, is a depressing picture of the immediate future but the potential of it happening exists in the PN government.
But, all of the above can be averted if Dewan Rakyat votes to uphold the democratic processes.
My own personal feeling is that things will not go well with the PN government unless it wins a no-confidence vote.
The Tun factor
The best government to lead Malaysia through the economic and political uncertainties of the future is a unity government led by Tun Dr Mahathir.
Perhaps, PH leader and Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim needs to consider this option. He needs to talk with Tun and other MPs on how best to achieve this. It must be a well-thought-of plan that can be executed quickly and efficiently with the support of the majority of the MPs in the event Muhyiddin fails a no-confidence vote.
This time, if Tun is given the mandate to lead a unity government, he must be given overwhelming support, perhaps of more than a 2/3 majority so that it is clear that the Dewan Rakyat wants no other leader. There should be no undermining of his position but unstinting support backed by a smaller Cabinet filled with good leaders picked up from all the parties.
Tun’s leadership is needed to ride out the hard economic and political times ahead. I believe, at this point in time, he is the best choice to lead Malaysia until the next general election. I also believe that should he come back as prime minister for this short period, the Najib factor will be neutralised for good and there will be political stability. By the end of Tun’s term, Malaysia’s economic decline will be arrested and institutions would be finetuned so that the problems of the past do not repeat.
Then, from the 15th general elections onwards, Malay-led political coalitions can present their respective teams to the people and it’s up to the people to choose their representatives. Democracy will continue — vibrantly!