Tag Archives: Anwar Ibrahim

Set the precedent, PM; face a confidence vote

What is more disappointing than new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s rehashed lacklustre Cabinet is the fact that he has not passed a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. By not facing a confidence vote, he has failed to uphold the spirit and intent of the federal constitution.

His Cabinet is no different from the previous prime minister, Muhyuiddin Yassin’s Cabinet — over-sized and packed with mediocrity or less of it. That is to be expected since Umno, Perikatan Nasional and its partners offer Ismail limited choices. But, why did he go ahead and make a prime ministerial decision without first proving his majority through a confidence vote, and finding legitimacy from it?

Ismail’s party, Umno, may argue that that his appointment is constitutional and democratic. Constitutional? Yes. But democratic? That can be argued. By not facing a confidence vote, he has opened himself up to questions regarding the legitimacy of his government.

Doesn’t Ismail know that in a democracy, if the prime minister and his Cabinet are not elected through a general election and is installed during mid-term because the previous government lost its majority, the new administration must first prove its majority through a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat before it can govern?

In the absence of a general election, passing a confidence vote is considered as rightful election to govern by the elected representatives of the people. In a democracy, a confidence vote is the only available instrument left for the people to elect a government of their choice through their elected representatives.

Critics can claim that the federal constitution says nothing about a confidence vote with regard to a mid-term takeover of a government. Article 43 (2)(a) of the federal constitution states that “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representative who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House”.

The Agong “in his judgment” based on the statutory declarations (SD) of 114 MPs rightly appointed Ismail as prime minister. It is also correct for the Agong to swear in the Cabinet based on Article 4(6) which states: “Before a Minister exercises the functions of his office he shall take and subscribe in the presence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong the oath of office and allegiance and the oath of secrecy set out in the Sixth Schedule”.

This far, the steps taken by the Agong are correct since no where is it stated here that the appointed PM must face a no confidence vote as suggested by some constitutional experts.

However, between the appointment of the PM and his/her swearing in, no time frame is specified, which suggests there is room for MPs to devise a procedure where after the Agong’s appointment of the PM, the latter faces a confidence vote in the spirit of democracy and if the latter wins, the swearing in can proceed.

This would ensure that the Dewan Rakyat has irrefutable records that the appointed PM won or lost the confidence vote and that position can’t change as MPs who sign SDs might in a vote in the Dewan Rakyat. In this way, the legitimacy of the appointed PM will no longer be in question and if at all the Opposition strives to remove him/her, it would not be because of the legitimacy issue but because of the performance of the PM and his/her Cabinet.

A procedure or precedent must be set now to deter MPs from undermining a legitimately elected government if they can’t face a confidence vote to prove their majority.

In Ismail’s case, it is very unlikely that he will lose a confidence vote — unless by an unexpected twist of fate! Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has declared that the Opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) will not “complicate” things. What he means by that we don’t know, but Anwar lost yet another golden opportunity to take over the government when he failed to get the support of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) on his very strong and secure 105 Opposition votes.

It was the second time he lost the chance to become PM. The first was last year when he sent a message out to the Opposition MPs to NOT vote against the Budget. If the Budget was not passed, Muhyiddin’s government would have fallen and Anwar might be PM today!

So, Ismail has nothing to worry about in facing a confidence vote. The Opposition is faltering; he might win it. He will lose it only if Anwar clearly demonstrates his leadership abilities and works out a fair and permissible power-sharing deal with GPS.

So, it is puzzling why Ismail hasn’t announced yet that he will be introducing a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat — unless, of course, he isn’t confident of his majority. All the more reason why he should face it and MPs should demand it!

Even if not spelt out in Article 43, a confidence vote is the final step in proving an appointed PM’s majority and we should set the precedent now to introduce it in accordance with the spirit and intent of the parliamentary democracy we practise and the federal constitution.

It’s the people’s hope that Ismail will set the precedent.


Happy New Year! Or, another bleak year?

Annus Horribilis is past and I’m hoping against hope that this will be annus mirablis: a year of auspicious events or miracles!

On a personal level, I hope, individually, after that terrible 2020, there will be some favourable news or even a miracle for each of us. The new vaccine to fight covid-19 is in some ways a miracle. After all these years when we were unable to find a vaccine even for the common flu, it is amazing that just in one year a vaccine was discovered to fight covid-19. There is still much about the vaccine we don’t know and especially about its side effects but the fact that it is available offers hope that people don’t have to die from the virus.

Politically, I am not optimistic that this year would get better. I think we are stuck with the Prihatin Nasional (PN) government not because it has earned the right to govern but because the Opposition failed to unite as a singular force to reckon with. That is largely due to Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) refusal to go along with its partners in its Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

There were several occasions in the last year when PH could have restored the 2018 mandate of the people but that never happened due to the conflict between former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.  Tun’s most recent statement that it will be difficult to work with Anwar seems to suggest that he has other plans besides the possibility of forming a grand Pakatan Plus coalition.

Well, until the Opposition unites as a single united force, we can continue to expect the petty blaming bickering that the Opposition is currently engaging in and the blundering and bungling and bumbling of the PN.

If the Opposition wants a reset of the political climate — as what most people want — it needs to rise against petty loyalty to certain figures and look at facts. One clear fact is that in the current scenario, Tun is the best candidate to lead the Opposition to form a government. Any other candidate will not get the combined majority support if PKR doesn’t stand in the way. Amanah and DAP are open to working with him. With Tun at the helm, there is also the slim chance that some MPs in PN may switch for the sake of the nation rather than for personal agenda.

A credible leadership will seize such an opportunity as 13 men did in the last Dewan Rakyat session when only they stood up to seek for bloc voting when voting was called to pass Budget 2021 at the policy stage. They read the situation clearly. It was a fluid state with Umno members seething over not being given the chief minister’s post after the Sabah elections and there was a chance they might vote against the government. These 13 men stood up and if Anwar hadn’t sent a message to stop the rest more might have stood up and who knows PH might be in government now.

Frankly, it appears as if there are only 13 MPs who will put nation first and seize the opportunity when it offers itself.  We need such leaders, not those who play games and form pacts with unsavoury characters for the sake of political expediency.

With Tun at the helm, a reset will be inevitable. But, it must happen soon not at the next general elections. A Tun-led Opposition needs to take over Putrajaya from PN sooner rather than later. When that happens, it will give time for ALL political parties to elect the leaders they want to lead them into the future. It will offer a chance for a new crop of leaders to emerge and stand for election in the next general elections.

If the PN government is allowed to continue, the same leaders will stand for elections and the status quo will remain. The same people will be reelected and PN will continue to lead the government. It will be same old, same old!

If Tun leads the charge for a change in government, it is unlikely that he will stay in politics beyond the next general elections and it is very likely we will see new leaders taking over the government.

The Opposition needs to think carefully what strategy it wishes to employ rather than be swayed by emotion and seek its own personal agenda. If they want a reset, the path before them is clear. If they don’t want a reset, that path is also clear. The question is whether Opposition leaders have the will and guts to stand up for the nation and make a reset happen! That will make this year annus mirablis!

2020 — a good year? It depends …

Naturally, because it is a new year, people are hopeful that it will be better than the last. Looking at the current political state of the country, I have to burst the bubble of hope; I am inclined to think that politics will go on as it is happening now. The political climate will not get better — unless, the way I see it, three underlying issues are urgently addressed.

The first issue is Malay polemics. The fight for Malay votes intensified after the 14th General Election (GE14) when minority Malay parties formed the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition with other minority parties and won GE14. However, the majority of the Malay votes remained with Umno. Hence, the rise of Malay polemics again aimed at getting the support of the majority of the Malays who are now in the opposition.

The reason for Malay polemics can be understood, but the way it is being carried out is detrimental not only to race relations but also to the Malays themselves.

One of the premises of Malay polemics is that non-Malays should not aggravate the Malays. Even when non-Malays are merely exercising their constitutional rights, they should back down or away if their actions “upset” the Malays. This was the case with the Dong Zong Chinese education group which was opposed to the introduction of Jawi in vernacular schools. Dong Zong wanted to hold a closed conference to discuss the issue but it was called off when the police got a court order to stop them.

It was Dong Zong’s constitutional right to assemble but some Malay groups found it provoking and threatened to attend the conference in protest, which is nothing short of intimidation and bullying. The police saw in the scenario a “breach of security” and obtained a court order to supposedly prevent it.

Clearly, the Malay groups were in the wrong but they got away with it while Dong Zong was prevented from exercising its constitutional right to assemble. This is an example of Malay polemics: Malays can do wrong and get away it because they are Malays.

What is troubling about this mentality is that Malay leaders exploit it to make themselves seen as being Malay in the hope that the Malays would swing their support to their party. For example, if the Prime Minister had not said that the “Malays would react in the way they do” if Dong Zong held the conference, would the Malay NGOs have reacted in the way they did? He made that statement and Malay NGOs got the green light to give vent to their bullying strategies. The result? Racial tension.

The basic assumption in Malay polemics, thus, is that the Malays are irrational and emotional people who at best will react by protesting and making police reports and at worst go amok when non-Malays legitimately exercise their rights.

The tensions between the Malay groups and Dong Zong would have disappeared if both sides had just sat down and discussed their differences. That could not have happened because the Malay groups — apart from claiming “this is a Malay world”, they (Dong Zong) are “dangerous” and “insolent” — gave no solid reason or logical explanation as to why three-pages of Jawi was necessary in schools. There was no rational explanation, just a lot of hot air and threats.

Malay leaders should discourage such emotional outbursts from Malays and, instead, encourage intelligent, rational discourse. It will take time to develop such a mentality but it can only be nurtured when Malay leaders stop exploiting Malay weaknesses in order to get votes.

The second underlying issue is the 8th prime minister. As was the GE14 deal, Anwar Ibrahim, as president of the largest Malay party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat/PKR) in the PH coalition, will become the next prime minister. However, the more important question is whether the 8th prime minister will be able to lead the PH as it is to win the 15th general elections?

If Anwar can only win the elections by making deals with the opposition Malay-based party which is Umno, it would not indicate if he has the support of the majority of Malays. The support of the majority of the Malays is crucial to win the next general elections.

PKR needs to take a good look at itself to see if it can legitimately win the support of semi-urban and rural Malays without making backdoor deals with Umno leaders to form a government after the 15th general elections. If, for whatever reason, it can not field its candidates for election in Malay-majority constituencies and win, it needs to demonstrate the moral fibre in doing the right thing.

What the “right thing” is is what PKR needs to discuss and come to terms with.

The third underlying issue is minority interests. The current government strategy is to help the dominant majority group, namely the Malays, and in the process minority groups are also helped. That’s a good strategy. But there are specific minority concerns that need to be addressed urgently as promised in GE14. The PH government needs to act decisively to resolve these minority issues even at the risk of “upsetting” the Malays. The latter is only temporary. When these minority issues are resolved, race relations will improve and this will attract more investments which will boost the economy and all will benefit and the most who will benefit will be the Malays.

So, my prediction for 2020 is this: If Malay leaders stop exploiting Malay shortcomings, if Anwar and PKR will do the right thing and if special minority interests are immediately addressed, the breakthroughs will follow to thrust us peacefully on a clear highway to developed nation status.

Getting round the race, religion and rulers strategy

Prime Minister-designate Anwar Ibrahim recently warned that a new racist narrative was creeping into Malaysia not only among the Malays but the other races. If this were true we certainly haven’t heard of any leader of other religions proclaiming to be known as the defender of their religion or resorting to all sorts of actions in the name of the religion.

Not that they don’t do this sort of thing, but religion is not used as a political strategy to keep leaders in government. But, we hear Malay politicians again and again proclaiming their defence of Islam and their allegiance to race, religion and rulers, and, if recent statements by Anwar is anything to go by, it seems as if he is following in their footsteps.

Most Malay politicians rely on that strategy to win Malay support. Anwar’s statements may be well-intentioned, but they raise a red flag.

It is understandable that he wants to identify with the Malay majority and affirm their shared heritage which is Islam. To be the next prime minister he needs their support. But, to play the religion card to get that support is to continue the legacy of the past administration of politicising Islam for votes in exchange for jobs in the government service and government-linked companies (GLCs).

Hence, we have a bloated civil service, over-staffed GLCs and a religious work culture which has allowed for the rise of militant Islam in which hides the latent potential for Islamic terrorism. All of these work against the introduction of reforms.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians — of which Anwar is one as the president of the largest Malay party in the coalition, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which is committed to reforms — need to find a new way of reaching the large Malay voter base without playing the religion and race cards, if by playing them they risk the religious rights of other Malaysians.

PH politicians need to leave race and religion and rulers out of their rhetoric and create a new narrative that stresses economic progress based on honest work and opportunities for all. This can be achieved by developing a communication strategy to reach out to the largely Malay rural majority or through the media.

Right now, the two main Malay newspapers are Berita Harian and Utusan Melayu.  Utusan is the bigger paper with a larger circulation of about 200,000 (Audit Bureau of Circulation Jan-June 2018 circulation figures) mostly among Malays. However, it is not making money and on the way to closing down.

These newspapers are Umno-owned and they aided in moulding the Malay mind to Umno’s bent. If independent-minded Malaysian businessmen buy over Utusan, trim it down to an efficiently-run, albeit small, newspaper for the Malay masses, the public debate in the Malay community will take on a more progressive approach to race, religion and rulers.

Politicians will have to work hard to be featured in the paper and the Malay readers will get more reliable information on which to make their decisions. This will force politicians to promise and deliver according to what the readers want and if they succeed in winning their support they would have earned it.

It would be a waste to let Utusan die but if it were regenerated by a non-partisan board, it will drive the debate for the advancement of the rural Malay community and by extension, the Malaysian public since the Malays form the dominant race. If the debate becomes more open and less parochial, it will surely attract non-Malay readers and the potential to become a leading Malaysian Malay paper becomes a very strong possibility.

Initially, there will be the problem of trimming the fat. Many people will have to be retrenched. But, if the economy is pushed to pick up with more businesses opening up the retrenched staff will eventually find other jobs. Such a market would improve the standard of work as people now learn to work hard to compete and keep their jobs or climb the corporate ladder.

There are many good people out there who can guide the newspaper with a fiercely independent mind. There are also many non-partisan businessmen who may be willing to invest in them. The trick is to find them.

To break away from the need to play the religion card which brings no good to anyone, a healthy, open Malay-medium media will provide the reach Malay politicians want to win support without the race, religion and rulers rhetoric. Readers will know what their leaders are doing and politicians will have no choice but to deliver up to people’s expectations.

It’s an idea worth thinking about.