Tag Archives: Anwar

Lots of nice words, but let’s have real change

It was, indeed, very gallant of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to invite his detractors to Parliament to prove they have the numbers to form a new government. He said that “he will face the person who tables the motion, and we will battle in Parliament”.

Brave words, but what would be the procedure by which his detractors could respond? They first have to table a motion — if the Speaker allows it. If the Speaker doesn’t allow it for whatever reason that would be the end of a possible face-off in Parliament.

Instead of daring the Opposition to face him in a debate in Parliament, it would have been better for Anwar to set in law a procedure for a no-confidence vote.

There is only one way to prove a majority in Parliament and that is through a no-confidence vote. With his claims of a two-thirds majority, Anwar could easily pass such a law.

MPs now can table a motion of no-confidence/confidence but it depends on the discretion of the Speaker to allow it, which means MPs wanting a change of government is dependent on the goodwill of the same government to make it happen, which, of course, will never happen!

So, Anwar can throw a thousand powerful words at his detractors but they would mean nothing at all unless he matches those words with the will to institute real change.

Anwar would have come across as a force to reckon with if he, instead of throwing a dare, set into law a procedure for MPs to call for a no-confidence vote. The law should have requirements such as a minimum number of MPs calling for such a vote to be allowed in the day’s agenda and that MPs should be allowed to vote without any restriction imposed by any memorandum of understanding or any other arrangement.

The law must also specify that the MPs vote by ballot so that the yes and no numbers are counted. For an issue as important as removing or forming a government, a voice vote would not give an accurate count of MPs in favour of the motion and those who are not.

If Anwar set in place such a law he would be giving bite to his talk. The law may backfire on him and he may lose the government but it would be democratic. Inviting the Opposition to battle it out in Parliament through a debate will not prove an incumbent government’s majority. A no-confidence vote would.

It would also show that it is the MPs who determine the destiny of the nation according to the mandate of the people. If a vote of no confidence carries through, the king has no choice but to form a new government. He has proof of who has the majority and who doesn’t. This is also a way how MPs prevent constitutional monarchy from overstepping its boundaries and overriding parliamentary democracy.

As it is, Anwar showed bravado but did not substantiate it with a commitment to introduce the proper procedure of proving a majority in Parliament. Without a no-confidence vote law, Anwar’s words are simply political baiting and nothing to be taken seriously.

More importantly, MPs will now find other ways to change a government and that would be a cause of political instability as no one will know when they will succeed through legitimate or illegitimate means. A no-confidence vote will be a legal means of managing political instability in Parliament and aid in bringing about a resolution.

Instead of keeping quiet, the MPs should have jumped at the opportunity Anwar offered and held him to his word by demanding a procedure to call for a no-confidence vote. Unfortunately, MPs don’t seem to know when to fight and when to keep quiet. This was an occasion when they should have loudly called for a law to initiate a no-confidence vote. Instead, they missed the chance for real change.

Once such a law is passed and a no-confidence vote is introduced, the Opposition MPs may fail to unseat Anwar but they would have succeeded in making a no-confidence vote law to prove the majority of a government.

Besides, with his two-thirds majority, Anwar can confidently win a confidence vote — unless, of course, he isn’t confident. In which case, he has no right to remain in government and all the more reason why he must prove his majority in Parliament.


Umno’s requests – the implications

Umno has sent a request to the king for a royal pardon for former prime minister Najib Razak who is the party advisor. Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has also sent a letter of representation to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to drop the 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, corruption and money laundering involving Yayasan Akalbudi (YAB) that were brought against him.

Clearly, Zahid and Najib want to escape conviction but did they think through the decisions and implications or frantically made decisions based on a dissenting judgement in the review of Najib’s SRC case which had found him guilty?

Perhaps, my layperson’s mind can’t grasp the legal aspects of Zahid’s latest two moves. But, I find the audacity of the requests unbelievable. Firstly, the application was sent to the king. What now will the king do? Pass the application to the pardon’s board for consideration? By sending the application directly to the king, Umno has now made the king the secretary of the pardon’s board who passes it to the board!

Secondly, can the political party of a convicted politician send a request on behalf of the said politician? According to Regulation 113 of the Prison Regulations 2000, a petition can only be filed by the convicted, their family or a lawyer appointed by them, and the Prisons Department. But Umno has bypassed the standard procedure and sent the request directly to the king and in doing so does it realise it has put both the king and the government in a spot?

Since the application came to the king from outside of the government, the king now has to consider whether he acts as the king or the king who is the chairman of the pardon’s board. If he acts solely as the king, he is free to pardon anyone but will it be recognized by the government?

For it to be recognized by the government, the application must go through the government and be approved by the pardon’s board in a sitting with the king as the chairman.

If the king issues a pardon in his capacity as the king, it would put the government in a spot as firstly it must be established that the king has the constitutional authority to issue a pardon without the rest of the pardon’s board and which the government must recognize.

If the king has no such constitutional authority and he issues a pardon, then Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim will now have to make a stand as to what is constitutional and advise the king accordingly.

Whether he will do that or not and go along with whatever interpretation the king follows in the way he did when the king instructed the political parties to form a unity government with Anwar as prime minister is left to be seen, which will be seen as another constitutional breach!

It is to avoid such chaotic governing processes that a pardon’s board was set up with the king as chairman so that applications are brought through the government and once approved according to the set criteria the government acts to validate the decision.

It is the same with Zahid’s letter to the AGC requesting that his criminal charges be dropped. If he has the right to send such a letter, then every other person charged in court has the right to make such a request! A precedent has been set and now it can be expected that others will do the same.

Was Zahid and those who advised him fully aware of the implications of the above two requests? I like to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that they were but, I suspect, they don’t care — as long as there is a feeble even if baseless hope they could go free, they would seize it irrespective of whether they were acting responsibly. They don’t care if they were setting a precedent and, in the process, undermining the finality of judges’ decisions.

Would Zahid, who is the deputy prime minister, have been so bold to sidestep the correct procedures and practices of good governance if he and his party weren’t part of the ruling government? Or, was he emboldened precisely because he is in government?

These are the brazen acts of desperate politicians who have been given access to power by being included in the Cabinet and who use their power to act for selfish gain.

As the prime minister, Anwar has not reined in his junior coalition partner who has put unnecessary stress on the government, the constitutional monarchy, the judiciary and the pardon’s board. For that, he must be held responsible.

The past two governments fell due to Umno’s manipulations. The same might happen to Anwar’s unity government.

His position — despite the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) he signed with parties in his coalition — is not guaranteed. The MoU was signed with parties, not individual MPs.

If MPs get tired of Umno’s shenanigans and Anwar’s accommodative silence, they may revolt. Their parties can simply claim they couldn’t do anything about it because the MPs acted on behalf of their constituents. If the MPs revolt, it may be the end of the unity government.

Anwar has to rethink the leeway he has given Umno — if he wants to save the unity government.

The ills of reviving Umno

There’s a new Umno chief minister in Malacca, Ab Rauf Yusoh. New political appointments to government agencies, statutory bodies, and GLCs which include and will include Umno politicians. The Court of Appeal has permanently released Umno president and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s international passport.

These events raise questions as to the amount of leeway this unity government’s junior partner Umno enjoys under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership. Is this what the people voted for? In Umno’s heartland in the rural Malay-majority region, voters abandoned the party and gave their vote to Perikatan Nasional (PN). Yet Umno seems to be wielding considerable influence in Anwar’s government.

There may be a couple of reasons for the weight Umno has in Anwar’s administration. A single statement by Deputy Public Prosecutor Abdul Malik Ayob in hearing Zahid’s request to have his passport back permanently is telling. He said he was instructed not to raise any objection to the application, which can only mean that the DPP had objections but was not allowed to make them on instructions.

In the absence of any objection, it is not surprising that the three-person Court of Appeal bench allowed Zahid’s request on the basis that circumstances have changed and Zahid was made a minister and his personal and diplomatic passports were needed to perform his duties.

This is what happens when politicians facing court charges are placed in government. It becomes necessary to accommodate them by bending the rules.

Anwar can’t be accused of influencing the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) as he doesn’t need to as the current AGC will perform as it has and the outcome is as what the public has witnessed in the past three years.

The current performance of the AGC, however, is benefitting the politicians who are facing court charges. Evidently, Anwar is not interfering even if it makes him look as having betrayed the reform agenda on which he built his support.

Another reason for compromising on reforms to have Umno on his side, perhaps, is to indicate Malay support for his unity government.

Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition only won 13% of the Malay vote in Peninsular Malaysia and combined with Umno’s 32% (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20), it comes up to a tally of 45%. Together with the Malay vote from Sabah and Sarawak, he could claim a Malay majority but it is a weak majority as the unity government did not get the mandate of the people but was instructed and appointed by the king.

Being the party with the biggest Malay representation in the unity government, Anwar may be giving Umno a stronger voice in government by accommodating its requests for political appointments and being silent on some of the compromises being made to revive Umno. A revived Umno could mean more Malay support for PH.

Banking on a revived Umno to deliver Malay votes to a PH-led coalition in the future, however, may be a risky undertaking. In the Malay heartland, Umno’s support dropped from 44% in GE14 to 32% in GE15 (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20). The clear message from the Malay voters in this rural and semi-rural region is that their preference is for PN.

The state elections in June will reveal if this trend will continue. If it continues, Umno will lose more Malay support.

PH’s best bet in getting Malay support is in the urban areas. That, too, may be an uphill task considering the fact that PH lost more than half its Malay support in GE15. PKR’s Malay support dropped from GE14 to GE15 from 30% to 14%, DAP’s from 34% to14% and Amanah’s from 22% to 12% (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20).

Again, the state elections in June, particularly in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan which have dominant urban Malay populations, will reveal Malay support for PH and Anwar’s leadership.

Without a demonstrable reform agenda while in government and accommodating Umno at the same time may have a negative outcome rather than what is hoped for.

It would be better for PH to win support by sticking to its reform agenda rather than resorting to the political expediency of unsavoury alliances, unacceptable compromises and undemocratic Memorandums of Understanding.

Prove reforms are better

A second former prime minister (Muhyiddin Yassin) has been brought to court to face corruption charges. Who’s next?

Muhyiddin’s arrest was made by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission based, according to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s statement, on MACC’s independent investigations.

MACC should continue to nab the crooks based on its own investigations but it must not be seen as selective prosecution in that some are investigated for whatever reasons while others are not.

If there’s proof that leaders have stolen money from the government then they deserve to face the full brunt of the law. But, Anwar needs to show proof that there is no selective prosecution under his leadership and that he isn’t engaged in revenge politics.

Another consideration that Anwar needs to think of is whether this course of action to take past leaders to court is an effective deterrent in curbing corruption in government.

Is it effective? Or, is it a start of a trend to take past premiers and politicians to court with the next leadership doing the same with the previous leader/s in a tit-for-tat?

If Anwar was serious about reforms, he would let MACC initiate investigations on its own, while he concentrated on improving good governance and the economy and instituting reforms.

Without sufficient proof of more reforms and good governance, his credibility as a reformist is at stake and, perhaps, already shot. His administration doesn’t look like a reforming government and appears no different from the very governments he and his party and coalition used to criticize.

With a two-thirds majority in government, Anwar could have easily introduced a few necessary laws that would have confirmed his seriousness to introduce reforms.

The first law he should have passed was to amend the federal constitution to include provisions for a no-confidence vote to legitimize any government formed due to the collapse of an incumbent government. Such a no-confidence law should be made mandatory without a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure MPs are free to vote to represent their constituents.

Another law he could have introduced was the Political Funding Act, and another putting a maximum limit to commissions the government can receive.

Without laws, politicians holding public office are simply going to continue in the bad practices we have seen in the past and future leaders will take past leaders to court. With laws, such practices will have to stop.

A third consideration Anwar has to think about is whether the trajectory he is on now will strengthen his party PKR and his coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) as a viable alternative government after the next general election.

He has become prime minister and may retire after his term but what will become of PKR and PH in the future? After Anwar, what will become of PKR and PH? Ensuring their future should be his priority by proving that his party’s and coalition’s trademarks are reforms and good governance.

Give the public full disclosure

Former premier Muhyiddin Yassin was charged with four counts of abuse of power and two money laundering charges involving RM232.5 million at the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur today. He pleaded not guilty and has claimed trial.

If based on the investigations by the Malaysian Ant-Corruption Commission (MACC), there are grounds for his arrest and charges in court, of course, he must face the full force of the law. Since Muhyiddin has claimed trial, he now has the chance to prove his innocence.

Muhyiddin’s arrest, however, overshadows another equally important case — Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s overruling of the Registrar of Societies’ (ROS) decision that Umno’s decision to prevent election for the top two positions was invalid. An ROS letter to that effect was widely shared online although, in a later letter to Umno, ROS did a U-turn and gave Umno the green light for a no-contest for the top two positions.

This was followed by a statement by Saifuddin that he had invoked Section 70 of the Societies Act to prevent Umno from being deregistered over its no-contest decision for its top two posts.

Section 70 states that “the Minister may at his discretion in writing exempt any society registered under this Act from all or any of the provisions of this Act”. Saifuddin said, specifically, he had exempted Umno from compliance with Section 13(1)(c)(iv) which empowers the Registrar of Societies to deregister a party for contravening its rules.

According to media reports, ROS’ second letter sought for the party to take “corrective actions”. Umno now won’t need to take corrective action because, by the stroke of a pen invoking ministerial privilege, Saifuddin saved it from being barred.

Now, why would the Home Minister do such a thing? ROS did its job. If it didn’t do its job rightly, Saifuddin could have invoked Section 70 and directed it to correct where it had erred. But, he didn’t do that.

Instead, the Home Minister invoked ministerial privilege not just to overrule ROS’s decision but to interfere in the internal politics of a political party that is a partner in the coalition government. Isn’t this abuse of authority?

He interfered in the politics of another political party by using his authority in government. What justification can he have to invoke ministerial privilege using his position in government to play politics involving another party?

When the issue was brought up in Parliament, he said his rationale for the decision was a secret and could not be divulged. This is not a government matter that needs to be protected as a “secret”. This is clearly a case of a government minister using his powers to interfere in the politics of another political party.

This is unacceptable and Saifuddin can not hide behind the Official Secrets Act (OSA) or the explanation that it is a “secret”. It is a political issue that the government should not be interfering with.

Unfortunately, a precedent was set in invoking the OSA in not giving full disclosure when Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), Azalina Othman Said, said in an earlier report, that the terms of settlement of the civil suit by former attorney general Apandi Ali against former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the government are classified as confidential under the OSA.

The plaintiff and the Attorney-General’s Chambers had agreed when the case was ongoing to keep the settlement confidential. Shouldn’t that have been sufficient? Why put it under the OSA unless there were concerns that it could be made public at a later date?

The case involved a financial settlement by the government using taxpayers’ money. Taxpayers have the right to know how the government was using their money. Putting the case under OSA seems to suggest that the government has something to hide. This is not good governance.

Likewise with the current case involving Saifuddin’s exemption. Both of these cases involve Umno. Apandi was the AG who had said that former prime minister and Umno president Najib Razak was not implicated in the 1MDB scandal.

Why is there a need to keep the rationale for keeping these two cases involving Umno a “secret”? And, this is only happening now under the unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

If Saifuddin did not invoke the ministerial privilege, Umno would have had to take corrective action, and, if it didn’t, ROS would have the authority to deregister it. If Umno was deregistered, it would no longer be in the ruling government.

Whether Saifuddin acted on advice or at his own discretion is another question that begs an answer. This and other questions should be asked in Parliament and MPs, especially those in Umno who disagree with the no-contest decision, should not relent until the home minister gives full disclosure.

Saifuddin has told his opponents to take the issue to court as he would answer all questions then. Well, then, perhaps the courts should decide whether the Home Minister can invoke Section 70 to interfere in the internal politics of a political party that ROS has reason to believe has contravened its own rules.

What is baffling is that even if Umno was deregistered and left the unity government, Anwar’s 146-seat majority will be reduced by only 26 seats and he would still have a majority of 120 seats.

So, it is difficult to understand why Anwar’s government is willing to use government authority to interfere in the internal politics of a partner party unless there is a hidden agenda that the parties involved do not want the public to become aware of.

It would be timely now for the Anwar-led Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and Umno to reveal the entire list of conditions that Umno wanted PH to accept before it agreed to join the unity government. It would clear all doubts the public would have as to the reason why Anwar wants Umno to remain in his government at the risk of compromising its ministers.

Why didn’t Nurul Izzah say ‘No!’

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has appointed five experts to an advisory body to advise him as the finance minister. The team will be led by Petronas adviser Tan Sri Hassan Marican. The others are FVSB executive chairman Datuk Ahmad Fuad Md Ali, Sunway University economics professor Dr Yeah Kim Leng, Universiti Malaya economics professor Datuk Dr Rajah Rasiah and, Sarawak Energy Bhd chairman Datuk Abdul Hamed Sepawi.

It was not stated if the team includes Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah who was appointed as senior finance adviser and has been serving in that capacity since Jan 3 on a pro bono basis (So, are the experts!). So, what then does Nurul do in the finance ministry?

According to Anwar, her duty is to ensure transparency in the administration and to monitor government tender procurement to ensure that they are done in an orderly manner, the New Straits Times reported.

Anwar may be serious about his reason or reasons for Nurul’s appointment but it seems dubious as it raises questions on the need for such an appointment.

Aren’t there staff in the finance ministry already doing the job assigned to Nurul? Will she be duplicating their job or checking on them? Why would she have to do this job which ministry staff should be doing, anyway? Surely, there are senior staff these staff report to to check on them? So, why is Nurul needed to duplicate their duties? Just appoint a finance minister!

Her job is redundant unless there’s an ulterior motive — to dig up dirt. If so, Anwar needs to tread very carefully because he has to contend with the Official Secrets Act. If Nurul is working for the government — even for free — she is subject to the Official Secrets Act and if found having divulged official secrets to the prime minister, she — and the prime minister, too — could be taken to court.

So, Anwar is putting his daughter in a compromising position. Having the ear of her father, she will also put the staff on tenterhooks because they won’t know what feedback will be brought to her father’s attention. Is this creating a positive work environment reflective of a reform-minded prime minister?

By placing a close relative in a position with access to government information and reporting to him, Anwar has blurred the lines between filial loyalty and professional accountability.

It is the same with Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul who has denied claims that his son was appointed as a special officer to assist him in Parliament. He went to great lengths to explain that his son Muhammad Iqbal was working for him and is paid out of his own pocket.

If Muhammad Iqbal is not working for the government, then, he shouldn’t use government resources to help his father; he shouldn’t have an office in his father’s office. He can work from anywhere else to help his father but not in the government.

If Nurul’s position in the finance ministry is to help her father and not the government, then she should not have an office in the ministry nor have the authority to access information privy only to government staff.

Even if technically not illegal, family members should not work for their parents in an official capacity in government. Anwar may follow the practice of former US President Donald Trump who appointed his daughter and son-in-law to key positions.

Surely, Anwar is aware that that was one of the factors that led to the loss of support from both his own Republican Party and those who voted for him previously and which led to Trump failing to win a second term as president.

If Anwar continues making indefensible decisions, he, too, risks losing ground support and it may not bode well for his unity government.

It is hard to believe that Nurul is not aware of the issues surrounding her appointment. What is most baffling is that this child of Reformasi who for two decades chanted “corruption and cronyism” alongside her father quietly acquiesced to the latter when put in a similarly compromising position.

She must have her reasons but what is demonstrated is an inability to say “No!” when the situation warranted it, and, as a result, she has disqualified herself from public office. If she can’t say “No!” to her father, can she say “No!” to his supporters who come to her for help? What proof has she demonstrated that she would not be influenced or manipulated?

Has Nurul been infected with the common Malaysian political malaise? Vocal and strident in calling out corruption, cronyism and bad governance and demanding reforms when in the opposition, but when the power of government is within grasp, all such lofty principles and constitutional adherence are thrown out and replaced by gutter-driven political expediency or convenience or plain cheating?

It is because of this one characteristic that Malaysian politics is in the state it is in. Malaysian politicians can’t say “No!” to power and position and that is the reason why they can be easily bought. Woe on the people if they are placed in public office!

It is extremely disappointing that the poster girl of Reformasi was unable to resist the Malaysian political malaise. Very, very disappointing indeed.

What’s the basis for Anwar’s decisions?

Just before Chinese New Year, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said that the status of Sabah and Sarawak as regions rather than states must be referred to the rulers before the issue is submitted to the Cabinet for consideration.

Speaking to reporters after chairing a Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) meeting, he said, “We need to respect the process.” However, he gave no explanation as to whether this process was spelt out in the federal constitution.

The people have a right to know if the decision he has made to refer a government matter such as the MA63 to the rulers before they are discussed by the Cabinet and then Parliament, is within the ambit of the federal constitution.

In the parliamentary democracy that Malaysia practises, the prime minister is the head of government and is first and foremost accountable to Parliament and presents all matters of government such as amendments to the federal constitution to Parliament first. When Parliament approves the amendments, they are then sent to the king who knows what he should do and what he need not do as according to the constitution.

If Anwar is departing from the usual procedure, he needs to explain on what constitutional grounds he has made the decision. In the absence of a reason for such a decision, it appears as if he is deferring to the rulers and seeking their approval/input before sending the amendments to Parliament. If this is the correct procedure, he needs to back it according to the constitution on the advice of the Attorney-General (A-G).

The A-G’s advice should also come under the scrutiny of his peers to ascertain if he has interpreted the constitution correctly. If he hasn’t, then he should be removed and replaced with an A-G who has a better and fuller grasp of the constitution.

The people have a right to know if the prime minister is making decisions according to the constitution and if he is getting the correct advice on an important issue such as referring government matters to the rulers first when the latter are not supposed to interfere with government matters.

Likewise with Anwar’s decision to include Members of Parliament facing court charges in the Cabinet. It will have a bearing on court decisions as clearly seen as Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has filed an application in the High Court to have his passport returned permanently.

The passport was previously surrendered to the court as an additional bail condition after he was charged with 47 charges of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering involving Akalbudi Foundation funds. Zahid’s reason is to carry out his duties as the DPM.

Whether the court will reverse its decision is yet to be seen but it puts the court in an awkward position and begs the question as to whether Anwar’s decision places added pressure on the court to revisit its decision. Shouldn’t a prime minister’s responsibility include refraining from adding pressure on the courts?

Anwar may have other reasons for making the decisions he is making which the people don’t need to know. The people only need to know if he is acting according to the constitution and the accepted conventions of parliamentary democracy. That remains invisible, especially in the above decisions.

Seeing into 2023

The political climate will not improve. In fact, it might get worse with coups and the toppling of incumbent federal and state governments actually happening. Already, there is talk that Perikatan Nasional (PN) has initiated a London move to topple the Agong-formed Pakatan Harapan (PH)-led unity government and that, in Sabah, a change of government is impending.

While these nascent efforts are yet to materialize, they indicate political instability that will cast a long pall of gloom over development policies, the economy and governance.

The government will continue to put out fires but long-term macro policies to address structural and underlying problems like climate change, deforestation, water cuts, flood management, economic revival, political stability, corruption and abuse of power will remain wanting. Incumbent MPs will be engrossed with staying in power while the opposition coalitions and parties will be scheming to overthrow them.

Both sides will resort to means that may not be constitutional but politically expedient. So, PH will continue to strengthen its ties with the court-cluster-led Umno. How that would affect the corruption cases in the courts is yet to be seen.

The unity government will also welcome associations with the Agong and Sultans to bolster their standing in government. Whether that would extend the influence of royals to the government will depend on how the prime minister stands up to them according to the tenets of parliamentary democracy.

As a rule, prime ministers and MPs should not be seen hobnobbing with royalty unless in their clearly-defined official capacities. Outside of these official duties, the two should not be seen together as it implies the possibility of influence-peddling at the expense of the people. Royals are above politics and should not be making suggestions and advising leaders on how to run the government. In fact, they should be taking suggestions on the advice of the prime minister.

Since we follow the Westminister model of parliamentary democracy, it is good to see how the UK MPs conduct themselves. Are they given “an audience” by the king or sultan? Do the latter endorse political candidates, coalitions and parties?

Such undemocratic indiscretions as described above will continue.

Placing unelected officials as ministers and an unelected former MP as the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat is another undemocratic practice that has taken place and such appointments may continue. No doubt previous Speakers were not MPs. PH’s first Speaker, Muhamad Ariff Yusof, performed well but he wasn’t a parliamentarian and in the crisis that followed the Sheraton moves was unable to recognize the powers he could wield under the constitution to diffuse the situation by agreeing to a confidence vote.

Non-parliamentarian Speakers will not have the perspective of a parliamentarian to grasp the powers he/she wields to provide the final check and balance to ensure the legitimacy of a government and the independence of the Dewan Rakyat. The previous Speaker, Azhar Harun, who wasn’t an MP, was proof of decisions that favoured the government rather than the House.

The current Speaker, former MP Johari Abdul, was not elected to the 15th Parliament but was elected to the post. Not an MP, he will have excess powers because he has no constituents to provide the check and balances if he acted in any way that displeased his voters. As a rule, no unelected official should become a Speaker or a cabinet minister.

Such democratic conventions are not practised by Malaysian politicians and until they do, lapses in good government can be expected.

Opposition coalitions and parties too are no better at playing politics according to the rules and conventions. Afterall, PN parties were the first coup plotters who became the government and who are now the opposition in the Dewan Rakyat. They will continue to justify their behind-the-scenes games to topple sitting governments in the name of political expediency on the basis that they won the majority of the Malay seats.

Any democratic government would understand that without a comfortable majority, the people have the right to change their government mid-term. It’s that threat that keeps governments on their toes. The opposition will use this to justify backroom deals to destabilize the government.

Governments, however, can not fall when a coalition/party publicly announces a withdrawal of support for it. An announcement can be made but it must be proven through a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat or state assembly.

If the laws make no reference to a no-confidence or confidence vote, the Speaker and MPs must make some allowance to call for one until laws and provisions are made to make a no-confidence or confidence vote compulsory to prove the majority of the government and/or the claims of its challengers.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) should not substitute for a no-confidence or confidence vote. The MoU signed by the partners in the unity government to support Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim will be ineffective if party members choose to go against the MoU. The worst that would happen to them under the Anti-hopping Bill is that their parties will expel them, in which case they may join another party. There are many parties to choose from now!

As a result, Parliament will become a shadow of its former self. There will not be much meaningful debate because both sides have and will do the same things that have been done and debates will end up with the pot calling the kettle black!

However, the political climate will change if two new developments emerge. Firstly, parliamentary constituencies need to be redelineated to equitably represent the Malays as they form the majority community in the country. Based on statistics, it needs to be ascertained if the majority of Malays are now in the urban areas. If they are, then there should be more urban Malay-majority seats rather than the current majority of Malay seats in the rural and semi-rural regions.

Once this structural imbalance is corrected, and an election is held, a truer picture will emerge as to which Malay-based party has the majority support of Malays. Parties that have traditionally won the support of the rural Malay seats like Umno and now PAS and PN will have fewer seats and will be unable to claim a majority as they are able now and consequently the possibility of a hung government will be greatly reduced.

Whether Anwar has the political will to make this happen is yet to be seen as his current firm partner in government, Umno, may oppose it since it would mean fewer seats in Umno’s traditional stronghold. If, however, Malay parties begin wooing the urban Malay voters, Umno has a good chance as its opponents to win more seats.

It is this inequitable distribution of Malay seats between the rural and urban areas that is the underlying cause of discontent with Malay representation in government. Once the structural imbalance is corrected, the issue of Malay majority representation in government will be resolved.

Secondly, leaders need to emerge who will fight to uphold parliamentary democracy and follow democratic conventions and the rule of law. They should not follow in the footsteps of their predecessors who trump the constitution for the sake of political expediency. We need leaders who will buck the trend and assert and practise parliamentary democracy and establish the conventions for future leaders to follow.

When these two developments happen, there will be political stability as a political culture would evolve to keep political stability intact even in the face of a crisis.

A way to wipe the slate clean

DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng and Muda president Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman should be commended for not taking a position in Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity cabinet. In doing so, they are respecting the judicial process to dispose of their corruption cases and not hold public office until the courts clear them of all charges.

Although legally they can hold public office on the grounds of being innocent until proven guilty, they are putting the rights of voters first by not compromising the latter’s trust in their elected MPs and holding public office when they are facing corruption charges in court. If an MP is facing court charges, how can he/she be trusted with the resources of the people? To avoid any breach of trust, it would be wiser for the MP to simply not hold public office.

Lim and Syed Saddiq are demonstrating that as MPs or politicians seeking public office, they are putting the interests of the voters above the legal leeway they have. That should be the political convention a reform-minded government should be encouraging. Evidence of such reforms are still yet to be seen.

Instead, a number of politicians facing corruption charges in court stood for election in GE15 and won. Worse still one became the prime minister and another a deputy prime minister. They are simply snubbing the judiciary and implying that the charges are politically motivated. That may be the case but having been elected they must respect the judicial process and leave it to the courts to judge if the evidence proves their claims or not, and abide by it.

Until then, they should not have put the burden of choosing and legitimising a “tainted” candidate on the voters. That is, in fact, giving the voters no choice at all, which is totally undemocratic.

Frankly, it is surprising that the Election Commission (EC) accepted the nomination papers of these candidates. The EC chairman is appointed by the prime minister and that, perhaps, explains why he could not act independently, according to the expectations of the law and rejected the papers. If he had the courage to do it, we would not have leaders whose political integrity is in doubt in the cabinet.

If Anwar, who for more than two decades built his party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), on cries of reform, is truly committed to introducing political reforms in government and rooting out corruption, perhaps, he should consider implementing the main point of the GE15 election manifesto of Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA), the coalition led by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s party, Pejuang.

The main point of GTA’s manifesto is to put the appointment of nine key government officers under the purview of Parliament where they will be selected through select parliamentary committees.

The key officers are the attorney-general, inspector-general of police, chief justice, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief commissioner, armed forces chief, chief secretary to the government, Treasury secretary-general, auditor-general, and the Bank Negara Malaysia governor.

If Anwar’s unity government passes a confidence vote in the first sitting of the 15th Parliament on Dec 19, and he is serious about wiping out corruption in government, he should consider implementing GTA’s anti-corruption plan — with GTA’s permission, of course.

GTA is also an opposition coalition and for the sake of the good of the country, it may be willing for the unity government to implement its plan to place the key nine officials in public office accountable to Parliament.

After all, the notion of a unity government was first bandied about by GTA chairman Mahathir when he became prime minister for the second time. It took root post-GE15 due to the king’s efforts with Anwar now leading it. If GTA was approached, some arrangement could be made to facilitate Anwar to execute the plan to give independence to these key top nine officials.

Anwar could at the same time separate the function of the prosecution from the Attorney-General’s Chambers and it may work in Anwar’s favour to clear his name from his pending sodomy case. Selected by a parliamentary select committee, the head of the prosecution may examine all the cases at its disposal and cancel cases that do not merit prosecution. Without executive interference, it would be proof that those cleared of the charges are truly innocent. If Anwar’s case is cleared in this way, the sodomy charge will no longer hang over his head, ever.

It would be wiping the slate clean and starting all over again on a clean footing. The question, however, is whether Anwar has the will to do the right thing and take the initiative and execute a plan to wipe out corruption in the government and prove whether the cases against MPs are politically motivated or not. Are he and his unity government prepared to face the truth?

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.