Tag Archives: Anwar

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.

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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.

10th PM: Is it an earned sweet victory?

Anwar Ibrahim has now become Malaysia’s 10th prime minister, and with Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) joining the Pakatan Harapan (PH)-led unity government, the new prime minister has announced that he has a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat. A commendable achievement.

Nevertheless, it is worth examining if he earned it.

Winning only 82 seats in GE15 with its ally, Muda, against its opponent Perikatan Nasional (PN)’s 73, PH was unable to form a majority government. Neither was PN. Anwar approached GPS (which won 23 seats) who apparently initially declined, then Barisan Nasional (BN) who wavered to commit to PH. Meanwhile, PN claimed to have a majority while the criticisms rose to give the coalition with the most seats the first chance to form a majority.

After two days the Palace summoned both parties and suggested the plan of a unity government which PN outrightly rejected on the basis it had the majority. The king did not accept the claim and neither did he ask Anwar to form the government.

At this point, Anwar was in the position face-to-face with the king to tell the reigning monarch that according to the federal constitution, he should be called to form the new government. We don’t know if he did. And, if he did, neither were we told of the response.

It was an opportune moment for Anwar to prove his willingness to fight for the upholding of the constitution which every prime minister-designate must demonstrate. In our form of constitutional monarchy-parliamentary democracy, it is the prime minister who leads the fight to ensure that in all his/her dealings and in the affairs of government, he/she and the government abides by the constitution in every way.

Anwar missed that chance. Understandably, he lacked the confidence to assert his claim because he was unsure he could muster a majority. Or, he may have been beholden to the king as, after all, he was pardoned by the reigning monarch after serving time for a sodomy charge when PH was in government.

Whatever his reason, he failed to demonstrate that determination to advise the constitutional monarch to abide by the constitutional requirement to let him as the leader of the coalition with the most seats to form the majority government.

The king may not have listened but Anwar would have made the point clear: it is the prime minister who advises the constitutional monarch when the latter steps out of his authority as stipulated by the constitution and gets involved in government affairs and political manoeuvering and assumes the role of kingmaker. A prime minister-designate should be able to say so.

Anwar did not stand up for the constitution and the king went about summoning BN and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) who went along with the king and agreed to join a PH-led unity government. GPS only agreed after it demanded an apology from PH component partner DAP for saying that the state government would go bankrupt with its hefty spending bills. DAP humbly apologized and GPS accepted and joined the unity government and gave it a majority.

The king then called for a ruler’s conference and it was only after that that he named Anwar the 10th PM and called on him to form a majority government.

Now Anwar is beholden to the king because without his “help” he could not have formed a majority government. Yesterday, the Johor Sultan congratulated Anwar and it is left to be seen to what extent Anwar will maintain the independence of the government without interference from royals.

Anwar is also indebted to the DAP who make up nearly 50% of the 82 seats PH won. But he now has to pay the price of winning the most seats on Chinese support in order to become PM. As a result, the conservative Malay heartland swung to PAS (48 seats) and its ally Bersatu (24 seats).

GE15 has exposed PAS president Hadi Awang’s influence and the country is now even more polarised in Peninsular Malaysia between the rural Malays and the urbanites and between their religions and it poses a threat to national integration. To diminish that threat, GPS and GRS came to Anwar’s rescue to form a majority government. The alternative would have been a PN-led PAS-influenced conservative government going backwards. Anwar is indebted to both GPS and GRS.

Yet, all of this could have been avoided if Anwar was willing to give up his desire to be PM and worked with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA) which was wiped out because it went alone in GE15 without the backing of a coalition. With GTA and Mahathir in it, GPS might have joined it and PH would have won more seats — albeit without Anwar — to confidently form a majority government indebted to no one.

That, perhaps, is what Mahathir had in mind. Mahathir is always 10 steps ahead and if people can’t catch up to him, he is mistrusted and or demonized. But, he is far-sighted politically. PH missed that opportunity because of its insistence that Anwar becomes PM. Now, Anwar is, but lacking in confidence because he is indebted to everyone who put him there.

To strengthen his confidence to lead this nation and become a “PM for all” as he has declared, he must face a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat and win it. His coalition partners who must be credited for admirably putting the nation first and joining the PH-led unity government must give him their full support. A PN-led alternative with PAS as the dominant partner will be disastrous for the nation.

Before the vote, however, Anwar must show in the selection of his cabinet that he will do the right thing and put the nation first. He must choose a solid candidate for the post of deputy prime minister who has the backing of his coalition partners. Anwar will be facing a sodomy case in court and should he be found guilty, he will have to step down and let his deputy ride out the full term of this unity government.

Anwar must demonstrate his willingness to conform to the constitution and uphold the rule of law by doing the right thing. Though convicted, he stood for election. That certainly isn’t a demonstration of complying with the rule of law. He will have no confidence to stand up to opposing forces unless he demonstrates a willingness to do the right thing according to the rule of law. The people accept nothing less. And when he does, his victory will be sweet.

Candidates who should sit out GE15

For the first time in Malaysian history, candidates who are facing court charges have been selected for election in GE15. They are Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for the Bagan Datok seat, Pakatan Harapan chairman and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim for Tambun, DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng for Bagan, Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman for Muar and Sungai Besar Umno division chief Jamal Yunos for Sungai Besar. Adding to the list are Zahid’s court cluster cohorts in Umno.

Technically, they can claim that they have not yet been found guilty and therefore are innocent. However, Anwar was found guilty of a previous sodomy charge although pardoned. But, he still faces another sodomy charge that is yet to be disposed of. Hence, the question has to be raised as to why he is standing for election.

His case is no doubt not a criminal case like Lim’s, Zahid’s and his court cluster’s and Syed Saddiq’s, but it is still a case that tarnishes his moral standing and until he is cleared in court, Anwar should not stand for election.

Anwar can argue that he was pardoned when PH was in government but that was before the new sodomy case was initiated. He may also argue that if Zahid can stand for election so can he. Well, Umno politicians are unscrupulous and will do anything to gain power. Is Anwar like them?

Jamal, unlike Umno’s court cluster, is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings initiated by former Seputeh MP Teresa Kok who said in a news report today that he is likely to be declared bankrupt. He has stated that as long as he has yet to receive a bankruptcy order from the courts he is qualified to run in the polls.

Zahid and his court cluster, Lim and Syed Saddiq, who are facing criminal charges in court, should also sit out this general election until they are cleared by the courts.

Should all these candidates facing court cases be found guilty or declared a bankrupt, they would have to step down and by-elections would have to be called, which is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Their political futures too would be in question.

Zahid and his court cluster and Jamal, of course, can’t be expected to conduct themselves in any better way other than the way they have conducted themselves. But opposition candidates?

It is extremely disappointing that these opposition politicians who have always held the high moral ground with regard to jailed former prime minister Najib Razak’s financial muddling, have failed to apply the same standards for themselves.

Understandably, Anwar and Lim who are at the end of their political careers can go for broke. Make it or break it. But Syed Saddiq, 29, should not jeopardize his political career by standing for election while his criminal case is ongoing. It will come back to sully his chances for a controversy-free political future.

Nobody expects Zahid, the court cluster or Jamal to set the example and pull out from the elections, being from a corrupt party, but more is expected of Anwar, Lim and Syed Saddiq unless, of course, their supporters have lowered their expectations quite drastically in favour of political expediency!

Anwar and Lim as veterans should set the example and not stand for election so that potential young, future leaders such as Syed Saddiq follow suit and step aside in order to keep their reputations intact.

The participation of the elder two in GE15 is as baffling as the silence they have maintained over the recent reports of alleged negotiations taking place between PH and Umno. The leaders of all the PH partners have noticeably not said a word on the issue.

Their silence can only mean guilt or a compromise to enable them to form a government with Umno. It is an option PH may be keeping open and one that must be made public.

Any kind of cooperation with Umno must be revealed to the voting public because, unlike all the other parties and coalitions, Umno is toxic and any alliance with it will only continue the political instability the country has been experiencing since the Sheraton Moves.

PH should not risk the political stability of the country in order to form a government with Umno with Anwar as prime minister.

Anwar recently appealed to fence-sitters to give PH a solid majority in GE15. He needs to understand that these fence-sitters are urbanites in the traditional opposition strongholds who gave their votes to PH to boot out Umno from the government in 2018. To expect them to support PH to bring Umno back into the government is to consider them fools. If, somehow, they are fooled to give their support, and after the elections find they have been played, PH can expect a defeat at their hands in subsequent elections just as they were punished in the Malacca and Johor state elections.

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!

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.

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.