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.