Prime Minister Ismail Sabri has announced the dissolution of Parliament, paving the way for the 15th General Election (GE15) to be held within 60 days, but his job is not yet done. There is still one more very important national duty to perform before he leaves office and the next government takes over.
Sabri’s last task is extremely crucial. It is overseeing the formation of the next coalition government according to the rule of law within the ambit of the federal constitution.
As it is, no party or current partnership is going to win a majority of seats in GE15 to form the next government by itself. The party/coalition with the most seats will have to seek other partners to form a government with a majority.
The caretaker government under Sabri’s leadership will have to ensure that a procedure is set in place for the party with the most seats to form a government. Right now no such procedure exists and a repeat of former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s coup when he seized control of the government based on his appointment as prime minister by the Agong without proving his majority must not happen.
Sabri needs to seek the counsel of constitutional experts and work with the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat to develop a procedure for politicians to follow once the election results are out. He should also advise the Agong on the procedure as it is the Agong who installs the new government if he is sure it has a majority, as stipulated by the constitution.
A good example to emulate is the British Parliament where a party that fails to win an outright majority seeks partners and faces a confidence vote in Parliament. If the party wins the confidence vote, it meets the head of state, King Charles III — in Malaysia, it is the Agong — who then installs the new government.
In this model of parliamentary democracy, the majority is proven in Parliament first and then the vote is presented to the head of state as proof of a majority. It is indisputable because Parliament has proven it and has records of it.
If a procedure is not devised before GE15, chaos will follow the elections, especially if no party/coalition/partnership has a majority. Parties will do all sorts of things to grab power in the name of “Malay unity”, “saving Malaysia” and/or “national interests” and ignore the rules. If Umno/Barisan Nasional wins the most seats, one can expect this once-favoured spoilt brat to throw tantrums and get away with it as it always has.
To avoid this period of political instability, it would be wise for Sabri to give priority to putting in place a procedure to ensure an orderly and constitutionally acceptable search for partners to form a coalition with a majority.
The normal procedure is for the Agong to first call the party/coalition/partnership with the most seats to seek a majority with other partners. If it fails, the next party/coalition/partnership will be called to do the same and if that fails, too, the next will be called until a party/coalition/partnership is formed. That has to be proven by a confidence or no-confidence vote in Parliament. Only then does the prime minister-designate meet the Agong and a date is fixed for the installation of the new government.
Sabri can not and must not leave this matter unaddressed. Neither should he leave it to the Dewan Rakyat Speaker to manage the formation of a government with a majority. Not being a parliamentarian, Speaker Azhar Harun may be unable to perform this vital duty to manage a smooth transition of power to a legitimate coalition government. If he is left to undertake this responsibility on his own, it may end up in controversial decisions as in the past.
As the current Speaker was appointed and not elected, he is beholden to the executive and this is one occasion when the prime minister can and should direct him to introduce a confidence or no-confidence vote in Parliament to prove a coalition’s claim of a majority.
If Sabri does this last job well, and a new government is formed and installed legitimately and orderly without the chaos of unanticipated disorder, he will earn his place in history among the leaders who contributed meaningfully to national development. If he fails he will be ranked with his predecessor Muhyiddin who helmed an illegitimate government which Sabri continued because both failed to grasp what parliamentary democracy is and the primary role the prime minister plays in upholding it.
Here’s an opportunity for Sabri to redeem himself and put the nation’s interest first and undertake to oversee the smooth and orderly transfer of power to a legitimate government. I have only suggested ideas here; he must get the input of professionals and constitutional experts to ensure that the transition to the next government is not fraught with shocks due to constitutional transgressions as what followed the Sheraton Moves and that political stability is maintained while a new government is being formed.
The people need Sabri to do this.