Christmas this year started late for me. Usually, my Christmas begins on Dec 1 when I turn on Christmas music and enjoy the refrains of Christmas all day long throughout the season! This year, however, there were a few depressing happenings — some of which, personal, but mostly political — that put a damper on my usually impossible-to-repress Christmas spirit that bubbles over every year in December!
The most disturbing of the political events unfolding is the emphasis on political expediency at the expense of the democratic rights of voters. Voters were given no choice when faced with candidates facing court charges, some facing criminal charges in court. They voted them in. These same candidates were appointed ministers. Despite a volley of criticisms, their appointments were not changed. A so-called reformist prime minister maintained their positions in the Cabinet.
The rationale? To support a unity government for the sake of stability. That is an acceptable explanation to justify political expediency. But a more important question that needs to be addressed is whether stability should be arrived at by ignoring or dismissing the mandate of the people?
Firstly, the unity government was formed by the king, not the elected representatives whose job it is to form a government. Was parliamentary democracy — the form of government Malaysia practises — followed when elected leaders failed to form a government? Why weren’t the leaders able to wrangle among themselves to form a government in the face of a hung government?
Was the parliamentary democratic process respected and were the elected leaders allowed to sort out among themselves to form a government? Were they given the room and support to form a government without interference?
Instead, were the leaders treated like kids who needed to be told the course of action to take? Why didn’t the leaders — if they understood the precepts of parliamentary democracy — take control of the situation and assert in no uncertain terms that it was their responsibility to form a government and that they should be allowed to do it?
This is the kind of leadership the people need — leaders who will fight for the people according to the rule of law but that isn’t what we are witnessing. Political expediency for “the sake of a stable government” trumps constitutional adherence. That is depressing!
A dangerous precedent has been set for future leaders to act no differently because current MPs didn’t fight to uphold parliamentary democracy in the interests of the voters.
If the MPs were allowed to negotiate and wrangle out a government on their own, would there have been ministers facing court charges in the Cabinet? In the face of the possibility of instability as a result of a hung Parliament, MPs must know what to do to mitigate ensuing chaos quickly and not wait for someone else to tell them what to do. They were elected by the people and should be trusted to do their job.
On Monday Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government will face a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. But today, the coalitions and parties in the unity government signed a Memorandum of Understanding where “all the signatory coalitions and parties must support Anwar in all matters of confidence and supply as well as those that could have a bearing on the legitimacy of his administration”, according to the Malay Mail.
The paper also reported that the coalitions and parties were responsible for ensuring their federal lawmakers abided by the MoU, and any MP who did not comply would be considered as having resigned from his party, effectively triggering the anti-hopping law. Isn’t this muzzling the MP?
If Anwar was not confident in facing a confidence vote and needed an MoU to ensure he gets majority support why have a confidence vote in the first place? It’s a sham. Not only is it a sham but it once again ties the hands of the MPs so that they are not free to vote according to their conscience in the interests of their constituents but vote compelled by the party.
How then can Anwar claim he has the mandate of the people? He has the mandate of the signatory coalitions and parties of the MoU but not the voters who elected the MPs. In the Dewan Rakyat, it is the individual MPs who vote on behalf of the people they represent — not the parties they belong to.
A responsible prime minister who understands the precepts of parliamentary democracy will understand this fundamental role of MPs and take pains not to override their right to vote independently of the party in the issue of getting the mandate of the people to support a majority government they did not elect.
Why is no MP standing up for their rights? The lobbying and negotiations should have taken place MP to MP not party to party. This is basic democracy. Why aren’t elected MPs practising it?
What I see is the erosion of parliamentary democracy and that is depressing, together with the bad weather that is causing landslides and floods and the loss of lives. A gloomy Christmas.
Then, last weekend I attended a Christmas musical and somehow a glow of hope rekindled in me, that eternal spirit of Christmas returned and I thought all can’t be lost. There’s always hope, something better may arise out of the gloom to improve the political situation, my personal life, the weather, the lives of people who suffer loss. Christians who believe it must contribute to spreading the goodwill. No matter how hard it might be. Tidings of comfort and joy ….. more of it!