Unity Government and Economic Stimulus Package Not Viable in an Unstable Political Environment
Again, Malaysia is in the limelight, and this time for a constitutional crisis, if it can be called that. The political turmoil after the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad caused havoc within the local scene, with the world watching and weighing in on the political theatrics. No one thought he would resign in this manner; again, Mahathir is never predictable. There are various opinions in the public domain from experts and the public at large. That is understandable depending on which side of the divide one is on.
What is a “unity government “? It appears very idealistic and promising to hear. Unity government is one that consists of a coalition of all parties in the legislation usually formed during a time of war or national emergency, that’s from Wikipedia. Malaysia definitely is not at war and it is debatable whether this is a national emergency. I don’t think it is. Then, why now ? For a unity Government to work, all parties (or most) will need to come together for a common goal, which is the paramount interest of Malaysia. Does anyone seriously think that that can happen, in light of what transpired in the last few weeks? In Malaysia where race and religion supersede national interests and logical thinking, there is no way in hell that a unity government would be able to function. A unity government would empower Mahathir to be completely in charge of everything. He can appoint whoever he likes, at his discretion and from historical proof, I must say that his political appointments have been below par and questionable.
Even with the current coalition where the Malays occupy all major positions in the country, in politics and in the civil service; there is still so much unhappiness and jealousy amongst some politicians against positions like the Minister of Finance that was held by Lim Guan Eng. How on earth can one have a unity government with so many clamouring for positions and favours.? They cannot see eye to eye even on basic human rights issues. The current crisis in Malaysia is a classic example. A Unity Government would require UMNO and PAS to work with DAP. I don’t think that will ever happen, not in this century. There is so much of animosity between DAP and the rest of the ex-Opposition bloc.
Politicians with their backstabbing and infighting, place self-interests above national interest. National interests have never ever been on their minds. The current mess that Malaysia is in, is because of self-interest, not national interest. Whoever the Prime Minister (PM) appoints in Cabinet, even if they possess the best talent in the world, they will always be seen through religious and racial lines in Malaysia. This was not the case in the 1970’s and even early 80’s. Since then, the education system took a downturn without recourse to this day. It isn’t hard to figure out who initiated a divide and conquer rule through racial and religious intolerance.
Agreed, forming a unity government is much cheaper rather than holding fresh elections, which frankly in my view, with the current state of affairs, Malaysia cannot afford. Sources reveal that a snap election can cost around RM800 million maybe more. Not only will it be extremely expensive, it will probably have very low voter turnout, with all and sundry including the corrupt with plenty of money trying to get back into position of power. It is common knowledge that desperate people will adapt desperate measures to get what they want, especially when they have a lot of money at their disposal. They will do everything in their power to buy the ‘get out of jail card’. Voters however are disillusioned, and a general feeling of voter apathy abounds. They feel betrayed and will not come out to vote. They feel cheated. Cheated big time. The Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto to them is now in the rubbish bin, thrown away, due to the selfish needs of some politicians. However, in my view, given the choice between snap elections and a unity government, snap elections are the lesser of two evils.
Malaysia has no recourse but to spend the money and hold a snap election if there is a stalemate. The Agong (King) has the power to dissolve parliament. Article 55 (2) of the Federal Constitution states that the King has the power to do so. Yes, the Agong should also act on the ‘advice of the PM’. However, “the law cannot be an ass”, sometimes one needs to think outside the box to refrain from an illogical interpretation using the tools decided by the Courts. In this context, it must be read together with public policy, intent and purpose of the drafters, and with makers of the Constitution in mind.
Article 40(2)(b) dictates that the King can reject a request to dissolve Parliament, without the need to follow the advice of the PM. Therefore, in my view, the King has the discretion. Article 55 (2) need not be read with Article 40 (1)(a) and (1A). On one hand the Agong must act on advice on the PM and on the other, he can reject the request. Anyway, the PM’s post is currently vacant. There is no Cabinet. There is an interim PM, who incidentally is not a product of the Constitution, but is nevertheless a recognised practise in some other countries. When there is no chef in the restaurant, we ask the old one to stay until we find a replacement. It will be meaningless if Article 55 (2) is read together with Article 40 (1) (1A), when there is no PM.
Malaysia must stop this uncertainty: appoint a PM who commands the majority, after the Agong interviews all the MP’s, and move on. However, to this date, the Agong has not personally made such an announcement, which is his prerogative, while the interim PM has made the announcement that a majority decision could not be reached. Neither has the Dewan Rakyat the power to elect a PM, as it is not stipulated under the constitution. What is Mahathir talking about? That is so fundamentally wrong.
The current uncertainty will create an economic disaster for the country. Regardless of any stimulus package introduced, it will not work within an unstable political environment. With the COVID-19 coronavirus, this is not what one needs in any country. What horrible timing. Incidentally the economic stimulus package is creative. Tax reliefs to boost domestic tourism, digital vouchers, increase cashflow, BSN to provide loans at 4% and many more. However, many businesses will adapt a wait and see approach. No one will invest in Malaysia, in domestic business, until there is a stable political environment.
If you look at the PH Government’s track record in the last 2 years or so, they started off well. Later on, things got a bit muddled: loss of focus, infighting within the PKR, PM Mahathir issues with ICERD, appointing Azmin to Economic Minister, taking away a lot of jobs from the MoF, Malay Dignity Congress, Zakar Naik, Khat, vilifying vernacular schools, and so many other national and international blunders, has put Malaysia on a back foot. The PM also allowed racial and religious issues by the opposition to run amok. The position in 1973 when Gerakan and Pas joined BN after the 1969 riots is different from the current 2020 Malaysia political scenario. There was no money politics then, not least in this current gravity and scale.
In my view the best way forward, is what was exercised by the Agong, on the counsel of the Attorney General and other constitutional experts: find an MP who commands the majority support of the Dewan Rakyat. I think that would be the best position. If either Anwar, Mahathir, Muhyiddin whoever has the most support, then he will have more than a two-year timeframe to put things in order before the next election due in 2023. The incoming Prime Minister will also have the opportunity to clean up the cabinet from non-performers and troublemakers. He can also appoint senators who are not aligned to any party, who excel in their field of expertise, appointing them as ministers. These appointments can be based on merits and nothing to do with politics
If that is not possible, call for a snap election. It will be disastrous and expensive but in the current stalemate, that is the best and only option. No to this irrational Unity Government idea. That, in my view will be a disaster.
Malaysia needs a statesman now, not a politician.
Senior Tax Counsel.
Auckland, New Zealand
Ex-Magistrate of Malaysia