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Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Dr M-Anwar ticket to end Malaysia’s impasse


Q&A | ‘The price of not working with each other is the collapse of their agenda to save and reform Malaysia.’
What other options are there for Malaysia apart from the two political options that have put the nation at an impasse? Political scientist Prof Wong Chin Huat provides a way out in this Q&A.
Other than a snap election, what other alternative does Malaysia have if neither Muhyiddin Yassin nor Anwar Ibrahim can command the confidence of the majority of parliamentarians to form government?

Wong: There is another alternative. The clear alternative is a Mahathir-Anwar slate, which will garner a strength that rivals Pakatan Harapan’s before it all fell apart on Feb 23, 2020.
This political partnership would need the following conditions to succeed:
- It would need to be a written pact
- It would need to made public
- It would ideally be witnessed by the Agong upon the confirmation of majority
- It would need to declare both sides’ commitment to form a government based on the Harapan’s manifesto, Buku Harapan
- It would need to agree to Mahathir as prime minister and Anwar as deputy prime minister until two weeks after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November. After that, Anwar will succeed as prime minister, with a deputy prime minister from Bersatu.
What if Bersatu doesn’t want to rejoin Harapan?
The new government can be a Harapan-Bersatu coalition government. And if Bersatu decides to rejoin Harapan, then it will be a Harapan government, like it was before.
Why should we trust that this new configuration would work when the previous Harapan government collapsed?
This new configuration is as close as it gets to the agreement reached at the Feb 21 Harapan presidential council meeting. In that publicly-declared agreement, Mahathir would host the Apec summit as prime minister and then he would pass the baton to Anwar as has been repeatedly promised to the electorate.
Additionally, what is needed to prevent another Sheraton Move are the two extra arrangements stated above:
- a timeline for succession i.e. within two weeks of the Apec summit, and
- Anwar assuming deputy prime ministership to enable a seamless transition.
If the smooth transition from Mahathir to Anwar after the Apec summit is what both sides are sincerely committed to, they should support this new configuration.
You’re assuming that Mahathir and Anwar can work with each other after all that has happened. That’s a tall order! Why would you think that?
The price of not working with each other is the collapse of their agenda to save and reform Malaysia. If Umno and PAS sweep into government, whether by way of a new coalition or after a snap election, the Harapan’s reform agenda will be scuttled forever.
There’s also a good chance that even high-profile corruption cases involving Najib Abdul Razak, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and others may be dropped as a new attorney-general will be appointed to replace Tommy Thomas.
Hence, the question before Mahathir and Anwar is, do you hate each other more than kleptocracy and the grand larceny that crippled the nation?
What about the key players of the Sheraton Move? What happens to them under this new political configuration?
Clearly, the new format will have to include Mahathir’s party, Bersatu, which has absorbed Azmin Ali and nine other PKR defectors. This means the cabinet must have some Bersatu ministers. A complete exclusion of all those involved in the Sheraton Move is politically not viable.
To ensure the new cabinet is able to work together, Mahathir should consult Anwar in the ministerial appointments. At the same time, Anwar must be magnanimous about working in government with some of those responsible for the Sheraton Move.
Another condition for this to work is that those who are appointed to the new government must openly declare their unqualified support of the new succession plan.
Is this alternative a unity government or non-partisan government, as proposed by Mahathir?
Neither. A unity government will absorb most opposition parties and therefore weaken check-and-balance in and outside Parliament, making government unaccountable and susceptible to corruption.
A non-partisan government as described by Mahathir is similar to a presidential government in which a president, who receives a personal mandate, may appoint any talent to be in his cabinet. This is not in line with Malaysia’s political system as we are a parliamentary democracy by virtue of a constitutional monarchy.
The configuration we are speaking about now is a coalition government within the parliamentary system, where all parties in government must agree to the Buku Harapan manifesto so as to represent fully the will of the people. At the same time, an opposition Umno and PAS will play key roles in our democracy to check and balance the government.
What if there are new members from outside of the former Harapan who want to join this new coalition?
The government’s legislative strength may be strengthened in two ways, provided such expansion does not deprive Parliament of a functioning opposition bloc.
First, parties or individual parliamentarians may join the government if they formally commit themselves to the Buku Harapan.
Second, parties or individual parliamentarians may also maintain their independence while supporting the government, through a “confidence and supply” agreement. This means they will vote in support of the government on motions of confidence or no-confidence, and on the budget (Supply Bill).
What is the role of East Malaysia in such a government?
East Malaysia’s participation is important in ensuring the stability and viability of the federal government. Warisan’s role should be formally recognised in the new government. For example, calling this new coalition the Harapan-Warisan or Harapan-Bersatu-Warisan government.
The same option should be made available to GPS. The new government may also want to consider appointing a vice-prime minister (naib perdana menteri) for Sabah and, if GPS joins, another one for Sarawak.
With this configuration, when elections are next held, can we expect Harapan, Bersatu and their East Malaysian partners to stay partners, fielding only a single candidate for each constituency, just as the BN and Harapan coalitions did in the past?
Given the wounds of politicking, it would be naïve to assume that these political partners will compete as one team against other parties in GE15.
In fact, resuming the old model of a permanent coalition is counterproductive to political stability. Parties like PKR and Bersatu, or Warisan and Bersatu, have overlapping electoral bases and ambitions. If they are not allowed to expand by freely contesting more seats, this will result in potential seat disputes and sabotages.
For the government to work throughout the term of the 14th Parliament, the new government should see itself not as a permanent coalition, but like a post-election coalition. In this post-election coalition, members cooperate only when in government and will contest against each other in the next elections.
Hence, a key focus of the new government for the remaining term must be reforming the electoral system and processes. This will ensure a level-playing field and fair representation for all parties including the opposition come GE15.
If this new political configuration of a government works, what should be the priorities of the new government?
The new government should prioritise three things:
1. Managing and reviving the economy in the wake of the expanding Covid-19 outbreak, and the ongoing US-China trade war.
2. Institutional and legal reforms to advance multiparty democracy, good governance, and civil and political liberties.
3. Improving the deteriorating ethnic relations by addressing the anxieties and insecurities of Malay-Muslims as well as other groups in both East and West Malaysia.

WONG CHIN HUAT is a professor at the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, Sunway University. He specialises in electoral system and party system. - Mkini

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