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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Shafie as Harapan PM-designate enjoys cachet


That politics is the art of the possible can be seen to good effect by Dr Mahathir Mohamad's proposal that Warisan leader Shafie Apdal be the Pakatan Harapan Plus PM-designate.
The proposition is aimed at breaking the deadlock over who should be the PM nominee following PKR's spurning of Mahathir as the nominee.
Harapan Plus desires to upend the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin which is not only seen as makeshift but also as treading a wafer-thin majority in Parliament that begs testing.
Mounting authoritarianism and unbridled appointment of placemen in preference to professionals as heads of government-linked companies (GLCs) have combined to project Muhyiddin's administration to poor effect despite a fairly good effort at tackling the Covid-19 menace.
If government is a combination of philosophy, exigency, panic and pay-off, the latter two facets these days appear more to characterise the Muhyiddin administration.
The more so now that the PM has motioned to remove House speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof and one of his deputies, Nga Kor Ming, when Parliament resumes sitting on July 13.
Though not exemplarily independent – he should have allowed an Umno move to censure finance minister Lim Guan Eng for unsubstantively claiming that Goods and Services Tax (GST) refunds have gone missing – Ariff is not a cloddish journeyman as past Umno-BN appointees to that position have been.
He is a breath of fresh air and ought to be retained given that the government is treading on an egg-shell majority and needs any semblance of legitimacy as it may find.
Muhyiddin's motion to remove Ariff gives an added frisson of urgency to the Harapan Plus desire to test his parliamentary majority.
Harapan Plus has been wrestling with the proposition of who is to be their PM-designate in anticipation of a vote of no-confidence on Muhyiddin when Parliament meets on July 13.
A presumptuous Mahathir wants to be the nominee but PKR is flatly opposed to what would be Mahathir's third try at the PM-ship.
PKR, not unreasonably, wants the post for its leader Anwar Ibrahim.
A piqued Mahathir has now countered with the proposition that Shafie be the new nominee.
The shattering of political myths
Set aside Mahathir's motives for coming up with the proposition – it places Anwar's prime ministerial in a stall – the move to make Shafie Harapan Plus’ PM-designate has something compelling going for it.
The proposition enjoys no mean power in drawing support from MPs from the state: in terms of the move's prospects for upward mobility for their rights, the two territories will not have it so good.
Hence Borneo's 57 MPs cannot look askance; they hold the decisive card in the balance between competing coalitions PN and Harapan Plus.
For years Borneo's elected representatives have only known too well the frustrations of getting central governments to adhere to the stipulated conditions of their territories' federating with Malaya and Singapore in 1963.
They were treated as little more than supplicants rather than as partners, an unconscionable diminution of their prescribed status in the Malaysia Agreement of 1963.
A nadir was reached in both territories' descent to the status of states within the federation by dint of a constitutional amendment in April 1976.
But from 2008, due to oscillations in the political pendulum on the Peninsular, Sarawak's and Sabah's power to claw back the rights they have lost has steadily increased.
This arrived at a highwater mark during the premiership of Najib Razak (2009 to 2018). No federal supremo has been as amenable to Borneoan rights as Najib.
Today, with two coalitions keenly competing for federal power, each in ardent pursuit of Borneo MPs' support, these legislators have never had it so good.
In the past two decades. the progress of democracy in Malaysia has proceeded from the incineration of myths.
In 2008, Anwar's leadership of a combined opposition helped break the myth of Umno-BN's electoral invincibility; in 2013, under Anwar's leadership the opposition bested Umno-BN in the popular vote, though not in the parliamentary tally; and in 2018, Mahathir's steering of the opposition helped destroy the myth of Umno-BN's irreplaceability as federal hegemon.
All these myth shatterings did not have the expected beneficent effects, but few would argue they were counterproductive. They were simply necessary as pre-conditions of progress.
For Malaysian democracy to progress further, more myths must be shattered.
An East Malaysian as PM in Putrajaya may well be the next myth to be put out to pasture, regardless of the nominee's calibre or other constraints.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. - Mkini

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