Pakatan Harapan’s Future In The ‘New Normal’

For supporters of Pakatan Harapan (PH), the 2nd anniversary of the 9 May 2018 General Elections will be a sombre affair.

It is more than just because our alliance lost power at the Federal level due to the controversial “Sheraton Move”.

Malaysia is also beginning to grapple with the socio-economic fallout of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic and the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Even with the opening of our economy via the Conditional MCO (CMCO), which, lets face it, has also been marred by disagreements between our Federal and State governments, it will take a lot of work and time before we get back to where we once were.

This is the health and economic ‘new normal’.

The fluid political situation following the ‘Sheraton move’ is the political ‘new normal’.

All the same, ordinary Malaysians were suffering even before the country was hit by the last wave of political chicanery and the pandemic. This suffering will continue and even exacerbate without wise and transparent policies that are centred on the rakyat rather than vested interests.

So yes, while we must “focus on the economy”, it will all come to naught without good and open politics.

Any economic recovery or future growth will not be sustainable or equitable without strong institutions as well as political reform.

And I believe the best hope for this in Malaysia lies in PH getting its act together.

As the old saying goes, if we fail to learn the lessons of history, we will repeat it.

Why PH won

Forging a better political and hence economic road ahead for Malaysia’s ‘new normal’ is key to understand why PH succeeded and failed.

Two points are clear.

First, we must acknowledge that PH won in 2018 not just because of the rakyat’s anger over the 1MDB scandal and the abuses of Najib Razak.

That was a major factor, but it was not the only one. We would not have won if we campaigned on it alone.

Malaysian voters gave us a parliamentary majority because PH won them over to the promises outlined in our Buku Harapan manifesto.

No manifesto is perfect—but I strongly believe that had we implemented in substantively—it would have laid the seeds for a pro-rakyat and globally competitive Malaysian economy.

This is because the rakyat is our greatest asset and no plan for the future will succeed if it doesn’t stand up for them.

For my part, I certainly never shied away from making it the centrepiece whenever and wherever I campaigned in 2018.

Second, we were united. The rapprochement between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim was a watershed in Malaysian politics.

That too was one of the reasons why we won. 9 May 2018 couldn’t have happened if these two icons had not put aside their differences for the future of the country.

Our mistakes

But we must also be honest about the mistakes that were made.

The PH Cabinet that was set up after the elections did not reflect the realities of the Parliamentary strength of the different component parties.

I will be the first to admit that there were many excellent Ministers in the ranks—but others frankly let the people down in terms of their performance and their actions during the “Sheraton Move.”

Only the man who was Prime Minister at the time can say for certain why his Cabinet was formed the way it was and why he picked the people he did.

BERSATU’s decision to welcome UMNO crossovers virtually lock, stock and barrel also did not help things.

There certainly was a failure to communicate, to really talk in an honest and heartfelt manner between ourselves and the rakyat.

Moving ahead, we will likely see attempts to attribute the failure of PH on how the Mahathir-Anwar transition was handled, or rather, bungled.

But again, it was a failure to communicate that led to the breakdown.

Anwar consistently said that Dr Mahathir should be given time to implement the reforms he felt the country needed.

Communication and compromise are a two-way street.

The Buku Harapan should not have been abandoned

This leads me to my next point. Another grave disappointment was the way the Buku Harapan was also seemingly consigned to the rubbish bin.

It was treated as something of a joke, even by certain leaders of the government that was elected on its planks to implement it.

Don’t they—and certainly we, the rakyat—after the “Sheraton Move”, now wish that they had taken it more seriously and worked more urgently to fulfil it?

Wouldn’t we have been better off, or at least a little bit better prepared to deal with the ‘new normal’ now facing us, had they done so?

If the “Shared Prosperity Vision” (SPV) that came later seemed hollow and unsubstantial, it was because it was missing the strengthened human capital and economic fundamentals implementing the manifesto would have brought.

People will say that the Buku Harapan is old news and that we should move on.

Still, how do we build for the future if our governments keep changing what they stand for?

There will ALWAYS be local, regional and global black swans that will throw administrations off guard.

Weak ones bend. Strong ones adapt but continue to pursue their goals.

What future will Malaysia have if all its governments can or want to do is react to events?

If we stand for everything, we stand for nothing.

There must be a plan for the country. The manifesto was it. But we failed to follow through.

What next for PH? For Malaysia?

Moving forward, PH cannot hope to win if all we are relying on is for Perikatan Nasional (PN) to implode.

Its disunity is a serious question that cannot be batted away. But that will not be enough for Malaysian voters to want to send PH back to Putrajaya.

Rather, we must regain and recommit to the reformist, rakyat-centric spirit that so animated us in 2018.

We must show Malaysians that we will protect and grow their livelihoods as well as rights.

And we must do so as one coalition with one voice.

We cannot be prisoners of history.

But again, if we fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, we will repeat them.

Let us be honest about the mistakes we made and avoid repeats as we regroup to face what lies ahead.

Malaysians desperately need hope. PH must be able to give it to them—but we must be honest to them and with ourselves.


Muhyiddin Must Not Stop Parliament To Perform Its Role

The leaders of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties, as well as those of WARISAN and BERSATU’s Chairman have recently issued a joint statement calling for Parliament to sit for at least two weeks, rather than just one day on 18 May 2020.

Why does the Opposition keep harping on this, especially given the Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic still on-going? Isn’t the rakyat tired of “politicking”?

Well, for one thing, the economy is being opened up right now, with the Movement Control Order (MCO) being rebranded as a “Conditional MCO (CMCO)”.

There has of course been controversy over how and when the states are choosing to implement the CMCO, but it seems likely that our economy is in the process of reopening.

If businesses in our capital can resume full operations—adhering to strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of course—why not our nation’s legislature?

Parliament was originally supposed to sit from 9 March—16 April 2020, then after the fall of the PH Government, delayed to 18 May—23 June.

However, all we are left with now is a one-day, 18 May 2020 sitting. As has been argued elsewhere, this will be a mostly ceremonial event and MPs will not have any opportunity to question Ministers.

During this extraordinary crisis, we have been presented with capable and credible bureaucrats who ensured the country kept running. At the end of the day however, as a Parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister and his cabinet must be held to account by the MPs.

This means that debates and perhaps much-needed legislation to tackle the socio-economic fallout will only take place in the July sessions.

Malaysia cannot wait that long.

This will mean that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his government will have no effective scrutiny on whatever actions it decides to take since the formation of the PN Government for a period of four months.

They will be basically able to use the machinery of government and spend the rakyat’s tax ringgits without any check and balance until then.

Muhyiddin claims that the people are sick of “politicking”. That may very well be true.

But his own actions—by appointing countless PN MPs to GLCs and other public bodies, often at the expense of technocrats—makes a mockery of this sentiment.

And this is not an excuse to clip the wings of our democratic institutions.

Most fundamentally the PN government has no electoral mandate, nor articulated any of its long-term plans or manifesto so far.

Indeed, the Minister of Finance Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz has recently warned that Malaysia’s economy could shrink even more than initially forecast due to the extensions of the MCO.

However, even the PRIHATIN economic stimulus packages have yet to be passed by Parliament—and they need to be.

There is also an urgent need for MPs to review and pass the packages, as well as most probably other measures that the government ought to be doing to save the jobs of ordinary Malaysians.

Why is the government being so lackadaisical?

Jobs, businesses and even lives are at stake.

We MPs are also willing and able to accept whatever SOPs imposed that will allow Parliament to function. To attend the Parliamentary opening, all MPs will be screened for Covid beforehand.

Other democracies have enabled their legislatures to function in one way or another through the Covid-19 pandemic. South Korea even had a general election during this period.

So, what excuse can the PN administration really give?

Historically, leaders who have prorogued legislatures in an attempt to avoid legislative scrutiny have been heavily criticised. And rightly so.

This happened to the-then Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada in 2008 and more recently, Boris Johnson of the UK in 2019. Indeed, the latter’s actions were declared illegal by the Supreme Court of the UK.

The Prime Minister should consider this when it comes to our own Parliament.

Our only intention is to perform our duties as the rakyat’s elected representatives to help save Malaysia, its people and economy.

The government should summon Parliament into session as soon as possible and allow it to sit for at least 2 weeks. There should be no excuse.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the KEADILAN Organising Secretary and Setiawangsa MP. He also Chairs the Parliamentary Select Committee for Defence and Home Affairs.

One-Day Sitting Of Parliament A Disappointment

As an MP, I am deeply concerned and disappointed with the Government’s decision to only call a one-day sitting of Parliament on 18 May 2020.

It is true that we are in the middle of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. The fact is that social distancing measures will need to stay in place even after the Movement Control Order (MCO) comes to an end.

We want Parliament to meet to ensure the welfare of the rakyat and good policies to facilitate the recovery of our economy are put in place.

Approving the various PRIHATIN stimulus packages and a supplementary budget to fund them are just one part of the monumental tasks ahead.

MPs need to ask questions to the Ministers, while the Parliamentary Special Select Committee , an important reform introduced by Pakatan Harapan needs to continue to play its role.

We also will need to draft, refine as well as pass policies to ensure that jobs are protected and that Malaysian companies do not go out of business unnecessarily. The manufacturing, aviation and tourism industries are just the worst-affected: measures will be needed across to board to help these and other sectors.

It is impossible that we will be able to do this with just a one-day sitting.

Here’s another fact: we haven’t heard anything of substance so far from the government on this.

And the stimulus packages—as I have argued elsewhere—are only short-term stopgaps at best.

More will certainly need to be done to help unemployed and vulnerable Malaysians.

We need urgent action now. There is so much that needs to be worked out, including how to restart out economy in light of the “new normal” of social distancing.

This cannot be left to the Executive alone. Rather, the people—through their Members of Parliament—must also be heard and be allowed to scrutinise the policies proposed.

The rakyat and their industries shouldn’t have to and indeed, cannot wait until July for our government to figure out what needs to be done.

That is why Parliament needs to sit sooner and for much longer than just one day.

Steps can be taken to ensure that social distancing is observed.

It should be noted that the Parliaments of the UK and Australia as well as the US Congress continued to sit throughout the First and Second World Wars, as well as during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918—1920.

There is a strong desire on the part of the rakyat that politicians put aside their differences and work to get our country through this crisis.

This does not mean suspending the political and legislative process.

This cannot happen if institutions like Parliament are not allowed to function properly.

I hence sincerely hope that the government extend as well as bring forward the next Parliament sitting with all required social distancing measures in place.


The Unhealthy Trend Of Replacing Technocrats With Politicians

Speaking on 27 March 2020 when he announced the Prihatin economic stimulus package, PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin noted that:
“…this Government may not be the Government that you voted for… I accepted the fact that I came in as your Prime Minister not at the best moment. I face political, economic and health crisis all at the same time…please bear with me and my friends in the Cabinet and the Government. We are not perfect but we are doing the best we can to pull through this crisis together, as one nation.”

By these words, the PM has acknowledged the controversial circumstances in which he came to power, i.e. the so-called ‘Sheraton Move.’

He has acknowledged that he lacks an electoral mandate and indeed that the Perikatan Nasional administration he heads does not reflect the will of people of Malaysia.

The latter arguably, is likely true not only for Pakatan Harapan supporters, but also for Malaysians who voted for Barisan Nasional or PAS in the last election.

Let me also be clear that fighting the Covid-19 pandemic is our utmost priority. We support the efforts of the authorities, especially the frontliners risking their lives. And all Malaysians should do so as well. This is a crisis that must transcend our political divide.

Let it not be forgotten (or ignored) that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has said that a no-confidence motion in Parliament is not a priority for KEADILAN and PH for the sake of ensuring the various stimulus packages as well as other moves to repair the economy are passed.

It is precisely on that point that the government’s latest actions—in removing certain GLC and statutory body leaders—will do very little to heal this chasm or strengthen public confidence.

The contracts of the Chair and seven board members of MARA were ended. The Chairs of KRI, SOCSO, MPOB, HRDF, PTPK and Bank Rakyat have also been removed.

I had spoken out on the removal of the respected Dr Nungsari Radhi Chair of Khazanah Research Institute, who was appointed as trustee in 2013 during the BN era, retained during the PH era but recently asked to resign by PN.

On 3 April 2020, Bank Rakyat announced that the tenure of its Chair, Datuk Noripah Kamso expired effective on that day. It was reported that her actual contract finishes at the end of this year.

The bank is under the purview of the GPS Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Co-operatives, Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar. As a Development Financial Institutions, Bank Negara does not have the same control as it has on commercial banks.

Noripah replaced Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, who was involved in the original 1MDB audit report. She also comes with a stellar experience in the financial sector: CEO of CIMB-Principal Islamic Asset Management Sdn Bhd and also CIMB-Principal Asset Management Sdn Bhd.

She was chairman of the Islamic Finance Industry Council, Malaysia-US Chamber Of Commerce and a former president of Malaysian Futures Brokers Association.

The previous Chair of SOCSO is Zakri Khir, the first Malaysian to be appointed as country manager for Allianz Malaysia Berhad. The media reported that he was asked to resign to be replaced by BERSATU Sabak Bernam MP Datuk Mohd Fasiah Mohd Fakeh.

Unfortunately, whoever orchestrated it did not realise that an elected representative is barred from being on SOCSO’s board.

Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh was asked to resign as Chair for MPOB. An experienced plantation man who spent time in Felda, FGV and Sime Darby, he resigned from the 1MDB board in protest at improprieties taking place in the company. UMNO Machang MB, Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub takes his place.

The new PTPK Chair is PAS Pasir Mas MP, Ahmad Fadhli Shaari.

There have been media reports that other GLCs and agencies will see personnel changes with the new government.

What is disturbing about some of these changes is that the vacancies they create have or will be filled by MPs from PN.

Dato’ Takiyuddin Hassan, the PAS de-facto Law Minister revealed that all backbench MPs will be heading GLCs.
Now, it is true that every government has the right to fill public positions as they see fit, especially in the case of political appointees.

Yet it is an unhealthy trend if many MPs are appointed to replace professional technocrats as mentioned above.
Even more cynical, it seems that the PM is not confident of the loyalty of backbencher MPs after expanding the number of ministers and deputy ministers. The number of ministers has expanded from 27 during the PH era to 32 under PN; whilst deputy ministers increased from 26 to 38.

Now it seems that the PM has radically expanded the concept of the payroll vote to reward so many backbench MPs even at the expense of technocrats.

Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, when PH was still in power, I opposed the wholesale removal GLC heads who had been appointed by the government we had replaced.

I argued that, while those who had engaged in partisan actions or were implicated in mismanagement and wrongdoing like the 1MDB scandal had to go, other appointees who had shown merit and integrity should have been retained.

I certainly felt then—as I do now—that we need a new modus vivendi for dealing such matters in Malaysia.

If we don’t, each change of government—which, let’s face it, will likely be the norm rather than the exception moving forward—is likely to result in wholesale “purges” in public life.

Something will get lost in the mix: whether existing talent irretrievably lost or new blood being reluctant to serve precisely because of instability of tenure.

What was wrong with the individuals who had been removed? It’s hard to think of anything that could be said against them beyond the fact that they were appointed by PH and placing the survival of the PN government ahead of the national interest.

Muhyiddin should seriously reconsider such acts and indeed put a stop to them.

I am not trying to play politics during a national crisis.

On the contrary, unnecessarily changing senior officeholders of key bodies during a pandemic is playing politics and is never a good idea.

Perhaps the PM is being pressured by his political brokers to “reward” their cadres with these appointments?
What does it say about PN if they still want these changes to happen while the country is staring at a huge human toll and a severe economic downturn?

The PM should hold to his noble rhetoric and instead build a bipartisan consensus, not only on public appointments but on dealing with the outbreak and rebuilding our economy after the Movement Control Order is lifted.

Malaysians want their leaders to put aside politics and focus on saving the country.

PH is willing to do this.

Will Muhyiddin and his PN administration reciprocate?

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the KEADILAN Chief Organising Secretary, Chair of the Defence and Home Affairs Parliamentary Special Select Committee and MP for Setiawangsa. He has written a few books in English and Malay.

Notes On The Political Crisis

While Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim met KEADILAN leaders.

He revealed that prior to the crisis there was an offer for him to become Prime Minister with the condition that he abandon our political allies in Pakatan Harapan and accepting leaders from UMNO en bloc, including those facing corruption charges in court.

He naturally refused to betray the mandate of the people simply for the sake of obtaining the premiership.

The crisis was caused by a group of individuals who were power-hungry and betrayed the mandate given to us by the people during the 14th General Elections. History will condemn them as having damaged our democracy and as willing to do anything—including manipulating the truth—for the sake of power.

The crisis undoubtedly began with the PH Presidential Council meeting on 21 February 2020. At the meeting, the issue of the power transition between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar was closely discussed.

When the meeting took place, Azmin Ali allegedly hoped that PH would split. However, the issue was brought under control when Anwar acted to cool things down.

As will be remembered, Azmin was absent from the subsequent press conference. Anwar, reiterated his willingness to give Dr Mahathir the space to run the country. Tun Dr Mahathir also calmly noted that the transition would take place after the APEC Summit, albeit with no specific date or time.

On 23 February 2020, BERSATU held a meeting to decide on the direction of their party. At the meeting, Muhyiddin Yassin was said to have proposed cooperation with UMNO en bloc. As other media reports have stated, Muhyiddin was also said to have expressed willingness to work with controversial or contentious leaders like Najib Razak, Zahid Hamidi etc.

Dr Mahathir did not accept this, feeling that UMNO which was rejected by voters should not be accepted as a bloc, what more with the presence of individuals who had faced corruption allegations while in government.

Azmin’s team meanwhile alleged that all parties would agree with BERSATU’s move to work with UNNO and PAS. After going to the Palace in a hope to seal the deal, Azmin invited political leaders from UMNO, PAS and BERSATU to dinner at the Sheraton PJ Hotel. This “Sheraton Move” will go down in history as an attempt to steal the mandate of the people.

Given the increasingly critical situation, on the morning of 24 February the main leadership of PH sought to immediately meet with Dr Mahathir. Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Mohamad Sabu and Lim Guan Eng tried to persuade him.

However, after this discussion, Tun Dr Mahathir decided to resign. That the same day, BERSATU announced they would leave PH. Tun Dr Mahathir was appointed interim Prime Minister until a new premier could be appointed.

That evening, the PH Presidential Council held an emergency meeting. Our leaders invited Tun Dr Mahahtir to chair it, but he declined. The meeting unanimously nominated him as Pakatan’s candidate for Prime Minister in accordance with the PH’s consensus and the mandate the people had given to us.

An idea for a unity or non-party government was floated. PH was against this because we felt that it went against the principles of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The existence of political parties is crucial for checks-and-balances. Their absence would cast serious doubts about the two pillars of our nation-Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Democracy.

On 28 February, when the other parties switched their support to Muhyiddin, Anwar and PH agreed for Dr Mahathir to be our prime ministerial candidate once more.

The crisis was a severe test for Anwar’s leadership and patience, but he decided to forsake the position for the sake of the nation.

The entire affair has been most upsetting, especially as many of our politicians came across as seemingly not having firm stands or appreciating the mandate given to them by the people.

One fears that the youth will become disillusioned and disgusted with the political games they have witnessed. Whether consciously or unconsciously, our own behaviour as leaders is often the reason why the youth refuse to get involved in politics.

There are many lessons to be drawn from this sad, sordid affair. At the very least, it has shown us who our real friends are.

Moreover, the people will now be able to judge who has truly upheld or betrayed their trust.