Malaysia’s greatest political challenge
The nation’s future hangs in the balance, and the proposed emergency rule by the Muhyiddin administration will be the beginning of a downhill spiral, with no end in sight. There are better ways to handle Covid-19 pandemic but imposing emergency rule is not it.
There are also ways to handle political differences.
In recent history in the past two decades, this nation first faced with the possibility of an emergency rule on the night after the results of the 2008 general election were announced.
I was first elected as Member of Parliament on 8th March 2008 when the political tsunami resulted in Barisan Nasional’s first loss of two-thirds Parliamentary majority since 1969, as well as losing the states of Selangor, Kedah, Perak, Penang and Kelantan.
That night, some of the UMNO leaders asked the then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to create chaos and impose emergency rule. Thankfully, albeit being weak, the gentlemanly Abdullah rejected those ideas and proceeded with a 2am press conference on 9th March 2008 to gracefully accept the election results.
In the race to form the Perak state government in the weeks that followed 8th March 2008, efforts were made to form a Malay-only ruling coalition of UMNO and PAS, with the backing of Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang – but it was rejected by its Mursyidul Am (Spiritual Guide) Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Nik Aziz single-handedly delayed the PAS-UMNO collusion for a decade. After his death, the conservative leaders’ dream finally came true. Muafakat Nasional was formally established in 2019 although both UMNO and PAS have been working tacitly since 2014.
In 2015, the Najib government pushed for a National Security Council Bill which allowed the Prime Minister to declare a security zone. It was the only law that was gazetted without receiving the royal assent. The Rulers’ Council and the King indicated clear displeasure at the attempt to grant the Prime Minister emergency power.
On 9th May 2018, several Rulers, major political leaders and key institutional guardians such as the chiefs of Police and Armed Forces recognised the mandate given to Pakatan Harapan. There were no untoward incidents on the night of GE14, and a new government was installed on the next evening.
Despite his kleptocracy and brazen rule, even Najib did not dare to cross the line by declaring emergency at each of his political crises, to which he had many.
How democracy works
Malaysians who toil to keep our democracy alive have never felt such a deep sense of crisis for our nation than that of 23rd October 2020. It is worse than any moment that I have experienced in a generation.
If any Prime Minister and the parties that propped him up could declare emergency rule just on the basis that they may lose a Budget vote in Parliament, it will open the door to much greater abuse.
This means those in power can do anything whenever they feel a slight threat to their powers. If such a government can rule without being accountable to the voters and the people, elections would have no meaning; not to mention free and fair elections.
But no one should jump the gun to switch off the light on parliamentary democracy without exploring ways out of political impasses. There are actually tools for the government to function properly in a parliamentary democracy. Even if you do not have a majority, one can still rule as a minority government with “confidence and supply” agreement with opposition parties.
What does this mean? This is a set of legitimate open deals without having to resort to buying off individual MPs. The opposition parties who sign on to confidence and supply arrangement will not cause the government to fall and will support the Budget as long as their inputs are being considered.
Parliamentary institutions exist for hundreds of years in United Kingdoms and many other countries precisely because their societies have differences. These differences, instead of resulting in quarrels and fist fights on the streets, are brought into Parliament for solutions and compromises.
If the government wants to pass a Bill while not having the majority to do so, it can send the Bill to a bipartisan Parliamentary committee to get views from the opposition. If both sides agree, let say, on 70 percent of the proposed Bill, the government then has a choice, either pass the agreed parts in the Parliament and put the disagreements on back burner, or take risk by not passing the whole Bill.
Right now, the current ruling coalition Perikatan Nasional which was never voted in by the people is facing the possibility of not being able to win the next general election. If emergency rule is declared, does that mean they will rule in the state of emergency forever?
In June this year, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was an ecstatic man when he was told of his popularity and that he would win a landslide if election was held. By now, I am sure his inner circle would tell him that his coalition could only muster no more than 120 seats, possibly less.
Saving our democracy
In terms of popular votes, Malaysia is already a fifty-fifty since 2008. In 2008, BN won 51% of popular votes while in 2013, it received 47%. In 2018, in the context of a 3-cornered fight, the Pakatan Harapan government won 48% of popular votes.
Instead of resorting to some semi-dictatorial power, the first task of a Prime Minister in a democracy is to work with the opposition in a bipartisan manner. The era of trying to crush the opposition with persecutions and imposing emergency rule is over. The people will not allow it anymore.
The myth that Malaysians do not care about politics and would gladly see an emergency rule as long as their economic lives are not affected is a fallacy. If we do not care about our democratic rights, there would not be an 83% voter turnout on 9th May 2018.
Any attempts to impose emergency rule will leave a deep scar and sowed deep-seated divisions in our society. It renders elections and the verdicts of the people meaningless. Let’s pull back from the brinks and save our democracy from its greatest test since 2008.