The real reason behind leadership manoeuvres

Chandra Muzaffar, FMT

Why is it that in spite of increasing Covid-19 infections, rising fatalities, massive floods in a number of states and serious economic challenges, some politicians are still indulging in political machinations and manipulations?

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong and a number of rulers have strongly advised politicians against indulging in political manoeuvres at a time like this. Together with the rakyat, they have pleaded with the politicians to refrain from politicking and concentrate instead on taming the pandemic and overcoming our economic woes.

But their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Are some politicians determined to pursue their agenda of replacing the Muhyiddin Yassin administration because they are convinced that it is “illegitimate”?

The current government was installed in March 2020 in accordance with constitutional procedures and practices in the wake of the resignation of then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

This had happened before at the state level, in Terengganu in 1961, Sabah in 1994 and Perak in 2009. In fact, the Barisan Nasional (BN) itself emerged in the early 1970s as a result of defections and crossovers and became the new inter-party coalition in power.

Perhaps we should have a law at federal and state levels against defections in the legislatures which some of us have advocated since the early 1980s. It should be based upon the principle that an elected legislator who is no longer capable of representing his constituents should return his mandate to the voters.

Unfortunately, many of those who are pushing for the ouster of the present prime minister are not keen on the introduction of such legislation. They want to continue to encourage defections if it serves their narrow interests.

Are those seeking the prime minister’s removal doing so because they are convinced that he is incompetent?

After almost a year of the Covid-19 crisis, it is obvious to most observers that Malaysia has performed relatively well under his leadership, compared with many other countries.

The political leadership reinforced by a core in the civil service and the national health services have displayed a deep sense of responsibility in executing their tasks in a calm and organised manner.

The delivery of economic assistance to the vulnerable and their carefully planned approach to the imminent distribution of vaccines to the people bear testimony to this.

Court cases

The real reason why there are attempts to oust the prime minister is linked to the thinly veiled interests of a handful of politicians.

There are individuals in Parliament who are part of the largest component party in the ruling coalition, allegedly involved in corruption whose court cases may result in their incarceration. Such incarceration, which they hope some other leader at the helm of the nation would be able to help them avert.

And there are leaders who for decades have sought the prime ministership, who may be prepared to play footsie with those individuals trying to stay out of jail.

Apart from this unholy alliance, there is also another veteran MP who feels that it is his “royal right” to be prime minister. He is joined by another veteran who was prime minister for a total of 24 years and remains convinced that no else can do the job and for that reason wants to return to power.

This coterie of leaders driven by differing motives are united in their common goal of easing out the incumbent through multiple manoeuvres though they have yet to reach consensus on who should replace Muhyiddin.

Given the numbers game in elite politics, the weakness of institutions that can check unscrupulous political behaviour, and the absence of a strong commitment within the populace to principles in politics, those who are seeking the prime minister’s ouster may even succeed.

For those of us who are not prepared to put aside ethical concerns in politics and public life and realise the importance of a national leadership that is completely devoted to overcoming the pandemic and ensuring an effective economic recovery over the next two years, the politics of ouster should stop immediately.

Conference of Rulers

It is in this regard that the following three-point proposal is being presented.

One, this is the time for the Conference of Rulers as a crucial instrument of governance to play its rightful role.

The Conference which has been described as the fourth arm of governance in our system – the other three being the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary – should not only implore all political actors to desist from politicking but also warn them that they cannot create political uncertainty and foment discord and friction without facing the full force of the law.

These politicians should understand that the nation is in crisis and those who are hell-bent on pursuing their own nefarious, self-serving agendas will be made to pay the price.

Two, the Conference of Rulers should also advise the Executive to establish mechanisms at the federal and state levels which will enable the opposition to also contribute to, and participate in, the decision-making process vis-a-vis our twin health and economic crises.

The opposition’s role should not be a mere tokenism. An active role for opposition parties will go a long way towards diluting the adversarial atmosphere that prevails at the moment.

Three, though the government–opposition mechanism proposed here will concentrate on our twin crises, it could also be utilised to formulate measures directed towards improving governance as a whole.

The idea of a genuinely independent ombudsman first articulated in the 1970s would be something worth pursuing.

We are at a critical juncture. If our leaders remain obsessed with the politics of power and position, we would be hastening our own destruction. We are reaching the brink.

Let us pull back, before it is too late.