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COMMENT | Parliamentary democracy is the solution for our nation

COMMENT | Winston Churchill is attributed as saying “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Today, Malaysia is being presented with that two “other” choices.

The first “other” is Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s less than democratic emergency government which is incompetent, quarrelsome and without a majority in Parliament.

As reported on The Vibes, his administration has declined the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s written request to summon Parliament. Minister in charge of law and Parliament, Takiyuddin Hassan even implied that the king must follow the government’s advice as far as the extension of the emergency is concerned.

This means the Muhyiddin government wants to cling to power via emergency rule. This anti-democratic idea should be rejected and condemned by all.

The second “other” is former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s idea of a new National Operations Council/Mageran, based on the post-May 13 1969 administrative body that ruled Malaysia by decree for almost two years. It was proposed to be an emergency cabinet of sort, to be filled in mostly with unelected technocrats.

All patriotic Malaysians should rally around the noble cause of ending the emergency and reconvening Parliament as soon as possible. It should be a consensus of all Malaysians to restore parliamentary democracy and to reject both Muhyiddin’s and Mahathir’s emergency rule.

If politicians cannot exercise credible and effective leadership, we will be ceding grounds to authoritarians who are very keen to offer quick fixes to “end politics” which actually means removing democracy and imposing an emergency rule.

Therefore, responsible political leaders must find compromises to restore democracy and avoid any form of authoritarian rule. We now know the price of impasse – emergency rule ala Muhyiddin or Mahathir.

Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin

The baseline is to find an acceptable parliamentary formula to end emergency rule ala Muhyiddin, reject the NOC proposal from Mahathir, and not to cause a general election when the Covid-19 situation is still bad and the economy takes time to recover.

Next democratic govt

We must break the impasse, and form a new democratic government to replace the current one until the next general election in 2023.

This new government must have a majority of at least 120 seats (out of 222 parliamentary seats), and not Muhyiddin’s almost-no-majority government proven to be so unstable that it had to resort to emergency rule to survive.

To ensure full support from the people, these should be the basic characteristics, principles and values of the next democratic government:

1. Democracy and equal partnership should be the cornerstone of the new government as the days of a “big brother” party in a coalition are over. The Muhyiddin government failed miserably on this count in accommodating supposed allies. 

All parties should negotiate their terms and conditions as detailed as possible before the formation of the government. They must also accept the fact that there is only that much a government could do in the remaining two years before the next general election. Policy agenda which does not receive general consensus from most parties will have to wait for the next term.

2. “Presidential” prime minister should no longer be in practice. The new prime minister should be the chairperson of the board to keep the coalition together and not ride roughshod over coalition partners. 

He or she should govern with a core group of senior ministers, made up of top leaders of coalition partners, to make collective decisions on major issues before going to the cabinet and the Parliament.

3. A problem-solving cabinet that must work as a team to solve collective problems, and not to allow for turf wars and ego trips of individual ministers or ministries. The core cabinet of top party leaders who are also senior ministers must collectively impose discipline to ensure the cohesiveness of the cabinet.

4. Parliament as the avenue to build national consensus and allow for collaborations. The opposition should be given equal constituency allocations provided for government MPs. 

Government backbenchers and opposition MPs must be given ample opportunities to build collaborative relationship as well as a working relationship with ministries through effective parliamentary select committees. 

Instead of appointing MPs as government-linked company (GLC) chairpersons, they should chair parliamentary committees with additional allowances and staffing equivalent to that of a deputy minister.

5. Upon formation of this new government, legislation can be passed similar to UK’s Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 with the aim of having a fixed date of election when Parliament expires. 

According to our Federal Constitution, this term should end on July 26, 2023. A fixed time frame will give everyone a clear mind frame of what could be achieved and what could not within the next two years.

Heal the nation

Once the structure of democratic governance is agreed upon and put into action, thus rescuing Malaysia from a protracted political crisis and impasse, as well as the threat of authoritarian emergency rules, the theme for this new government should be to heal the nation from the Covid-19 pandemic and its related economic woes.

These are the core agenda to heal the nation:

First, follow the science and stop the double standards. We need a whole-of-government approach to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government must be truthful to the people. 

Instead of merely imposing harsh penalties while allowing for double standards, the government must treat the people fairly in terms of standard operating procedures (SOPs). The days of “the government knows best” are over. Our government needs to learn from past mistakes and be less bureaucratic, and yet be bold in accomplishing missions.

Second, a Bangsa Malaysia. We need to have a nation united by our journey into a shared future destiny and by our rejection of divisive racial ideas. Our ethnic, language and religious differences should be celebrated as national treasures. We are not our own enemies.

Third, an economy for all. The government needs to step in and step up when private businesses are failing in the crisis economy while workers are losing their jobs.

The government should be prepared to borrow more to deal with this Covid-19 health crisis - it needs to strengthen the healthcare system and invest into the future such as increasing infrastructure investments with green specifications. This could provide a boost on employment, productivity and economic activity.

Fourth, a secured nation. The nation’s defence and security sectors need a holistic reform to ensure that the nation’s sovereignty is protected while public safety is guaranteed.

Fifth, a Malaysia without kleptocrats and corruption. The new government must eliminate corruption in all its spending. It is a tall order but integrity is the key in building trust among the people and towards government.

Although this government may be limited by time and political compromises, it should still aim to be transformative. It must have the vigour to build back better. Only we Malaysians can rebuild our nation, together.

LIEW CHIN TONG is former deputy defence minister.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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