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LETTER | About time for unity govt

LETTER | As another day dawns, there is still no decision on who will be appointed as the new prime minister. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah has given party leaders and heads of coalitions until 2pm today to propose their prime ministerial candidate.

It has taken far more time to form the federal government than to elect 221 MPs. The situation simply demonstrates how intense political government formation is in a parliamentary democracy. At the same time, the king cannot lose sight of the law – more so when it concerns the Federal Constitution.

Under Article 43(2), the king shall appoint a prime minister an MP who in His Majesty’s judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs.

Upon his appointment, the prime minister then forms the government. This means, in practice, picking a cabinet which the prime minister does by appointing MPs from his party as ministers. If his party has a majority in Parliament, his government will be a majority government.

Conversely, it is a minority government if no party holds an outright majority. Following the 15th general election, no party or coalition has won a majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

The prime minister-designate will have to form a minority government. But why not call it a unity government, at the behest of the prime minister?

When Nelson Mandela was released in February 1990 after 27 years in a prison cell – six of these years were in solitary confinement – he assumed the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) party and effectively dismantled the shackles of apartheid for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

A year later on his election as president – after a long struggle for democracy and arduous peace negotiations after his release from prison – Mandela’s ANC formed a power-sharing government with its rival: the National Party (NP) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

Called the Government of National Unity (GNU), it was vital towards overcoming “lingering distrust between the three groups, which had been locked in a violent conflict.” Mandela appointed political leaders named by their respective parties as deputy presidents and ministers. He appointed his political rival FW de Klerk, who was the NP leader and the country’s former president, as one of the deputy presidents.

GNU was described by analysts as “an eclectic, even explosive, mix of personalities, background and styles that will challenge Mandela’s promise to govern consensus”, but Mandela dared to declare it “the moment to bridge the chasms” that had divided the country.

Despite the NP’s withdrawal from the GNU slightly more than two years later, the GNU succeeded in overseeing the creation of a historic new constitution, restructuring the country’s legal system and public service, and implementing “a raft of social programmes aimed at undoing the injustices of apartheid.”

Many analysts have reflected on GNU’s success: Mandela’s light-handed leadership style apart from his forgiving and reconciliatory self; de Klerk’s dignity “in the attempt to make it all work and to ride what must have been, in some instances, a really difficult personal situation, being demoted and displaced by Mandela in the eyes of the public”; and IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s veering “away from (being) a militarily oppositional party and (instead) infected by the spirit of the ‘new South Africa’”.

Malaysia too can have all of the above in a unity government of its own: a big-hearted and reconciliatory prime minister and leader of the Dewan Rakyat; a dignified opposition leader who will make a unity government work; and a non-confrontational opposition infected by a new political spirit for a better Malaysia.

Let’s have a ‘new Malaysia’. It’s about time for a unity government - for the sake of the people.

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

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