Enough of ‘untuk bangsa, agama dan saya’

Pic: Reuters

There is more excitement on who will be the next prime minister than what he should do, particularly among the MPs, the political parties and their leaders.

Very little on how to arrest Malaysia’s decline, to save people’s lives and to revive the economy, let alone on the principles on which the country must be governed.

Muhyiddin Yassin’s last-gasp survival gambit dressed as a reform package was a lovely lollipop. Not surprisingly, a few were enticed to take a lick at it but most were afraid they might end up having to swallow the whole stick. Dangerous for the throat and breathing.

Muhyiddin offered it just as he was about to fall. It was cynical. It is also Machiavellian. Reminds me of a Groucho Marx epigram: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.”

It was desperation. It was not belief. If he had done all that from the time he wrested power 18 months ago, as advised many times, he would have been celebrated, whatever detractors say about “back-door government” and so on. Instead, he fell on his own sword.

Now, these prime minister wannabes after him, what do they stand for? Is it again for “bangsa, agama dan saya”? Whoever it is, he must expose to the nation his principles, strategy and ways to achieve them.

There have been many suggestions from civil society on reform, reset for the medium and long term and an all-of-nation approach to face the immediate Covid-19 pandemic and administer economic resuscitation. The new PM must state his stand and how he is going to rebuild Malaysia.

The Cabinet and grand councils are not enough. There is Parliament, which should be mobilised into special select committees with expert support to deliberate on urgent issues: the health crisis and safety and security. Starting with two, as a number of us have proposed.

There are also human and institutional resources in the country (ISIS, MIER, IDEAS, CARI, etc) which should be organised to work objectively and professionally, without just having yes-men and getting them to deliver on pet projects for personal political ego trips.

There is the public administrative service with many capable civil servants who can be galvanised in the all-of-nation working groups that can, on the one hand, support the work of government and, on the other, the imperative to rebuild, reset and reform.

The next prime minister must have the ability to organise and orchestrate these activities and working groups to report up to the Cabinet and to a reset council which could perhaps be called Majlis Mengutamakan Malaysia, the 3M Council.

The next prime minister must engage public support beyond getting the backing of MPs and state the principles on which he will lead the country based on the Federal Constitution and the rule of law. Without public support and enthusiasm, he will not succeed and Malaysia’s decline will not be arrested.

Muhyiddin rather grandly spoke last Friday about returning Malaysia to its “glory” days. Glory and Malaysia. When were we there? Where are we now?

Even if we conceded there was a time Malaysia basked in glory, perhaps during the Tunku’s time or when we used to win the Merdeka soccer tournaments, the country is now close to falling into the sink hole of muddy and dirty domestic politics.

There has been so much self-inflicted damage.

In the last six or seven years, from 2015 when Malaysia was the chair of Asean in the year that launched the “Asean Community”, Malaysia has been a diminished entity.

We know only too well the dire domestic situation but internationally, particularly since March 2020, nobody looks to Malaysia to do anything worthwhile, not even where there is clear benefit to the domestic economy.

Thus, we are behind the curve on ratifying the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) or the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership). Vietnam, for instance, is reaping huge export growth and foreign direct investment benefits from having ratified the CPTPP.

Valiant civil servants in the international trade and industry ministry are pushing hard to get the ratification, but with dysfunctional government political leadership and a non-functioning Parliament for so many months, it has been an uphill task.

Similarly, Wisma Putra officials have had to put on a straight face against knowing looks as Malaysia went down the gutter. 1MDB damaged Malaysia’s reputation like no other single event.

I remember attending Asean business events in 2015 head held down against such knowing looks with not the heart to say anything much as there were not the ears to hear it.

Now I get asked what is happening in my country, and not always from those who can hold their countries up in pride. That is how far we have fallen.

Nevertheless, we braved it out – the hardworking diplomats and civil servants especially. The prime minister in 2015 shamelessly rode the wave and took the credit, son who launched the community after father who signed Asean into being in 1967.

Always we have had self – saya – before the nation and its people. The new prime minister must not continue to try to fool the people at home, even as nations abroad see Malaysia, once a respected middle power, as a country in the middle of nowhere.

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