There is a lot of hunger and anger out there. The people’s misery is accentuated by their perception of corruption and double standards top to bottom as they reel from disease, death and deprivation.
The need for better government in Malaysia has never been greater, before the people are driven to want to throw someone under a bus.
It is a matter of grave urgency to discover a fit for purpose arrangement in the face of the greatest health crisis of our times, which is eating into the economic, social and political fabric of our country.
We cannot have a government worrying, politically unlike the people, where its next meal is coming from. A government walking on thin ice, always looking over its shoulder to see who is about to stab it in the back, and thinking of its next move to stay in power.
We need a government fully focused on addressing the huge crisis the country is facing.
We need a government which has the full support of Parliament, which should be recalled to play its rightful role outlined in the nation’s constitution, the highest law of the land.
Parliament has not met this year for its fourth session following the declaration of emergency in January — despite clear invocation that it can meet, including by the king, who had agreed to that declaration.
There are calls to suspend Malaysia’s system of parliamentary democracy and to establish a National Operations Council (NOC, or Majlis Gerakan Negara, MAGERAN), like the one which operated for two years from 1969 following the race riots in May that year.
Exposing megalomania, one such call comes from a political leader who had previously asked for the present emergency, such as it is, to be ended. What, to be followed by full declaration of emergency with him at the head of the NOC?
We must abandon such desires as the wet dreams of wannabe dictators.
There are three fundamental differences between the situation in 1969 and the one we face now. First, there has been no breakdown of law and order as occurred following the racial riots for us today to hand power to an autocrat, always a dangerous gamble.
Second, and critically, we have no towering political leaders to take the lead without significant opposition to think through the national issues to take the country forward.
Third, crucially, we don’t have two years.
Indeed, the NEP (New Economic Policy) — one of the two main products of that period — has become a primary source of national division instead of the unity it was supposed to have forged. The main reason is that it has been twisted and emasculated to corrupt the Malaysian body politic. But, that is a discussion for another day.
The other outcome, the shepherding of hitherto antagonistic political parties into a grand alliance — Barisan Nasional — is something we should be seeking to achieve today. But double quick.
Who is to lead that charge? A few hands will go up but, truth be known, there is NOBODY of the same kind of stature of the post 1969 leaders who can command and pull disparate parties together. Malaysian political leadership is bankrupt, the outcome of 40 years of divisiveness and greed for power rather than statesmanship.
Should we then just lie down and die? Of course, we cannot just give up. The leaders of the main political factions in Parliament should sit down very quickly to work out how they can form a unity government with the backing of their MPs in Parliament. They must, for once, serve the national interest and ride above narrow political and personal interests.
It is not about now is my chance to be PM. It is about how best to serve the nation at its hour of peril. About how to get on top of Covid-19 and to continually manage the risk from the virus that is not going away, how to restore the economy and to plan recovery of economic and social life. It is about the finest hour. Leave political games out for now.
Can we do it? I am not a close adviser of the prime minister but, from the start, when he came to power, I had always put to him the need to broaden his political base and have a bigger tent to ensure stability of government as the country faced huge challenges. He thought better and imagined he could politically navigate his way to stay in power despite not having the numbers in Parliament to achieve such stability.
It is not too late for him to go for a national unity government. As prime minister, he is best placed to do so. He has to rise above narrow interests and show the statesmanship the country needs now. If he does not, forget about being harshly judged by history, support for him will erode further at this moment in time.
The Malay rulers meet on Wednesday. This is a most important meeting in light of the crisis the country is facing. I read a lot of comments on social media about not drawing the rulers into politics. This is a wrong reading of history and reality. The Malay rulers have a role, although the difficulty has always been how exactly they should play it without exceeding constitutional provision and without undermining support for the institution.
The fact of the matter in our present situation is the Malay rulers have been seized of the issue of proclamation of emergency, which speaks to a discernment on how the country should be run at a time of crisis in the interest of the people.
When they meet on Wednesday, they will obviously want to review how the country has been run based on what they see and hear and representations they have received.
They have, as expressed by Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution, the right “to be consulted, to encourage and to warn”.
In our present circumstances, the people need some intervention to save their lives and livelihoods. A nod in the direction of a national unity government and convening of Parliament would be something the rakyat would deeply appreciate.
The Malay rulers could also propose ways in which the people can assist with expertise in these troubled times through establishment of an advisory council comprising representatives of civil society, professional bodies and business.
This could be expanded into a Malaysia First Council subsequently with wider terms of reference to get into the whole array of issues that have placed the country, not only in this crisis, but also in the most precarious position since its independence.
We need to have a whole-of-nation approach and best leadership to save the country. Every institution has a role to play. The people must will and support a national unity government, the convening of Parliament, and participation to find solutions and build consensus.
The palpable anger heard and to be read almost everywhere should get creative response. The rasa marah rakyat (the people’s wrath) should not be allowed to reach the level where they would want to throw somebody under a bus.
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