Ong Kian Ming: Why Mahathir’s government of individuals is unacceptable to PH and unworkable in practice…

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Why Dr. Mahathir’s Government of Individuals is unacceptable to PH and unworkable in practice

First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Mahathir for clarifying publicly that one of the reasons why he stepped down as the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia was that he could not accept having UMNO has part of the government. This principled stand taken was the reason why DAP initially wanted to invite him back to re-establish a Pakatan Harapan (PH) government as Prime Minister. However, Dr. Mahathir instead proposed that he wanted to form a government comprised of individuals from political parties and non-politicians. Here are some of the reasons why this proposal was unacceptable to the DAP and Pakatan Harapan and also unworkable in practical terms.

1) This new government would NOT be Pakatan Harapan led which is the coalition government voted into office by the voters in GE14
2) This new government would NOT be bound by the Pakatan Harapan 14th General Elections Manifesto (including the agreement to step down and hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim)
3) This new government would likely consist of individuals who were instrumental in bringing down the Pakatan Harapan government
4) There is no clear understanding of what policy commitments the new government would have.
5) There will be no accountability to the voters in the 15th General Elections (GE15)
6) The new government will not have a stable majority to pass laws in parliament
7) There will be no clear opposition or government in parliament.
8) Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy and not a presidential system like Indonesia or the United States

Let me explain each in turn…

  1. This new government would NOT be Pakatan Harapan led which is the coalition government voted into office by the voters in GE14

The Malaysia voters gave a clear mandate in GE14 by voting into office 116 Pakatan Harapan (PH) MPs and 8 Parti WARISAN MPs from Sabah. It would not be right to ignore this mandate and to form a government that does not have the same mandate from the voters. Not having PH as the central component of any new government would be a betrayal of the voters’ mandate from GE14.

  1. This new government would NOT be bound by the Pakatan Harapan 14th General Elections Manifesto (including the agreement to step down and hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim)

PH was voted into office because of our commitment to a common cause which is the GE14 PH Manifesto. PH remains committed to carrying out and implementing the promises made in this manifesto. This new government, because it is not a PH-led government, would have no obligation to any of the commitments of the GE14 Manifesto. Dr. Mahathir himself, if he were to lead this new government, would have no obligation whatsoever to the PH manifesto since it will be a totally new government under his leadership and by led by a cabinet which is NOT PH-centric.

There will also not be any obligation for Dr. Mahathir to step down before GE15 and agree to a transition to Anwar Ibrahim as the next Prime Minister as part of the PH agreement before GE14. Dr. Mahathir would no longer be bound to his earlier promise of stepping down after APEC to allow a smooth transition of power.

  1. This new government would likely consist of individuals who were instrumental in bringing down the Pakatan Harapan government

Since Dr. Mahathir would have absolute power to pick and choose his cabinet members regardless of political affiliation,
he may very well end up picking individuals who were instrumental in bringing down the PH government in the first place. To ask PH leaders to sit in together in the same cabinet as those individuals whom many of us have labelled as ‘traitors’ and have been sacked from their parties would be unacceptable not just to the PH parties but also to our supporters and voters.

  1. There is no clear understanding of what policy commitments the new government would have.

In his nationally televised speech yesterday, Dr. Mahathir mentioned that he wants to form a government that will be non-partisan which will prioritize national interests. While this may sound lofty and noble, practically speaking, there is no clear understanding of what these ‘national interests’ are. Under PH, the reference point for policies to be prioritized are those found in the GE14 PH Manifesto. Presumably, under this new government, policies of national interest will be determined largely by the viewpoints of Dr. Mahathir even if they may be against the GE14 PH Manifesto.

The notion of a ‘unity’ government is misleading since it is unclear as to what they will be ‘united’ by except that they (meaning the Cabinet) will be appointed by and led by Dr. Mahathir.

On a related note, some people may think that technocrats are better administrators and policy makers than politicians but this is not necessarily the case. Technocrats also have their own self-interests and political biases and may disagree on what policies represent ‘national interest’.

  1. There will be no accountability to the voters in the 15th General Elections (GE15)

Right after GE14, we knew that PH would be judged by the voters in GE15 on our ability to deliver on our GE14 PH Manifesto. But if the new government has NO obligation to deliver the promises in the GE14 PH Manifesto, then we would not be able to hold ourselves accountable to the voters in the next GE.

Furthermore, the MPs who are appointed to Dr. Mahathir’s cabinet would not be accountable to their own political parties. For example, if they agree to a cabinet decision which is against the stand taken by their party, they would either have to resign from cabinet or they would have to resign for their respective parties. Over time, if this government can last until GE15, it would be comprised mostly of politicians with no party affiliation and non-elected technocrats.

  1. The new government will not have a stable majority to pass laws in parliament

This is a practical challenge which the new government, if formed according to the principles outlined by Dr. Mahathir, will face in parliament. There is no guarantee that when his government presents any legislation in parliament that it will be passed. Any group of parties can potentially band together to defeat important legislation in parliament including the budget, for example. There is no obligation for any of the political parties to support government bills since the government is a non-partisan government. This government cannot even rely on individual parties to support its bills out of a desire to avoid a snap elections especially since the BN and PAS have openly called for snap elections to be held. In fact, a motion of no-confidence can be tabled during a parliament session and the government would have no assurance that it will not be passed.

In other words, the new government can fall anytime during a parliament session.

  1. There will be no clear opposition in parliament (and no clear government parties too!)

While a government of capable individuals may sound nice on paper, it is against the spirit of parliamentary democracy. If Dr. Mahathir’s government were to be appointed, presumably it would comprise of MPs for almost all of the parties. But if individuals from all parties were to be appointed to the cabinet, who would play the role of check and balance in parliament? Who would be the opposition in parliament? It is not acceptable to say that individual MPs would play the role of opposition and check and balance because there is no public accountability via this process. There is no guarantee that these MPs will be fielded in GE15 in order to be accountable for their decisions in parliament and their parties cannot also be held account since there is no clear role for parties to be in opposition or in government.

  1. Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy and not a presidential system like Indonesia or the United States.

Some people have pointed to Indonesia or the United States as examples of how a cabinet comprising of politicians and technocrats can be appointed. But these examples are from Presidential systems while Malaysia practices a parliamentary system. Presidents are directly accountable for the actions of their cabinet through presidential elections. In parliamentary systems, political parties have to face the voters in general elections.

Dr. Mahathir himself will not be accountable to the voters under his proposed government structure. Even if he wants to run for office again in GE15 (when he will be 98 years of age), which party will be run under?

Grand coalition or ‘Unity’ governments have been formed in parliamentary systems before most notably in Germany in the recent years but there has never been a government comprising of individuals from various parties which are not nominated by their own parties and does not necessarily have the support of their own parties to be part of cabinet. This reason why such a cabinet has never existed is because it is fundamentally unworkable and unstable.

These are some of the main reasons why Dr. Mahathir’s proposal of a government of individuals which is non-partisan is not acceptable to PH and frankly speaking, unworkable and unstable.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Bangi
27 February 2020

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