Dennis Ignatius: End the emergency; reconvene parliament

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A newspaper headline yesterday (10th June) said it all – “Confusion reigns!”

The government is now completely dysfunctional. Cabinet can’t seem to agree on anything. Ministers are openly feuding with each other, banging tables, and complaining they are being left out of important meetings. Each minister has become a warlord of sorts, doing whatever he or she wants to. Red tape and bureaucratic incompetence are not helping, too. The result is a jumbled, bungling and moronic mixture of policies that is making an already bad situation worse.

Indecision, confusion and flip-flops have become the order of the day. In the early stages of the current MCO, there were so many conflicting instructions on the issue of approvals for work-related travel, for example, that the IGP very wisely decided to temporarily ignore them until the politicians sorted it out. I’m sure the police are quite frustrated with having to enforce instructions that are confusing and constantly changing.

The so-called Malay unity government – a long-cherished dream of Ketuanan Melayu ideologues – has turned out to be nothing but an unmitigated disaster. Malay unity is as ephemeral as the morning dew. Never have we seen Malay political parties in such disarray. UMNO president Dato’ Seri Zahid Hamidi is so weak and unpopular that he cannot even order his colleagues to leave the cabinet. PPBM is just as divided and insanely antagonistic towards UMNO. Some wonder whether PPBM president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is losing his grip on his party. Even PAS is facing internal challenges, as can be seen from the evolving situation in Terengganu.

At the centre of all this dysfunction and chaos sits a prime minister who has clearly lost both the plot and his legitimacy. The PM’s most important job is to set the direction, manage his cabinet, and ensure proper coordination and discipline among his ministers. Someone who has been in cabinet for as long as Muhyiddin has ought to know how it works. And yet, he seems either unable or unwilling to exercise leadership. Perhaps he prefers to reign but not rule. Whatever it is, the leadership vacuum is proving to be very destructive; the government is literally imploding before our eyes. Never in my 36 years of government service have I seen such stunning dysfunction, disarray and disorder.

Bernama

In the meantime, the rakyat are suffering real hardship and pain. While PN members grab lucrative sinecures for themselves, people are going hungry and getting desperate. Billions have been spent on all sorts of programmes, but it doesn’t seem to have reached those who really need it. Unsurprisingly, people have lost all confidence in the government. Social media is now full of angry comments. Even the royals are facing rare criticism.

A former political insider sent me this message a few days ago: “Fifteen months of a terribly corrupt and hopelessly incompetent all-Malay government has produced a Malay awakening that is unprecedented in modern history – probably the closest analogy was their united anger against the British Malayan Union plan of 1946.” Certainly, Malay angst has grown exponentially. Ketuanan Melayu politicians can no longer shift the blame to the DAP and must now face the full wrath of the people.

An emergency meeting of the rulers has now been scheduled for June 16th. In anticipation of that meeting, the King is having a round of consultations with party leaders. The role that the rulers can play is limited, given that Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy. The King’s call to reconvene Parliament, for example, was ignored. Nevertheless, the rulers remain influential and their views matter.

A few options are now on the table. Some are calling for a national unity government to be installed. It sounds good but turning it into a reality will not be easy, given the deep distrust between the major political parties. There is no consensus on who should lead such a government. The names that are being bandied about thus far, including Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Hishammuddin Hussein, all lack support even in their own parties.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is pushing for another national operations council (NOC) – with him at the helm, of course. He claims it is the only way to get rid of Muhyiddin. An NOC-type government would be a terrible option; it would further weaken our already fragile democracy. Besides, Mahathir had his chance following GE14 and he betrayed the trust of the voters. His insistence on re-establishing Malay hegemony and sidelining Anwar destroyed a perfectly good, stable and promising government and directly contributed to the mess we are now in. It would be absolute folly to reward him with dictatorial powers under a NOC-type construct.

Instead, we should give our democracy a chance to work. End the emergency. Reconvene Parliament immediately, not just to discuss pandemic-related issues but more importantly to break the political impasse. Our problem is a political one. Parliament is the right place to resolve it. Let Parliament determine who has the majority to lead the country via a vote of confidence. Let whoever has the numbers lead and be accountable to Parliament. It might be the last chance to save the nation from looming disaster.