As Malaysia is expecting a hung Parliament where no single party or coalition would command a simple majority, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) calls upon all political parties to respect the democratic procedures and exercise prudence in their post-election manoeuvres to ensure that Malaysia can have a stable federal government that can last a full term till 2027 and that is rigorously scrutinised by an empowered Parliament.
From our nation’s experiences in 2018-2021, no federal government can be stable if the opposition parties are marginalised and the winner-takes-all political culture is continued.
Hence, the formation of a stable government must include an overall negotiated settlement with coalition partners and the main opposition parties.
Bersih would like to propose 10 principles or goals for the parties to consider.
Here are our proposals:
1. Government formation by cross-party negotiations
The formation of the new government must be negotiated by the party leaders and not through a collection of statutory declarations or interviews of MPs by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong because a parliamentary government is a government by one or more parties united by a governance programme – not just a collective of individuals MPs connected to a PM.
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The negotiated agreement should be jointly announced to the public and the proposed PM named. Then the Agong will appoint the agreed PM candidate.
All parties must act responsibly and not drag the palace into the negotiation of government formation and harm both constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
2. The biggest block gets the priority to form government first
To maximise certainty and stability, the coalition or party winning the largest number of seats should be given the first opportunity to form the government within a reasonable time span, ie a week. If it fails, the opportunity will be passed to the coalition or party winning the second largest number of seats.
3. Manifestos guiding coalition government’s programme
Parties forming a coalition government should agree clearly on what policies to pursue and what not to, as well as mechanisms and guiding principles on new or undecided issues. In negotiating the coalition government’s programme, parties should refer to their manifestos as guides in order to be more accountable to their voters.
The public and the market must be patient for parties to forge a stable and lasting government rather than the fastest one which may not last. As Malaysia has experienced three changes of government peacefully in the past five years, Malaysians should stay calm and not buy into rumours or fake news.
4. A full-term government with a comfortable majority
The new government should aim to serve a full term until 2027. This would instil public and business confidence to make medium-term decisions, knowing there would not be frequent government changes or elections.
If the coalition government has only a slim majority, then it should enter into ‘confidence-and-supply agreements’ with some opposition parties to ensure its survival on confidence-and-supply votes, free from any threat of withdrawals by individual MPs.
5. A confirmatory vote of confidence
Within two weeks of his appointment, the new prime minister should table a motion of confidence in himself to bolster the legitimacy of his government. This can protect him or her from attempts to unseat the government for months to come.
6. Public agreements on coalition and confidence and supply
All the agreements between parties, whether of coalition or just confidence and supply, should be made public for transparency and accountability. Secret agreements in Malaysia have proven to be unenforceable and often becoming the source of political conflicts.
7. Recognition of shadow cabinet
A shadow cabinet should be officially recognised with commensurate salaries, resources and access to government information for shadow ministers. This would encourage the official opposition to compete rigorously with the government on policies and governance, instead of plotting to unseat the former in the middle of the term.
8. An act on equitable constituency development funds
To build a constructive government-opposition relationship by enabling a level playing field, equitable constituency development funds should be legally guaranteed with a parliamentary act.
9. Political financing act with public financing of political parties
The political financing act mooted by four subsequent governments under Najib Razak, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Mahiaddin Yasin and Ismail Sabri Yaakob must be passed in the first year of the 15th Parliament to strengthen parties. The act must also provide for public funding of political parties based on their popular vote shares in the last elections.
10. Separation of public prosecution from the Attorney General’s Chambers
As long as the Attorney General’s Chambers controls the power to drop criminal charges, it will always incentivise members of any ‘court cluster’ to unseat the sitting government and install a friendly attorney general. As most parties have openly committed to the separation of the public prosecutor’s role from the attorney general this reform should be part of any negotiation to form a government or a confidence-and-supply agreement.
In addition, all MPs with court case should stay out of the cabinet and any other executive positions until their cases are fully disposed of by the court. This would protect the coalition government from allegations of political deals, especially while the Attorney General’s Chambers still possesses unchecked power that can be abused to cause selective prosecution or impunity.
We can make a hung Parliament work
A hung Parliament may give Malaysia the best chance to upgrade our politics from ethno-religious fights and patronage. Of course, it may be our worst nightmare too if parties refuse to coexist and compete fairly with each other after elections.
Malaysia deserves better and Bersih hopes that whichever parties manage to form the government after 19 November will see this as an opportunity to strengthen our institutional checks and balances such as Parliament and the judiciary so that any subsequent government formed can be held accountable by the people. – Bersih