New government must pursue stability through multipartisan governance and institutional reforms

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As Mahiaddin Yasin has stepped down as Prime Minister, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) and the undersigned organisations urge the contenders to fill his vacancy to pursue political stability by offering multi-partisan governance and institutional reforms.

The endless political machinations due to winner-takes-all politics in a de facto hung Parliament for the past one-and-a-half years must now end to enable more effective governance of health and the economy.

The new prime minister must quickly convene a special meeting and table a motion of confidence in himself to prove his majority.

To fulfil the demand of Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution “to command the confidence of the majority of the [House of Representatives]”, the prime minister-designate may form a coalition government or a minority government with unambiguous support from enough opposition MPs through confidence and supply agreements.

However, to ensure broad-based support for government policies, even if the new government has a simple majority on its own, it should reach out to the official opposition and other opposition parties to negotiate conditional support on confidence and suppy agreements.

In formulating a cross-party agreement committing as many parties and MPs as possible, the seven-point reform package made by Mahiaddin on 13 August can serve as a good reference but should be expanded to cover more aspects of institutional reforms.

We propose the following 10 points to be considered in a cross-party political stability pact to be covered by the various confidence and supply agreements between the new government and the opposition parties (detailed in Appendix):

1. A tripartite federal-state council on health and the cconomy consisting of equal numbers of members from the federal government, the federal opposition and the 13 state governments, assisted by state officials and experts to coordinate key decisions on the pandemic and the economy

2. A term limit for the prime minister

3. A cabinet manual that supplements the Federal Constitution to codify constitutional conventions and governmental operations, including government formation, a caretaker government, and the parliamentary opposition leader and shadow cabinet

4. Parliamentary reform that includes prioritisation of no-confidence motion, reduction of prime minister’s and Speaker’s agenda-setting powers, extensive and inclusive parliamentary special select committees, pre-tabling consultation on bills and budgets and the enactment of a parliamentary service act, and equitable constituency development funds

5. The reform of the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Inland Revenue Board to end selective prosecutions and conflicts of interest

6. Advancing voters’ supremacy through immediate implementation of Undi18, automatic voter registration, the expansion of absentee voting facilities especially to out-of-region voters, and radio and TV campaigning to be made available to all political parties and contestants

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7. The enactment of a political financing act, which would cover the public financing of political parties

8. The transfer of power in registering and regulating political parties from the Registrar of Societies to the Election Commission, which in turn should be made accountable to a parliamentary special select committee

9. Ground works for these medium-term reforms:

  • A recall of member of Parliament act for all parliamentarians elected under the first-past-the-post system
  • The introduction of closed list proportional representation parliamentary seats with an anti-hopping clause and gender quota
  • The re-organisation of the Election Commission, including the creation of a boundary commission to enhance its impartiality and professionalism

10. A fixed term Parliament act, which specifies the proposed dissolution date of the 15th Parliament, which may be altered only with a two-thirds majority

The 10-point cross-party political stability pact can be a feature in the upcoming royal address to bring Malaysians of different partisan, ethnic, religious and regional backgrounds together to save lives and livelihoods.

We urge all contenders for the office of prime minister to commit to offer a vision of multi-partisan governance for all Malaysians and not just horse-trading over numbers and positions. A short-sighted and self-serving government that perpetuates political stability would be ruthlessly punished by voters in the next election. – Bersih 2.0

Bersih 2.0 steering committee

Endorsed by:

1. Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim)
2. Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM)
3. The Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)

The 10-point cross-party political stability pact in detail

1. A tripartite federal-state council on health and the economy – consisting of equal numbers of members from the federal government, the federal opposition and the 13 state governments, assisted by top bureaucrats, military chief, police chiefs and experts from academia and civil society – should be set up to coordinate key decisions on the pandemic and the economy, similar to how the National Security Council functions under the emergency.

The involvement of the federal opposition bench and state governments are necessary to broaden the political base of decision-making, both to avoid policy blind spots and ensure cross-party sharing of political responsibility. The raging pandemic would require at times politically unpopular policy decisions that cannot be undertaken by a weak government with a bare majority.

The federal-state council can be an experiment to greater shared rule by the federal and state governments, paving the way for a managed decentralisation process for Sabah, Sarawak and the Peninsular states

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2. Article 43 of the Federal Constitution should be amended to introduce a term limit for the prime minister. This will promote political stability and reduce machinations by providing a broader and faster career path for aspirants of the top job

3. A cabinet manual, a common feature in many Commonwealth countries that supplements the Federal Constitution, that codifies constitutional conventions and governmental operations should be produced through cross-party consultation. To avoid constitutional crises and to build cross-party trust, the cabinet manual should cover:

  • post-election and mid-term government formation
  • the cabinet’s advice for the Agong
  • functions and powers of any caretaker government
  • powers and access to government information accorded to the parliamentary opposition leader and shadow ministers

4. Parliament should be empowered to function as the arena where the government and the opposition both compete and collaborate on policies, and where government backbenchers and opposition MPs provide effective legislative oversight on government frontbenchers (ministers and deputy ministers). The reform should cover the following:

  • Motions of confidence/no-confidence endorsed by 10% of MPs must take precedence over government business at any point of time
  • The unchecked agenda-setting power currently held by the prime minister and Speaker must be transferred to the house committee, in which all parties should be proportionally represented
  • The Speaker must be an elected MP who must relinquish or suspend his or her party affiliation upon election to office, so that voters may reward or punish him or her for his or her conduct should he or she seek re-election in the next election
  • Parliamentary special select committees with adequate resources must be set up to ensure that every ministry would be scrutinised by a special select committee, and every private MP (government backbencher or opposition MP) can sit on at least one special select committee
  • Bills and budgets must be scrunitised by the special select committees before being tabled in the House for passing
  • A constituency development fund act should be enacted to ensure regular and equitable funding to all MPs, not subject to the executive’s discretion
  • Private MPs must be given real opportunity to table private members’ bills through mechanisms like balloting and the ten-minute rule in the UK’s House of Commons
  • The long ready Parliamentary Service Bill must be tabled and passed.

5. The Attorney Generals Chambers, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Inland Revenue Board must be reformed to end selective prosecution and conflict of interest.

The multiple functions of the Attorney General’s Chambers should be thoroughly reformed such that:

  • the attorney general’s primary function would be to provide legal counsel to the federal government, and the role may be assumed by a cabinet minister or MP
  • a public prosecution office, independent from the government’s control, would be set up to end selective prosecution and impunity
  • judges of lower court would be placed under the judiciary to avoid institutional conflicts of interest
  • law-drafting services would be placed under Parliament
  • the States are given more autonomy to appoint their state legal advisor, who may be a member of the executive council or a state assembly member
  • the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission must be made accountable to Parliament while the Inland Revenue Board must be reformed to eliminate room for political witch hunts on opposition politicians and supporters
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6. Voters’ supremacy must be advanced to ensure their right to vote and be informed through

  • immediate implementation of Undi18
  • automatic voter registration, the progress of which must be expedited and made transparent and accountable
  • expansion of absentee voting facilities, including remote voting for out-of-region voters (the majority of whom are Sabahans and Sarawakians who have to study and work out of their region due to imbalanced development), and postal votes for Malaysians in Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan and southern Thailand
  • advance voting and/or a longer voting period for ordinary voters to ensure social distancing
  • radio and TV campaigning available to all political parties and contestants, so thatvoters may be adequately informed despite restrictions on rallies (ceramah) and door-to-door canvasing during the pandemic

7. The long ready Political Financing Bill should be tabled and passed, with public financing of political parties

8. The Societies Act and the Election Act should be amended to transfer registration and regulation of political parties from the Registrar of Societies to the Election Commission, which in turn should be made accountable to a parliamentary special  select committee

9. The ground work must be commenced for these medium-term reforms:

  • A recall of member of Parliament act for all parliamentarians elected under the first-past-the-post system
  • Introduction of a closed list proportional representation system for parliamentary seats with an ‘anti-hopping’ clause and gender quota
  • The re-organisation of the Election Commission, including the creation of a boundary Commission to enhance its impartiality and professionalism

10. A fixed-term Parliament act, which specifies the proposed dissolution date of the 14th Parliament, which may be altered only with a two-thirds majority, so that the government and Parliament can focus on governance of the pandemic and the economy while all parties can plan ahead for their contest

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