No political stability without governance and institutional reforms

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The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) calls on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to pursue governance and institutional reforms as his priority, apart from handling Covid and the economy, during his term in office until the next general election due in less than two years’ time.

The urgings of the Agong for “new politics” and for an end to the “winner-takes-all” political culture cannot materialise unless systemic and structural causes that contribute to the instability are addressed through amendments and enactment of laws.

We reiterate our call for a vote of confidence to be moved in a special sitting of the Dewan Rakyat to affirm the appointment of Ismail Sabri as the ninth Prime Minister. This should take place before the third session of Parliament is prorogued on 30 August 2021.

Efforts to achieve multipartisanship must be achieved through the present parliamentary system of government where the role of the opposition must be preserved and enhanced, instead of through a unity government or war cabinet where all parties with elected representatives are included in government.

While the idea of unity is appealing, the cost of such a system of government would mean a bloated cabinet, the loss of checks and balances, a loss of scrutiny, a loss of competition of performance and ideas, and no alternative for the people to choose from. Unity would also be illusionary, as rivalry for more lucrative posts and ministries would create more dysfunctionality and instability that will further plunge us into a political abyss.

We urge Ismail Sabri to learn from the failure of Mahiaddin Yasin’s administration where he failed to engage constructively with the opposition but spent much of his 17 months in office trying to stifle and block his political opponents through suspension of Parliament and encouraging defections.

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Ismail Sabri has to immediately initiate discussions with Pakatan Harapan (PH) and other parties in opposition on governance and institutional reforms that would give meaningful roles to the opposition in tackling Covid and the economy, and level the playing field for all parties. Agreements made through these discussions can be reflected in publicly signed confidence-and-supply agreements that include a clear timeline for fulfilment of these reforms before the next general election has to be called.

We also urge the opposition bloc to give serious consideration to any overtures by Ismail Sabri and enter into negotiations for confidence-and-supply agreements that pivot on major governance and institutional reforms. Any reforms negotiated must be legislated instead of merely done administratively so that they can be sustainable.

If Pakatan Harapan is able to negotiate for some of these reforms, it would have fulfilled some of the promises it made in its last election manifesto, even as the opposition. This would bode well for it as a reformist alternative government-in-waiting for the next general election.

Ismail Sabri should also realise that his government won’t be stable and effective without the support and collaboration of the 13 state governments, only five of which are controlled by Umno, while three each are helmed by PH and Pas, and one each by Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah. His government must break free from overcentralisation and share policymaking power with the states. Decentralisation should be part of the confidence-and-supply agreements.

To ensure compliance to the terms of any confidence-and-supply agreements negotiated, amendments to the Dewan Rakyat standing orders to reduce the power of the PM as the leader of the House to determine the agenda have to be made. For example, motions of confidence and no-confidence must take precedence over government business. This would empower the House as the legislative branch of government to hold the executive accountable.

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As a starting reference point, the parties could refer to the 10-point cross-party peace plan that Bersih proposed on 16 August 2021, namely:

  1. A tripartite federal-state Council on health and the economy with representatives of the federal government, the federal opposition and 13 state governments, assisted by experts in state services and society
  2. A term limit for the prime minister
  3. A cabinet manual that supplements the Federal Constitution
  4. Parliamentary reforms to strengthen the role of Parliament
  5. Reform of the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Inland Revenue Board to end selective prosecution and conflicts of interest
  6. Immediate implementation of the lowering of the minimum voting age to 18, automatic voter registration and the expansion of absentee voting for out-of-region voters
  7. The enactment of a Political Financing Act
  8. The placement of the registration and regulation of political parties under the Election Commission instead of the Registrar of Societies
  9. A start to the ground work for these medium-term reforms:

9.1. A recall of member-of-Parliament act to deal with ‘party-hopping’
9.2. Introduction of closed-list proportional representation
9.3. The re-organisation of the Election Commission

10. A fixed term Parliament act.

For more details of the 10-point cross-party peace plan, please refer to our statement on 16 August and other recommendations for reforms.

These proposed reforms would benefit all political parties in the new political reality of multi-party coalition politics, where no party can be confident that they can remain secure as government and the prospect of a minority government will always loom large in the background.

Parties need to level the playing ground now so they can compete fairly with each other on ideas and policies, and being in opposition is not like being in a political gulag or being cast into oblivion.

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It is incumbent on all political parties and MPs to come together at these times of health, economic and political crises, and to rise above partisan politics to forge a path to political stability that strengthens parliamentary democracy and makes politics work for the Rakyat.

#KetuananPengundi – Bersih 2.0, 20 August 2021

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