The virus got rid of our normal way of living. In Malaysia, the backdoor government got rid of a newly achieved normal system of democracy. Francis Loh reflects.
18 May 2020 will go down as a day of shame – for, on this day, a government that had not been elected negated the rakyat’s 2018 decision to vote in the Pakataan Harapan (PH) government.
The backdoor government further insulted the rakyat by adjourning its first parliamentary sitting after just two hours!
The pomp and procession led by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and his royal address thereafter, lent an aura of dignity to the occasion. But it was ephemeral, not long lasting at all.
Contrary to parliamentary tradition, there was no response to the King’s address, no debate of any kind by any of the parliamentarians. At best, this was a pretend-only parliament, under a Perikatan Nasional-styled pretend-only democracy.
We trust that you were among the 75,000 people who signed Aliran’s petition. If you have not yet done so, read here.
Read also the accompanying articles by P Ramakrishnan: “One-day Parliament sitting: Muhyiddin running scared – no majority support?”, “Muhyiddin stole our government – don’t let him steal our Parliament!”, “Beware! Parliament might catch Covid-19!” and “One-day meeting or just a two-hour sitting?”
The Aliran petition was sent to the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, the PN Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the former PH Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and the leaders of all the main political parties represented in Parliament. The petition declared that Parliament should not be sitting for only a single day! Instead, Parliament should sit for at least two weeks, resuming after the Hari Raya break.
How did we end up with a backdoor government and a pretend-democracy?
There are so many issues to discuss. Top of the list is the sudden removal of the PH government elected in 2018. How did this turn of events occur?
Why did the PN government come to power through the back door and not through the front door? Is it a legitimate government or a pretend-only government? Why hold the next general election if an elected government can be overturned so easily by a small group of political elites?
That is why Mahathir moved for a vote of no confidence in the PN Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, and his pretend-government at the 18 May sitting.
Apparently, the PN government only holds a wafer-thin majority of two MPs more than PH. Anything could have persuaded the two or more MPs to switch sides. With that, the PN government would have been overthrown and the PH government restored.
No doubt, this is the reason the original secretary of the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of Parliament, was removed after he had accepted and included Mahathir’s motion into the agenda for 18 May. Is anybody surprised a new secretary was then appointed by Muhyiddin?
Senator Liew Chin Tong, the former deputy minister of defence and DAP leader, has revealed in a two-part article “The strange case of Muhyiddin Yassin” on 14 May (part one) and 15 May (part two) that this seizure of power did not just pop up suddenly. The Sheraton Hotel political coup on 23 February 2020 had been cooking for a while prior to that date.
Azmin Ali, Liew clarifies, had always had ambitions of becoming prime minister from before Pakatan Harapan days. His faction had touted the possibility of a Muhyiddin Yassin-Azmin Ali team when Anwar Ibrahim was in jail and it was not yet clear that PKR and the DAP would accept Mahathir as prime minister.
Later, in October 2019, Liew said Azmin with Hishamuddin Hussein (Umno) and Hamzah Zainuddin (who had quit Umno in December 2018 and later joined Bersatu) had pushed for a Malay-unity coalition government involving Umno and Pas, without Amanah and using the DAP as the bogeyman.
According to Liew, Muhyiddin himself began to express support for such a Malay-unity government by January 2020 and was no longer keen on Anwar becoming the next prime minister.
Shouldn’t all this intrigue and backstabbing be openly discussed and the rakyat informed in Parliament if not in the mass media?
Handling of Covid-19
There ought to be debate too on how the government of the day, whether PN or PH, has been handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
We now know of the antics of the new Health Minister, one Dr Adham Baba, who became world famous after he was featured in news reports globally for advocating drinking warm water to combat the coronavirus. Way to go pretend-health minister!
Luckily our Ministry of Health is helmed by the long-serving director general, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who had served ably under two other health ministers prior to this pretend PN one.
Yes, there was that largest single outbreak and cluster associated with the Tabligh religious rally in Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, which led to a virus in tahfiz (religious) schools being identified and contained. All this ought to be debated too.
At any rate, MPs should have been allowed the opportunity to debate the RM250bn economic stimulus.
Unfortunately, our harsh handling of the Rohingya refugees by the immigration and security authorities and the lack of empathy to their plight by ordinary Malaysians – who viewed the Rohingya as a Covid-19 threat – left much to be desired.
Like the adverse publicity the pretend-health minister attracted, this incident gave Malaysia much bad press globally. Debate in Parliament would have helped Malaysians to understand the plight of the Rohingya better.
Malaysians have a responsibility to help carry the burden of forced migrants. Read “Plight of the dispossessed Rohingya” by Ch’ng Chin Yeow, who reminds us that the ancestors of most of us were also forced migrants once upon a time.
Resorting to undemocratic tactics instead
We are not surprised that 18 May 2020 has come and gone with only a pretend-parliamentary sitting lasting two hours. Although we got 75,000 Malaysians to sign the petition, Aliran did not expect Muhyiddin’s government to extend the sitting for two weeks.
Clearly, Malaysians have to do more than just signing if they want to be heard. In the event, we did not expect Muhyiddin Yassin “to be parliamentary enough” to face Mahathir’s vote of no confidence. So, for Muhyiddin, the sitting could not be allowed to go beyond two hours.
In fact, the pretend government has been busy consolidating itself. Within a week, they put together a record 70 senior ministers, ministers and deputy ministers, plus two extraordinary ambassadors of ministerial rank.
Three further tactical manoeuvres ensued.
First, PN leaders were appointed as heads and directors of government-linked investment companies like Khazanah Nasional, Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), Lembaga Urusan Tabung Haji (the Malaysian hajj pilgrims fund board) and Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (the Armed Forces Fund Board); and government-linked companies and statutory bodies like Maybank, Tenaga Nasional, Sime Darby, Petronas, Pharmaniaga, the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) and Mara.
Many of the new appointees are probably not recognisable to the general public. Significantly, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Pas secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan was brazen enough to pronounce that all government MPs who were not yet ministers and deputy ministers should be appointed to manage these government-linked companies.
No question about whether they had the experience or acumen for managing such companies. No pretense either about applying Islamic principles of integrity and incorruptibility for this top Pas leader. They were connected to the PN government and this was good enough!
Read the concerns and recommendations of the GLC Reform Group’s open letter to the PN government “Set up independent oversight mechanism for GLCs” on reforming the process for the appointments of the heads and monitoring the government-linked companies to ensure efficiency, accountability and transparency
Second, PN parties made a concerted effort to recover a clutch of state governments from PH rule.
In the 2018 general election, the opposition had displaced the Umno-BN governments in all the states except for Perlis and Pahang. Pas won in Kelantan and Terengganu while no state elections were held in Sarawak in 2018.
In two months since the Sheraton political coup, the PN government has manoeuvred itself to take over the Johor, Malacca, Perak and Kedah governments. It achieved this by offering state ministerial posts plus state government-linked company posts to the PN component parties and by inducing PH state assembly members to cross over. This was all done through the back door, OK.
The PH only continues to hold power in Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, while PH-friendly Warisan continues to govern Sabah.
Third, especially following the appointment of new people to head the ministries at the federal and state levels, old people were removed and new people aligned with the backdoor government appointed to head important government agencies – a new Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief, attorney general and so on. Watch this space as more changes are made.
Reform momentum lost
For me, the special thing about the 2018 general election was that we experienced regime change. The Umno-BN government which had dominated Malaysian politics and bullied the rakyat for 60 years was displaced.
The changes put into place by the PH government augured well, although many were disappointed with the slow pace while the lack of comprehensiveness in the reforms frustrated others.
However, the Prime Minister’s Office was restructured. Some exciting and young ministers emerged. New people were appointed into key positions: inspector general of police, chief justice, attorney general, MACC chief, Election Commission chairperson and so on. New people were also appointed to take over the government-linked companies.
More than that, the former PM, his wife and many Umno leaders who headed government-linked companies were prosecuted. The attorney general finalised the prosecution of 25 high-profile cases, all of which he claimed had very high chances of achieving success.
The mainstream media displayed a sense of freshness and excitement.
Yes, many criticised the pace of reform for being too slow. The failure to fulfil promises such as recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) and ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination disappointed non-Malays.
But it would be foolish and wrong to conclude, as some did, that there were no changes.
On my part, as an Aliran activist and academician who has studied democratisation in other developing countries since the 1980s, I did think that we were on our way to becoming a “normal” democracy, finally.
The worst part was the lack of change in the bureaucracy. Having taught in a public university for 33 years and having served in primary and secondary school boards for 10 years, I was particularly aware of how the rot in the educational system had set in.
But there was no quick fixing the problem. A change of minister, director general, vice-chancellor or principal does not lead to tangible improvements immediately.
We need massive restructuring of the entire educational system. Many will also need to be removed. Where would one start, we joked among ourselves in the aftermath of the last general election and regime change, if one was the vice-chancellor or the minister?
More importantly, we looked forward to the consolidation of a two-coalition system with the two alternating power regularly. We hoped this would be the new normal.
However, that normal has been reversed by PN leaders seizing power. It is ironic that their takeover coincided with the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus got rid of our normal way of living. In Malaysia, the backdoor government got rid of a newly achieved normal system of democracy.
Like the rest of the world, we are looking forward to a post-Covid-19 “new normal”, which in Malaysia must also mean a new government that is duly elected by the rakyat, not rule by some backdoor government that is afraid to have a normal parliamentary sitting beyond two hours. Away with this pretend-parliament and pretend-democracy.
Regardless of how irritated we are with this pretend-government and the coronavirus, make sure you have a wonderful break.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf zahir batin.Francis Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
23 May 2020