BN-PKR leaders Najib and Anwar speaking different languages, find commonalities on Mahathir Administration during heated debate
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim may have publicly blessed “prodigal son” former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, allegedly plagued by “politically motivated” cases in court, by agreeing to debate him on the Way Forward. Najib may have gained the Opposition’s support for a new lease of life.
It cannot be said that Anwar would not express support if Najib petitions for Pardon for miscarriage of justice based on mistrial. See here . .
Anwar himself was granted Pardon by the Agong in 2018 for miscarriage of justice in the Sodomy 1 and Sodomy 2 cases. Anwar won the Appeal on Sodomy 1 but only on the sodomy charge. His conviction on the related corruption charge was upheld. It was Anwar who instructed his Secretary to file a police report on the sodomy 1 allegations in a highly defamatory book distributed at an Umno General Assembly. Subsequently, Anwar tried to get the police to close the file — influencing deemed a corrupt act — on the report after it was re-opened by Mahathir.
When the police report was first lodged, Mahathir told the media in a rare candid moment that it would create problems. Mahathir directed NFA (no further action) on the police report. The police report was subsequently re-opened by Mahathir after Anwar was sacked from the government in 1998. Mahathir felt threatened and feared for the family. It appeared that Anwar would not hesitate to damage him even if it heaped much more harm on his sacked Deputy.
It may be premature, if not indulging in wishful thinking and living on hopes, if the “Sapura Debate” heralds a new form of cooperation in the making, across the Divide, for political stability. It has been observed that hope springs eternal in the human breast.
Najib’s Four Thrusts
Najib brought up political stability (2nd Point) during the Debate as one of the four key thrusts that Malaysia needs, the others being strong vibrant economy (1st Point), sustainable corporate sector (3rd Point) and social mobility (4th Point).
Social mobility was the antithesis of a caste system — read ancient India — which artificially prohibits upward social mobility. In law, there can be no discrimination. The caste system was a violation of human rights, the basis of international law.
In fact, Malaysia can only achieve political stability ideally if the people reject political personality cults, political parties, membership in political parties, party politics, and tribalism and feudalism fanned by politicisation of race and religion under the guise of democracy.
Democracy — people power — isn’t about voting once in four or five years for the politics of race and religion and then going home and sleeping. Many people vote for a living and pay no taxes. Others work for a living and pax taxes.
Democracy only works if the people participate.
The people should form movements on issues and probably take to the streets if the government closes the door to dialogue and/or the court denies a hearing.
Conventions, even more important than the Constitution, can help ensure political stability. Conventions — it’s not law at all — are about the working of the Constitution.
The Prime Minister isn’t elected by the people. So, he or she should at least be elected by Parliament.
For example, based on Westminister and Commonwealth traditions, protocol and conventions, and in tweaking them, the Agong should invite the caretaker Prime Minister after receiving the results from the Election Commission (EC). The incumbent Prime Minister — read Najib in 2018 — should not walk away into the sunset without at least a farewell call on the Agong.
If the caretaker Prime Minister offers to be Prime Minister again, whether there are special circumstances or otherwise, he or she should be appointed Interim Prime Minister. The Agong can start the ball rolling on much needed political reforms.
The Interim Prime Minister should test his or her support in the lower house of Parliament against rival claimants to the post. That would make for greater political stability.
If there are three or more in the running for the PM’s post, and no one gets 51 per cent of a quorum of MPs, there should be a run-off between the top two contenders to decide the winner.
The quorum should comprise at least two thirds of the 222 MPs in the lower house of Parliament. That’s the practice in the Indian Parliament on amendments to the Constitution. It’s not often that all MPs turn up in Parliament. There can be no law on the matter unless the MP is away for six months or more without notifying the Speaker in writing.
The PM-designate, if not challenged in the upper house as well, should be endorsed by simple majority of at least two-thirds of the Senate assembled. The PM should be invited to recommend members of the Cabinet who must preferably be drawn equally from the Dewan Rakyat and Senate. Senate members in the Cabinet would bring in technocrats.
Winners Take All
There would be no political stability if we allow winners in elections to take all and losers to lose all. There must be a win win formula for political stability.
Again, the Cabinet should be a body of MPs and Senators drawn from both sides of the political Divide in Parliament but not representing political parties. In law a line must be drawn somewhere, lest Pandora’s Box opens. Good government begins where party politics ends. The floodgates must not be allowed to open.
The Agong will pick the final slate of Cabinet Members and appoint them.
Cabinet members can only be sacked by the Agong upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Agong can refuse to sack a Cabinet Member. It’s the Agong’s Cabinet. Cabinet Ministers are not beholden to the PM.
The Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) need not be an MP or Senator. The DPM runs the Prime Minister’s Office, a separate body from the Prime Minister’s Department.
The DPM will be appointed by the Agong and sacked only upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Agong cannot refuse to sack the DPM.
The Agong, under Article 39, has sole executive authority in Malaysia.
We can take a page from Britain, for example, on executive authority.
The unwritten/uncodified British Constitution mentions no Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.
The English Queen, who has sole executive authority in the United Kingdom, delegates authority by Administration to a Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.
Armed with Authority from above, the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers have jurisdiction. Two principles govern the Cabinet system viz. consensus (no voice against) and collective responsibility.
If the Cabinet system degenerates into a Prime Ministerial Dictatorship, as during Mahathir’s Administration from 1981 to 2003 and 2018 to 2020, the Prime Minister risks being dragged to justice for abuse of power, conflict of interest, and criminal breach of trust. Mahathir was noted for telling the international media that he was the only Dictator in the world who was always re-elected.
Power comes from the people i.e. from below through regular elections. At least 51 per cent of the people in a seat should turn up on D-Day. If no one gets at least 51 per cent of the votes counted, there should be a run-off between the top two contenders to perfect the result in law.
Anwar took issue with Najib on the “dependency syndrome” when the latter mentioned subsidies, among others. The Opposition Leader, backed by IMF (International Monetary Fund) studies, may have a point on rejecting subsidies as it created the “dependency syndrome” and allegedly brings in votes for the ruling party. In any case, it was the Najib government which began the process of ending subsidies including for petrol prices at the pump.
Najib also repealed the various Emergency Ordinances which kept the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) alive and the BN in power. The British-created ISA, when it was scrapped, altered the political landscape in favour of the Opposition. It was too little too late when Najib tried to make “amends” — by tightening the grip on power — through the Sedition Act, POTA and SOSMA. The ruling Barisan Nasional’s (BN) fate was sealed in GE14 in 2018.
The former Prime Minister lamented during the Debate that his government’s “Cash is King” approach — a replacement for subsidies — was toned down, if not virtually abandoned after GE14. He lamented that Orang Asli in Pekan, his parliamentary seat, were being asked for the marriage certificate before being eligible to register for direct cash handouts from the government.
Direct cash injections, reiterated Najib, would benefit the economy and businesses in more ways than one. He cited, as an example, B40 parents taking the children to McDonald’s for that all too rare family treat in a day in town.
The Najib Administration, like many other governments in the developing world, was in fact advised by the World Bank that direct cash injections to the people would ensure that no one was left behind. Development projects, the World Bank cautioned, often by-passed the B40 (Bottom 40 per cent) people.
Bogged Down By History
The Sapura debate was bogged down by Anwar’s history. Economics and Finance — the phrase interest rates being taboo in the riba (usury) tradition — have always been Anwar’s weak points as his sacking from the government in 1998 has documented for posterity. Anwar probably never read even one economics book in his life. He was a Malay Studies graduate more comfortable with his grasp of Shakespeare.
Anwar — my apologies here — remains incorrigible and recalcitrant, the same two character flaws that Mahathir possesses in abundance. Anwar forgot that he was not Mahathir, who could do U-Turns albeit temporarily like no one else, and hence the former became a jailbird twice.
If Anwar had resigned as Finance Minister in 1998, as requested by Mahathir in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, he would have probably remained Deputy Prime Minister and Umno Deputy President and become Prime Minister in 2003, as casually confirmed by Mahathir himself. Mahathir was more noted for not depriving anyone of a job. He has his weak points as well. He’s more revealing, and in his most dangerous mode, during moments when he makes casual comments. Then, not long after, something “bad” happens.
Anwar created Karma — law of cause and effect — where there was none, by holding a fiery press conference. He challenged the “spineless gov’t” to charge him. That’s like asking for trouble by going into the lion’s den and poking it in the eye. Anwar swore to drag Mahathir and Family to justice for “abuse of power, conflict of interest, and criminal breach of trust” — the same charges facing Najib — for allegedly money laundering activities. Anwar’s allegations, which can be backed up by the publicly listed holdings of the Mahathir children, prevented him from being Prime Minister in 2003, on Mon 24 Feb 2020, on Sun 1 Mar 2020, and Mon 16 Aug 2021. See here . . .
Anwar’s 1998 press conference, packed with the international media as well, also prevented Wan Azizah from being Prime Minister on Thurs 10 May 2018 and on Mon 24 Feb 2020. Two Agong, Kelantan and Pahang, wanted to appoint her Prime Minister in a historical first. Wan Azizah made a strategic error, the first time, by mentioning Mahathir whose Bersatu party won only 12 seats in GE14.
Mahathir buried her candidacy the second time by persuading the Agong to appoint him Interim Prime Minister on the grounds that “she was not suitable material for Prime Minister”.
Coming Together Post-Debate
It’s not clear from the Debate whether Anwar and Najib will come together and purge Mahathir and Family from the body politic. There can be no other reason for their marriage of convenience, for want of a better phrase. Mahathir may not have much time left. But his children are around and backed by any number of cronies, proxies, nominees and beneficiaries of nepotism and collusion. These spell political troubles.
Najib was blamed for Sodomy 2 as well although Mahathir was behind it from the beginning. Mahathir “repaid” Najib by beginning the selective prosecution and selective persecution of him, within days of GE14, by appointing arch critic Tommy Thomas as Attorney General. It was a strange partnership based on a U-Turn. Thomas, who isn’t a criminal lawyer, once fled to Canada for fear of being “persecuted” by Mahathir for his outspoken views on the “tainted” judiciary.
Anwar’s willingness to debate Najib, now going through an unusually bad patch in court, has sent political pundits into a rethink frenzy at the drawing board. It appears that they will burn the midnight oil in the coming days and weeks for connecting the dots as completely as possible on the debate.
Anwar, allegedly victimised by numerous political conspiracies, did not disagree with Najib on the 6 per cent GST. He could not rebut the former Prime Minister on the aborted consumer tax. In principle, he was willing to debate the tax in Parliament. In hindsight, it was allegedly the flawed rollout of the GST and the end of subsidies, among others, that brought down the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) on Wed 9 May 2018 after an uninterrupted 61 years in power. Anwar should have brought up the GST during the Debate. If he failed, it’s because he continues to avoid conventional economic and finance issues like the plague. It was his stint in government that saw the introduction of Islamic initiatives.
During the run-up to GE14, the Opposition claimed that direct cash injections were a form of bribery for votes. Ironically, the Opposition won.
Forensic Accounting Overused During Debate
Anwar’s focus on forensic accounting — it covers due diligence as well — was sheer politics. It does not address Sapura’s immediate plight. Forensic accounting takes at least several months. Sapura does not have the luxury of time on its side. In a somewhat confusing presentation, Anwar suggested that forensic accounting be done first before Sapura decides whether it needs government intervention. That must be the mother of all disingenuous takes on the matter. Anwar didn’t mention that Sapura, like AirAsiaX and equally-stricken Serba Dinamika, was already in court for intervention. Under the rule of law, where there are rights, there are remedies.
We can’t do justice to Najib’s take on Sapura unless we watch the video. He wasn’t wrong. Sapura, if saved, will benefit the nation. However, the jury may still be out on whether Sapura was about cronyism and the like.
Anwar, expressing cynicism, cautioned against saving a company just because it was “too big to fail” and/or owned by Bumiputera (euphemism for Malay although the term covers Orang Asal and Orang Asli as well). He pushed for competent Bumiputera to run companies including Sapura. Anwar cautioned against using Bumiputeraism as euphemism for cronyism, proxies, nepotism, collusion and the like. He fears that there would be repeated cycles of financial scandals if forensic accounting wasn’t adopted by the government as a policy approach. He noted that the Sapura board and management continued to draw a disproportionate share of the company revenue even as it was hemorrhaging. A competent leadership would have sacrificed their dues and lived on savings.
In America the Beautiful, the American Dream was about the brightest and best from around the world leading the Way for All. The country needs the Mantra. Instead, Ismail Sabri mouths the empty Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysia Family) slogan, when a bundle of contradictions remains the stark reality in the country.
Anwar was in his element when he lamented that the Panama and Pandora Papers were not debated in Parliament and that many financial scandals like Perwaja Steel, among others, were swept under the carpet. There are any number of abuse of power, conflict of interest and criminal breach of trust cases here on the Mahathir Administration.
Anwar was on common ground when Najib raised questions on the RM30b Bank Negara forex scandal which plagued the Mahathir Administration (1981 to 2003). Anwar expressed a willingness to be investigated as well on how Bank Negara got it so wrong on forex management when he was in government. Obviously, the internal checks and balances failed in Bank Negara when it could not fend off political interference in managing forex reserves. – New Malaysia Herald
About the writer: Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez keeps a keen eye on Malaysia as a legal scholar (jurist). He was formerly Chief Editor of Sabah Times. He’s not to be mistaken for a namesake previously with Daily Express. References to his blog articles can be found here.
The points expressed in this article are that of the writer’s, and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the New Malaysia Herald.
Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez has been writing for many years on both sides of the Southeast Asia Sea. He should not be mistaken for a namesake formerly with the Daily Express in Kota Kinabalu. JF keeps a Blog under FernzTheGreat on the nature of human relationships.