Doubtful If Government Will Change Again Before GE15

New round of musical chairs being planned before GE15, indeed, political conspiracy may not pan out

Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri, increasingly seen as the worst possible prime minister, his past has caught up with him to haunt the future, maybe living on borrowed time. The writing may be on the wall.

It cannot be seen how falling back on the issue of tackling rising prices, for delaying GE15, can save him.

In a contradiction in terms, he’s toying with the idea of re-introducing the flawed GST rollout aborted in 2018, prices did not fall after GE14 as the government expected, but holds out the promise of a tax rate lower than 6 per cent. Let’s take a guess! 5 per cent? See here.

Traditional traders in particular allegedly did not cooperate with the former premier Najib Razak’s administration on the GST which had been successfully rolled out elsewhere, including in Singapore and India.

Many traditional traders in Malaysia even closed their businesses rather than accept computerisation.

Otherwise, they used the consumption tax to accumulate capital at the expense of the consumer. They will probably sabotage its reintroduction, as well, in protest for any number of reasons.

Already, against non-Malay opposition, Ismail Sabri has stepped up bumiputeraism but as euphemism, mostly benefitting a small group of capitalists nurtured by Mahathir Mohamad under various guises, the former blamed in intelligence reports for the 13 May 1969 disturbances in Kuala Lumpur.

Ismail Sabri may only have the support of a faction of MPs in Umno and the Opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) in Parliament. See here.

Sarawak Fights Back

Already, major ally Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), in a serious development, views the prime minister as “silly” for promoting Bahasa Malaysia, as Bahasa Melayu, in a divisive and exclusive way at the expense of the English language and relations with Indonesia. See here.

In fact, Order 92, Rule 1, of the Rules of the High Court on the national language — Article 152 — may be redundant.

The 20K word Bahasa Melayu hasn’t been in official use in Malaya since the 40K word Bahasa Malaysia emerged by 1969. Bahasa Malaysia isn’t the Bahasa Kebangsaan. In fact, unlike Indonesia, Malaysia may no longer have a national language. Only the court, based on advice from subject matter experts, can make this determination. Taking the cue from Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia cannot be passed off — as Ismail Sabri is doing — as Bahasa Melayu and vice versa.

Given Sarawak’s take on Ismail Sabri’s version of Bahasa Malaysia, coming in the wake of Indonesia’s related and repeated rejections, the prognosis in going forward may not be good for the government, in more ways than one.

Sarawak has been pushing, for quite some time now, for the return of the English language in the territory. The local version of the Malay language, Sarawak Malay, is in fact a variation of Iban, according to Universiti Malaya linguist Asmah Omar.

It’s widely known in the Borneo Territories that Sarawakians, unlike Sabahans who universally speak the related Bahasa Sabah, have been struggling with Bahasa Malaysia. Sarawakians find themselves at a dead end on the language issue.

They feel the Federal government may be taking them for granted again. If we take a trip into the Orang Asal kampungs, for example, the true extent of the failure of Bahasa Malaysia in Sarawak becomes clear. Sarawak had always prided itself on its command of the English language.

In Sabah, everyone speaks Bahasa Sabah which rivals Bahasa Malaysia in the territory.

Art Of The Possible

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best – Otto von Bismarck”. See here.

It’s likely, in taking a cue from Bismarck, that any number of lawmakers in government including from Sabah and Sarawak may be vying to replace Ismail Sabri before GE15, i.e., without an election. This is easier said than done.

The Agong can at best point in the direction of Parliament if there’s going to be any change without an election in Putrajaya. Alternatively, in not exercising discretionary powers on the matter, the head of state can consent to the dissolution of the August House. That would help him avoid “intervening” in politics again. See here.

If push comes to shove, it’s highly unlikely that the Agong would withhold consent for the dissolution of Parliament, since not much of its five-year term remains, i.e., if he’s duly advised by the Prime Minister. Article 40 (2) (b) refers. In pushing for early GE15, Barisan Nasional (BN) supporters may be haunted by what Najib finally conceded on GE14. See here.

Najib believes that if the last general election had been held in 2017, i.e. after the SEA Games, BN would have been returned to power. In 2017, too, political analysts had also predicted a resounding victory for BN then. However, the two-party system had emerged by the time GE14 was held on Wed 9 May 2018.

The advantage that BN held under the First Past the Post System (FPTP), a British import, had evaporated by GE14. Again, it was coupled with the allegedly flawed rollout of GST becoming controversial. The rest is history.

Opposition In Disarray

Unlike the unified show of victory in 2018 the same group of politicians now in the Opposition camp are in disarray despite talk of big tent concept for GE15 Google pic

The longer that GE15 is delayed, the more likely that BN will face a unified Opposition — read Mahathir — taking on the coalition one to one. Only those who secure at least 51 per cent of the votes counted would win.

Elections, ultimately, are a numbers game no matter what the issues touted in the public domain.

The court cluster, touted by critics as a reason for early GE, remains a separate issue and probably akin to flogging a dead horse. The law, for better or worse, would take its course in court.

The Opposition could not get their act together again by the time the Melaka (Sat 20 Nov 2021), Sarawak (Sat 18 Dec 2021) and Johor (Sat 12 Mar 2022) elections came. In the absence of opposition unity, BN had regained the “advantage” under the FPTP.

The coalition won 21 of the 28 seats at stake in Melaka and 40 out of 56 seats in Johor. In Sarawak, an aberration since 1966, longtime Umno ally GPS won 76 out of 82 seats.

In the absence of an election runoff, and given divided Opposition, it reconfirmed in law the loss of sovereignty by the people of Sarawak. Given the exponential increase in the number of political parties, the FPtPS fell on undemocratic soil in Singapore and Malaysia.

If Malaysia introduces an electoral runoff for perfection in the law of election results i.e. the winner getting at least 51 per cent of the votes counted, the FPtPS would be rendered irrelevant. The country would no longer need the two-party system for regular changing of the guards.

In an election runoff, based on the numbers game, the second leading contestant in the initial round would likely win. The others in the fray would see no reason to support the leading contestant.

Post-election Coalition

If there is an election runoff, the nationwide election results may bring together like-minded parties for a post-election coalition, the most democratic approach, which can form the government in Putrajaya.

Admitedly, no party in Malaysia has called for an election runoff or mentioned electoral integrity. The legal fraternity, likewise, has been silent on the issue.

They have been more vociferous in raising the alleged gerrymandering of seats as a denial of the one man one vote democratic principle.

The 3m Indian community in Malaya, for example, have been thoroughly disenfranchised and plagued by statelessness as well as the transition from British subject status to Malayan citizenship did not go well.

The community does not have even one ethnic seat, whether parliamentary or state, although they reportedly decide in 67 parliamentary seats in Malaya.

Hence, the extraordinary profusion of Indian-based political parties and NGOs for such a small community has even been overtaken by the number of Bangladeshi workers in Malaya.

Big Tent Approach For GE15?

Instead of raising the electoral integrity issue, the Opposition 4-Party Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance has made much of the “Big Tent” approach to bring back the two-party system which emerged on Wed 9 May 2018. It’s an uphill task for anti-BN forces. Pejuang Chairman Mahathir has rejected the idea of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim leading the Big Tent. See here and here.

In the absence of one to one contests in GE15, any coalition and allies going for all 222 parliamentary seats at stake would emerge as the single largest block in Parliament. Many states would see a repeat of the big picture in Parliament.

BN supporters are even convinced, that when push comes to shove in GE15, the coalition and allies can seize control of two-thirds of the lower house — Dewan Rakyat — in Parliament.

Here, it’s assumed that MIC and MCA — BN component parties — will win Malay seats conceded by Umno, that Malay would vote for the said Indian and Chinese parties, and that non-Malay voters by at least half or more would come back to supporting the BN.

Malay Seats

We can recall that Malay voters, since 2008, i.e. after nearly 350K Indians drawn by SMS took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur on Sun 25 Nov 2007, have turned away from MIC and MCA in Malay seats the two parties contested.

That was the year that BN lost the coveted two-thirds majority and five states fell to an Opposition left in a daze for weeks over their sudden turnaround in fortunes.

It was the year 2008 (GE12), and GE14 in 2018, which created the rise of many new Opposition parties, especially Malay.

Small Malay parties are convinced they can play a significant role, by picking up at least a small number of seats, especially where MIC and MCA fall apart, and thereby deny PH. It has been estimated that the MCA would find the going tough against DAP in national elections if voter turnout touches 70 per cent or more in Chinese, mixed and marginal seats. The turnout in Malacca and Johor were far below 70 per cent. See here.

BN currently isn’t like the giant coalition in GE14 when it had 14 component parties. Now, it’s down to four parties including the tiny PBRS in Sabah. BN in GE15 has the support of quite a number of BN-friendly NGOs whose effectiveness remains untested. See here.

Mahathir Destroyed BN

It was an open secret long before GE14 that BN Supreme Council meetings were very few and far between. The issue was raised in Sabah by PBS President Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

The BN concept on paper was based on power-sharing through seats, and giving out government positions for political correctness and political reasons — and the race factor — from the spoils of war.

It was also about making decisions based on the consensus principle — i.e. no voice against — and forging compromises to avoid taking majoritarian decisions.

The Mahathir Mohamad Prime Ministerial Dictatorship, from July 1981 to Oct 2003, was the beginning of the destruction of the BN concept. He continued the politics of patronage in other ways which weakened MIC and MCA in particular.

In law, the criticism against the BN coalition stems from the pre-election nature of the concept for endorsing elite-power sharing through carving up the seats. It was tantamount to circumventing the democratic experiment and denying the grassroots majority meaningful participation in elections.

The jury, no longer out, calls instead for the formation of the post-election coalition in the spirit of democracy. The post-election coalition, it’s argued, can still share seats in going to the polls but with no fixed formula, and must be disbanded when the government falls or Parliament dissolves. – 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 and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the New Malaysia Herald.

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Joe Fernandez
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.

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