MAY 14 — What really surprises surely, is to know there are those surprised the prime minister barred debate in the Dewan Rakyat for next Monday’s session.
Further, even if the one day proceeds with deliberations, it’s a long, long shot for a vote of confidence.
And even in the case of a count, a defeat for Muhyiddin Yassin is far from certain when seats are tallied up, which leads to the purpose of the column today. There’s a void in the drive to unsettle this government.
However, Malaysians did learn from the manoeuvre.
One, the PM and not the Speaker determines the lower house’s order of business, two, Muhyiddin does not believe it’s beyond his majority to abandon him, and three, he equally lacks faith in the Speaker to stick to his instructions.
In summary, honour is a myth in our hallowed corridors of power. It’s been so for decades, no matter how much crocodile tears Mahathir Mohamad sheds today. The man’s a past master at not letting his opponents have a fair chance to serve or excel, and therefore he should doff his cap to his party president for learning from his mean legacy.
The murky twenty
Mahathir picks up pace to hurt Muhyiddin, as son Mukhriz’s sandcastle in Alor Star waits for the inevitable wave to wash away his second spell as Kedah mentri besar, both times unmemorable except for the expulsions.
Yet, Mahathir’s plea for a count appears more petulant than menacing.
All it promises is more pandemonium, as it did in the week between Mahathir’s resignation and Muhyiddin’s promotion.
There are 222 MPs. Half plus one, or 112 is necessary to become PM.
Muhyiddin claimed a majority, and Mahathir countered with a signed list of 114.
The King went with Muhyiddin on March 1, and Pakatan Harapan’s been baying for blood since.
But how did those John Hancocks in Mahathir’s 114 fare since?
Straight off the bat, Bukit Gantang’s Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal video-rejected Mahathir. Richard Riot, former minister, said the same to camera. Sri Aman’s Masir Kujat excluded himself from the list after some confusion.
Kuala Pilah’s Eddin Syazlee Shith's image as a pro-Mahathirist in Bersatu Pribumi combusted as he accepted the Muhyiddin government and a place in it as a deputy minister in the PM’s Department to oversee law & parliamentary affairs.
It was odd Barisan Nasional stalwart Maximus Ongkili’s name was in, but order was quickly restored as he now stands by Muhyiddin and is a minister in the PM’s Department in charge of Sabah and Sarawak.
He’ll have friends. As his uncle and long-term Sabah isolationist Jeffrey Kitingan (Keningau) cosies up as deputy tourism minister, while moonlighting as Sabah opposition leader.
Ranau’s Jonathan Yasin said no to PKR, and yes to the cartel, and is the deputy home minister.
Selangau’s Baru Bian left PKR, and though prefers Parti Sarawak Bersatu has not signed up.
That’s minus seven, bringing it to 107, even if Baru is uncertain.
Muhyiddin’s own claim of plus-112 remains troubled. Umno’s unhappiness with its place inside Perikatan Nasional can lead to a dramatic Monday if motions are possible. Muhyiddin cut out that option.
The real dreadful truth is that MPs in Malaysia are like Najib’s old slogan, endless possibilities — not in a good way.
There are probably 20 floaters in the Dewan Rakyat, looking for a good deal. Every window for a count or reconfiguration is a time for these MPs to name their price. To be fair, there are more than 20 of these mercenaries, but I’m being polite.
Paved with good intentions
Here’s how it’s our fault. Us, being liberals yearning for democratic reform.
Here’s also when Anwar Ibrahim enters the fray.
Before him, the Alliance and then BN took advantage of the Cold War to design democracy, as seen in the removal of Sarawak’s Stephen Kalong Ningkan in 1966 and Kelantan’s divorce from PAS in 1978.
But it took Anwar and Mahathir’s teamwork to bring out the top BN hits in the best of best CDs.
As PM and DPM they brought the indefatigable Parti Bersatu Sabah down in 1994, not through the polling booth but by other means available.
Malaysia’s a peculiar country.
In 2008, the west coast’s liberals went delirious when BN’s two-thirds majority ended. International media familiar with the local context made it a headline overseas, but casual readers in New York and Paris would have been bemused — that not being trashed was a monumental achievement in Malaysia.
It was a special March, but not special enough for Anwar the movement’s poster-boy.
He declared that in six months, on September 16 or Malaysia Day, BN would lose its majority to his Pakatan Harapan. With just past a third of the seats at 82, Anwar claimed more than 30 will defect.
And a nation turned its lonely eyes to the Dewan Rakyat MP count.
It went on mercilessly, the circus. Mostly with no action, but daily yaps were diligent to the point of driving Lady MacBeth sane.
To liberals, the malapportionment, gerrymandering, the money politics and a government committed to use all means at its disposal meant Anwar’s stratagem was a just response.
I’m guilty too of joining the chorus he’d succeed.
We failed to accept that 30 plus MPs were not going to cross sides because they felt Malaysia was bigger than them and that Anwar was ready to write a new book. After all, a chunk of them would have been in Sabah politics in 1994 when support was won over through other inducements.
Because BN were the enemy of reform and progressive politics, therefore using their own wickedness to remove them was fine. We were foolish to think the system could be fixed thereafter.
By that calculation, backdoor governments were acceptable if the intentions were noble.
Problem is, all people think their intentions are noble.
Which verily become prophetic, as the Perak Pakatan Rakyat government folded in 2009.
But even in that tempest, it began with an illegal approach. Anwar says Umno assemblyman Nasharuddin Hashim defected to strengthen Pakatan's razor-thin majority. In a week, Nasharuddin returned to Umno, and three Pakatan lawmakers defected instead. Pakatan’s tiny majority turned into a BN majority.
That kicked off a decade of turncoats of all kinds at federal and state, as no small majority ever remained safe from conspiracies, culminating with the present recalibration.
When we say, for any reason, one kind of circumvention of the people’s vote at the polling booth is justified, then all other kinds are justified too.
Lines become blurred.
Road to nowhere
If backing the next Pakatan confidence vote is not right, what is, the eager reformist might ask.
In the short term, nothing. There is an election in three years.
Supporting either side willing to sidestep process in order to keep or gain power undermines the reform agenda.
Our true protections as civilians will be from the Constitution, keep the sides reminded about it.
To want more is to stop pretending.
That those who enter the ugly world of ideology-free and intellectual-hating political structures calibrated to personal gains are going to win you your vibrant democracy.
There are choices to make. To waste time with the present muck and hope against reason that leaders come good. Or to see how to contribute to a 36- month plan to match the opportunists with idealists.
Now, 20 or so opportunistic MPs enjoy front seats to a show they only want to sell to scalpers for profit. Perhaps 20 or so idealistic MPs might have the opposite effect during the next Parliament in 2023.
That’s not quite reform. But it’s a start.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.