JANUARY 14 — With trepidation, my first national Emergency column.
Though firsts matter less these days as Malaysia’s choked by firsts.
Above all the firsts for the year — or previous year — the prime minister scrambled an Emergency proclamation; trades “distracting” politicking for calm to fight the Covid-19 scourge. Democracy can wait.(?)
People struggle to disagree with the manoeuvre when national challenges mount.
To fight the disease’s spread, to treat the afflicted, to test the masses, to co-ordinate the same masses away from virus-spreading behaviour, to pacify the economy’s stutter, to cushion the workforce’s wage cuts or owners’ revenue losses, to raise the people’s spirits deflated by uncertainties and frightful of an unseen enemy every waking hour.
Belatedly, but most welcomed to end the pandemic, the challenge to procure and deliver vaccines to residents — citizens or economic migrants, legal and not — quickly.
A mountain to scale and therefore, the PM prefers to combat Covid-19 rather than secure or re-secure a parliamentary project. In short, all hands on deck as the storm rages.
If so, involve all. Ask Malaysian politicians and their parties to set aside their partisanship and enter a unity government. Without Parliament or roles, they’d agitate, naturally. Include them, then they own the problem equally.
Bersatu, PKR, Umno, DAP, PAS, Amanah, GPS, Warisan, Pejuang, Muda, Parti Sarawak Bersatu and the rest.
Unite them by a common need for national survival. Led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin but critically all political voices participate.
Once the vaccination programme is on track and economic confidence stabilises, the unity government disbands and the PM runs a caretaker government for three months before Malaysia votes.
It’s too sensible to happen but it’s too noteworthy not to be said.
At the heart of the temporary arrangement, the acceptance that control of Malaysia is inconsequential if Malaysia’s survival is under threat.
In the United Kingdom during the Second World War, both major parties — Conservatives and Labour — formed a unity government. Petty to fight each other when Mr Hitler wants to invade. After all, the Luftwaffe’s bombs kill all without exception.
Fantastical because Umno at its recent assembly largely retracted support for Muhyiddin?
Perhaps, but the rebellion inside Umno relies on there being other partners to consider.
A populist unity government would be difficult to reject as all parties want to appear patriotic and good. Worse, turn public opinion on rejectors.
“Ask us to stay at home, miss work and lose income or revenues, but you lot can’t even peace out for a short while and solve it together? I don’t like you.”
The public sentiment to any party refusing to work together to beat Covid-19 would be that.
What price do PN and Pakatan Harapan pay for a unity government, post-Covid-19?
For Muhyiddin, to allow Pakatan leaders back on the stage and appear to resuscitate Malaysia. On TV, as the solution, not enemies of the state.
For Pakatan, the opportunity cost to criticise every PN pandemic-management failure. They also get tagged with Muhyiddin’s bad decisions.
The race diatribes would drop when a unity government presides. A dig at one minister is a dig at the whole government where their party is inside.
Pakatan’s role is invaluable. Klang Valley — a quarter of the population — and other urban regions are Pakatan territories, many since 2008. They are also Covid-19 epicentres. Pakatan’s network can aid social distancing, local government co-operation and reduce misinformation — a substantial amount, partisan bile.
For instance, Klang-Shah Alam experiences migrant-related case spikes. All Pakatan parliamentary constituencies — Kota Raja (Mohamad Sabu-Amanah), Klang (Charles Santiago-DAP), Kapar (Abdullah Sani-PKR), Kuala Langat (Xavier Jeyakumar-PKR) and Shah Alam (Khalid Samad).
If they did not train their guns on each other, PN and Pakatan can co-operate on factory monitoring, temporary housing and information. Or even ensure Majlis Perbandaran Klang and government agencies distribute protective masks, sanitisers and soap.
The practical benefits are numerous, crucial and game-changing but Muhyiddin will be forced to share the limelight. In politics it rarely pays to assist your opponents to improve their public image.
Sharing power is the ultimate sacrifice.
My late mum never said it but eventually made the point plain to us through her actions — that to push a family forwards requires sacrifice.
Malaysia is a larger and feuding family but a family, nevertheless.
Exactly in that fashion, Malaysian prime ministers are wont to fashion themselves as fathers. Hardly original but the idea’s potency is hard to discount. As they commission school textbooks they can always print that opinion as fact over time.
But history is written over centuries not during a leader’s rule. Posterity requires sturdier proof, objective proof any leader puts nation before self. Including all parties to focus energy and maximise impact despite loss of own political ascendancy is such proof.
Churchill’s War Cabinet member and deputy prime minister Clement Atlee was the man to lead Labour over him in a general election soon after the war.
Attlee and Labour would have leaned on their wartime role and reassure British voters it's not completely throwing out the successful government which beat Hitler.
So, yes, a unity government might end up weakening Muhyiddin. But he must choose what is victory, to keep Pakatan in abeyance in the present or pursue a strategy to overcome Covid-19 with friends and foes together?
Only he can decide. We hope he decides wisely.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.