Better Malaysia comes from elections

DECEMBER 2 — I live in Cheras, in a terrace house. My room curtains are clearly filthy and my neighbours are amused by my beat-up Proton Saga. 

I’ll be upfront since I am about to call out some, well... 55 names, for assuming an unconstitutional construct will solve our collective problems.  

Related to three former prime ministers — which is three more than this columnist — Nazir Razak led a group to ask the Agong to endorse a deliberative platform.

Enter, Better Malaysia Assembly (BMA).

Once endorsed by the Council of Rulers, they will proceed to negotiate with the government, Opposition and other relevant characters to begin their two-year process to identify, collect information in a representative manner, hold enlightened discourses and then “find solutions to contentious issues such as the future of affirmative action and vernacular schools.”

In their words, “Malaysia cannot hope to compete without a comprehensive national reset.”

It’s audacious, which is fine. I love chutzpah. To irrevocably shift Malaysia from its present “misguided” trajectory.

But here’s the problem, or the start of it.

It is unconstitutional, the request, and it causes all types of conflicts.

Firstly, they request the Constitutional monarch to bless a unilateral process before the petitioners engage the prime minister and Parliament. 

The primary contention of the whole process is that they will do what the prime minister and the rest of the gang are not able or unwilling to countenance. Otherwise, their first port of call would be the prime minister. To win him over.

The PM is busy of course. In my own experience to send letters to middling civil servants in those humongous Putrajaya complexes, I get passed from one clerk to another until I am in the basement carpark.

That would not be the case for Nazir’s group. These revered people, many who’ve served in the highest levels of government, would be able to meet the PM or bump into him at a golf course.

Why don’t they?

And get him to agree to their BMA, and leave the palace out of a Constitutional standoff?

And if they have the time after that, meet me in the basement carpark.

Innovative citizen participation platforms

Datuk Seri Nazir Razak speaks during an interview with ‘Malay Mail’ in Kuala Lumpur October 26, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Nazir Razak speaks during an interview with ‘Malay Mail’ in Kuala Lumpur October 26, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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Nazir refers to the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) 289 platforms from which BMA fashions itself.

He conveniently leaves out that these platforms are in highly progressive nations with a history for co-opted alternative processes to mobilise their citizenry. 

Put plainly, over there the government pushes for the processes, not the other way around.

It’s tempting just to point out that Israel is one of the 38 OECD members, to torpedo this proposal ad hominem. Anyways, to suggest there are hundreds of similar OECD actions in line with their proposal is disingenuous.

And the 289 examples are nowhere close to an action to “reset” a country. When broken down, the platforms cover urban planning (43), health (32), environment (29), strategic planning (26), infrastructure (24), public services (16), technology (12) and transportation (9), in the vast majority.

There is one platform listed as involving a Constitutional question. One. Not hundreds.

This is not to challenge the veracity of the platforms,

They are innovative, diligently pursue all-round input and considerate.

But to have bite or effect, they must be commissioned by the body politic and not impose themselves upon the elected government, in this case asking the palace to endorse before negotiating with the government of the day.

Citizen-initiated accountability

OECD or not, individuals and organisations can pursue accountability and present their findings to the court of public opinion and lobby government. My own organisation, KUASA, does that and fails and succeeds as often.

But that’s not what BMA wants, they want the legitimacy to implement their resets.

For that they would need to be as stated above, set out by the government and legislative to implement, failing which they are like us, looking in from the outside.

And it is crowded, the outside.

Royal Commissions of Inquiry. Suhakam’s human rights reports. Pledges by any number of retired civil servants who can come up with a cool group name. And thousands of petitions.

What BMA wants won’t happen. Even if there are concessions to appease, it would not have any power to implement, just a budget to print the reports and snacks for the meetings.

They chose to bother

I’m calling them out, but I realise they are patriots. In a world where they can just carry on and not worry about their dysfunctional country, they choose to care.

It is difficult to imagine any of the 55 struggle with tomato or broccoli prices, unemployment or the lack of economic advancements. For sure, their lives can go on even if Malaysia’s woes continue.

In fact, they have much to lose by coming out to champion reform. They become targets of those in power. The request is a statement of intent that the current way must end, which is not what those in power want to hear.

However, trying to circumvent the system with all the good intentions reminds us of how the road to hell is paved.

If a reset is imperative, then the reset happens at a general election. If the options are way below sub-optimal, then it is time to correct that, regardless of how painful it is. Be the option.

George Weah was World Player of the Year and paid the expenses of his Liberia national football team in the 1990s. After retirement, he pursued politics and is now president of his country. 

To earnestly or foolishly seek ways to improve his country. Imran Khan did the same after winning a cricket world cup, and tries to steer an impossible Pakistan forward as prime minister. Read up on Volodymyr Zelensky.

Changes would require political mandate, but fundamental changes, like those involving constitutional rectifications, require direct political mandate.

It is obscenely difficult, especially for elitists with limited interaction with the masses. But there is no other way. 

Two hundred and twenty-two parliamentary seats is the platform to get the numbers. There is good news. 

If the 55 names are impressive on a list, they are also impressive to the masses. Couple that with a plan to rejuvenate Malaysia, and the effort to organise election machineries, they get the opportunity to present their deliberative platform directly to the voters, in a general election.

* This is the  personal opinion of the columnist.

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