Time to give the PM his due — M Santhananaban

JUNE 13 — In April/ May 2018 in the run up to GE14, a vast majority of the activist politicians of Malaysia was desperate to rid the country of the then prime minister. Partly borne of this desire the seasoned PH leadership arrived at a consensus that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the best person to lead the then Opposition.

They knew Dr Mahathir well with the ringside seat they had in the political arena. They also knew of his strengths and weaknesses, including his penchant to occasionally shoot from the hip.

Yet in the circumstances prevailing then, he seemed the best choice.

In Dr Mahathir’s first major appearance in the aftermath of the May 9, 2018, he had acknowledged the need to explore the possibility of whittling down the powers of the prime minister. He has repeated this at least twice.

In the meantime he has had to provide leadership and the country has functioned and progressed relatively well. We have travelled a long way from the dark, dismal days when we were computing the debt service obligations of a future generation.

While the ship of state is somewhat steadier a lot more remains to be done.

It would seem that parts of the Malaysian Constitution have to be amended to reduce the powers of the prime minister. Such amendments would need time and the cooperation of a substantial number of Opposition members. Perhaps PH MPs should work a lot harder and persuade their opposite numbers to support these amendments.

While waiting for the amendments to be tabled the prime minister should have a relatively free hand to decide many issues of national significance.

Needless to say, when the prime minister goes off-course he has to be advised appropriately through proper channels. The press and the media should ideally be used to explain and clarify major policies and initiatives by government leaders and parliamentary backbenchers. Brownie points should not be earned by them by attacking their own leaders. Those brownie points were relevant in the Opposition camp.

In any system of governance it is easy to destroy the reputation of a leader. To build one’s reputation and standing it takes time.

Since we are agreed that we can no longer have an off-limits prime minister, we should work on limiting the powers of the prime minister. At the same time, given the pressing needs of the country we cannot suddenly render the incumbent a lame duck prime minister.

The prime minister’s authority is currently being exercised somewhat more cautiously and carefully in the post GE14 era. Symbols of an authoritarian prime minister-centric system that Datuk Seri Najib Razak brought to a nadir with highly controversial actions are being discarded. Ultimately the prime minister must be able to deliver what the country commits itself to.

This need to ensure respect for the prime minister’s stature is especially important when he meets foreign leaders because we are a country highly interdependent with the rest of the region and the world.

 

* Datuk M Santhananaban is retired ambassador with more than 45 years of public sector experience.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.