Is this a unity government?

Emmanuel Joseph

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has revealed his cabinet to both bouquets and brickbats. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 7, 2022.

PRIME Minister Anwar Ibrahim revealed his cabinet last Friday to both bouquets and brickbats, the former coming mostly from his former foes and the latter, albeit more mutedly, from his own allies, political and civil.

Yet beneath all the praise and criticism lies the understanding that things need to be the way they are.  

Let’s get it clear – this isn’t a Reformasi or any other Pakatan Harapan slogan-themed government. 

Neither is it fully stable nor prosperous. 

It is some mishmash in the middle. 

The theme of stability though, is central. 

No less a personage than the king has asked for this. Though invited by both the palace and the new PM, Perikatan Nasional declined to enter into a unity government. 

Although politically opposed to each other, the underlying ideologies of the constituent members of the new government aren’t too difficult to bridge as they can all be broadly termed as moderate and more or less centrist.  

Adding PAS to the mix would have made it difficult to reconcile their differences.

PAS would return to the formula it knows best – hudud, conservatism, banning what they perceive as vices but what most people consider normal entertainment and curtailing the sale of alcohol, using pseudo-logical reasons such as teenage pregnancy and drink driving to push them down non-Muslims’ throats. 

As it is, PAS as the opposition pushing an Islamist agenda could already prove to be the government’s biggest challenge.

The racial composition of the cabinet, reminiscent of a Barisan Nasional-era seat division, was likely designed to evoke feelings of familiarity and comfort with the Malays who were discomfited by Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s 2018 decision to give more latitude to non-Malay communities. 

Although on paper, very little was actually done differently, certain government decisions were spun to make them look anti-Muslim, when the reality was, it wasn’t anything a Najib or Muhyiddin administration would not have done.

Adding fuel to the fire is Muhyiddin’s betrayal as he turns bitterly on the very people who saved him from political oblivion after he was unceremoniously removed by Najib.

The leaner cabinet and the indications of a “zuhud”, or financially cautious, government will not only assure voters that their tax ringgit is better spent, it could assuage fears of largesse as a means to hold on to power. The government set-up also appear to promise more straightforward dealing between parties this time around while the existence of an anti-party hopping law will curb defections and a repeat of the Sheraton Move. 

More importantly, BN and PH could yet to prove a formidable combination. Collectively, they represent over 60% of the popular vote. 

Prior to this political re-alignment, DAP was fighting a perception war on two fronts – being perceived as anti-Bumiputra and anti-Islam. 

Having Umno on its side could help soften DAP’s image on at least one of the two. 

And despite their political differences, the two are off to a highly positive start. Not even the PAS-Umno-Bersatu Malay-based coalition of PN was this quick to exchange warm, though cautious praise of one another, and theirs was not a shotgun marriage. 

In a matter of days, it was decided that the electoral pact would contest two by-elections together and talks are underway for an agreement in the upcoming state elections.

If they can pull this off, at least in Selangor and Negri Sembilan, and put even a slight dent in PAS-held Terengganu and later, Kedah, it will bode well for their relationship in the medium-term. 

With Sabah and Sarawak in the government, if a deal could be reached, we could be looking at a government as powerful as BN was in its 13-party heyday. 

It may not be a unity government in the truest sense of the term, but it is certainly one that would prevent a disunited Malaysia and prove to be the marriage of convenience the country never knew she needed. – December 7, 2022.

* Emmanuel Joseph firmly believes that Klang is the best place on Earth, and that motivated people can do far more good than any leader with motive.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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