ON February 29, after a week of unneeded political crisis triggered by Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation, which was promptly followed by his appointment as interim prime minister by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and after MPs (each armed with their “Statutory Declaration”) as well as the attorney-general and chief justice parading themselves through Istana Negara, the King announced Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister.
The Agong’s process in appointing Muhyiddin merits scrutiny. Granted, Malaysia has never faced a similar challenge before, which makes the decision-making process critical. If unchallenged it could be precedential.
Dispensing with the constitutional propriety of the Agang consulting the Attorney-General (a political appointee) and the Chief Justice (who may have to adjudicate the matter later), I would have been more reassured had the Agong sought independent legal counsel. Malaysia has no shortage of such luminaries. Even if they were to charge their customary fees, that would still have been worth it. One good solid advice is worth thousands of free ones, especially when those freebies have a stake in the Agong’s decision.
The Agong did consult his brother rulers. Significantly, the Agung bypassed the four governors. Ever wonder at the increasing chatter for secession in East Malaysia?
I don’t blame the Agong for this major oversight. He is new at his job. Instead I put the blunder straight upon his advisers, specifically the keeper of the royal seal and the government’s chief secretary. They are but glorified overpaid clerks. This pair and the Council of Rulers also demonstrate the pathetic state of Malay leadership.
Earlier we saw Malay political leaders in action. They triggered this mess. As for Malay intellectuals on campus and pundits in the media, they remain uncharacteristically silent. Their wet finger has yet to tell them which direction the wind blows.
Malay religious leaders are no better. The usually vociferous former Mufti of Perlis, Dr Asri, is curiously mute; likewise the establishment Federal Mufti. None of his usual sterile pontifications.
It used to be that Malays could comfort ourselves that while non-Malays control the economy, we were adroit in matters political. The hope was that we would leverage that to improve the lot of our community. Instead, Malay leaders exploit that to enrich themselves.
While there are more and more Malays, including former Umno stalwarts who had long been apologists for the party and the establishment generally, coming out against current Malay leaders, their efforts are a tad too little and too late. Where were they when Anwar Ibrahim and his reformasi movement needed support?
How long can Malays continue blaming DAP specifically and the pendatangs generally? It must hurt Malays deeply to acknowledge that two of the most effective ministers in the outgoing cabinet – Transport Minister Anthony Loke and Energy, Science, and Technology Minister Yeo Bee Yin – are from DAP.
You cannot credit their education, for while Yeo is Cambridge-educated, Loke had his from Universiti Kebangsaan.
Malays too have capable ones like Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad (Imperial College PhD) but they are vastly overshadowed by the likes of that latah lady, Housing Minister Zuraida Kamarudin, who has an uncontrolled urge to blabber on reporters’ microphones, and that semburit minister of economic affairs. Don’t blame them. Blame the character who appointed them – Dr Mahathir.
After the Agong had bypassed him, all Dr Mahathir could brag was, “My number is bigger than yours!” referring to the MPs’ statutory declarations, reminiscent of my adolescent days, except then we were not referring to numbers, rather our anatomical member. He lamented that the Agong did not want to see him anymore. The Agong is not the only one.
As for Muhyiddin, he may have been expelled from Umno but he is core Umno. Unless his Singapore surgeons goofed their diagnosis, Muhyiddin would have minimal impact on Malaysia. More ominous would be his choice of a deputy, and thus potential successor, as well as his cabinet.
In his first address to the nation, he promised to appoint ministers from among those who are “bersih, berintegriti, berkaliber (clean, have integrity, and of calibre). I am amused that he felt compelled to assert, Nixon-style, “Saya bukan pengkhianat!” (I am not a traitor!)
Nonetheless, if he were to appoint those facing criminal charges (like Ahmad Zahid Hamidi) or who have skipped their bills (Azmin Ali), then Muhyiddin’s lofty promise would ring hollow. Innocent till proven guilty is fine in a criminal court, but when appointing candidates to high office, the bar must necessarily be much higher, as with not even a hint of impropriety. Deadbeats are without integrity.
Likewise if Muhyiddin were to appoint the turncoats. If they could betray Anwar and Mahathir, they could just as easily betray the betrayer, Muhyiddin.
If Muhyiddin were to appoint any of these characters to his administration, then Parliament should act right away. At its scheduled meeting, MPs should pass a vote of no-confidence on him. At which point the Agong should appoint Anwar Ibrahim. The Agong and his advisers should review the people’s mandate expressed at the last election. It still holds. At this perilous time, Malaysia does not need an expensive, divisive, and rancorous election. – March 5, 2020.
* M. Bakri Musa reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.