A dignified way forward in addressing hung parliament

THE decree of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Tuesday for Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) to form a unity government and on Wednesday, for Barisan Nasional (BN) to join a unity government for the sake of the nation and people is dignified, noble and interesting as it could be the best way forward in the political deadlock the nation is currently experiencing.

The king also decreed that BN’s 30 MPs should be part of the new government.

Being part of a unity government does not mean that parties need to sell out on their principles and policies.

Instead, they can agree on a joint manifesto to incorporate as broad of their manifesto promises as possible.

This allows the parties to maintain their principles and policies as well as to ensure that voters do not feel that they have been cheated.

The formation of a government that is inclusive of different parties and coalitions can be viewed as a loose coalition or grand coalition, which can be described as a “post-election coalition”.

To form a unity government, article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution on prime minister’s appointment must be the first order of business.

Before the introduction of article 49A on the anti-party hopping law, political parties were not considered relevant in the appointment of the prime minister since article 43(2)(a) implied a “government of MPs”.

With the introduction of the amended article 10 on restrictions on MPs to party hop, article 49A on the anti-party hopping law and the introduction of the term “political party” under article 160, the Federal Constitution now explicitly recognises political parties as constitutional actors in the appointment of the prime minister and formation of government.

This is where the law stands regarding the formation of a government after a general election.

Let’s go deeper into the understanding of the king’s decree on the unity government and the other variants available out there.

Variants of political unity/inclusion arrangement

Option A: Grand coalition government or a unity government

Currently, as it stands, there are four main blocs – PH, PN, BN and the East Malaysian bloc Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS).

If three to four of these blocs decide to form a coalition, this would be a grand coalition government.

However, there are potential risks to forming a unity government without an effective post-election coalition agreement. The agreement between parties should be made public for transparency and accountability.

Option B: Strong majority government with a responsible opposition

A sizable minority of MPs remains in opposition in a fully functional parliament and sit in a shadow cabinet while others form a coalition government with a strong majority.

It is a watered-down version of political unity/inclusive arrangement from the grand coalition government, overcoming its disadvantages.

Additional advantages:

1) Parties that cannot work together do not have to be in the same team, possible for a better working relationship between the government and opposition bloc;

2) Government can be more compact and competent, while opposition MPs can take up parliamentary committee positions, with committee chairs and deputy chairs paid extra allowance; and

3) Check and balance is preserved through parliament.

Option C: Weak majority/minority government, buffered up with CSA signed with the opposition

A strong minority or even majority of MPs stays as opposition but the government with a weak majority or minority of seats is preserved through a confidence and supply agreement (CSA) with some opposition blocs.

It is a watered-down model of the strong majority government with a responsible opposition, but with greater freedom for some parties which want to stay out of the government but are still committed to their survival under pre-agreed conditions.

Additional advantages:

1) Some parties can support the government without diluting its identity and distinction;

2) Government can be “slimmer” as the CSA allows MPs from the largest opposition bloc to take up positions in the shadow cabinet or parliamentary committees; and

3) Check and balance will be stronger as government bills and motions can be easily defeated as long as such defeat does not threaten the government’s survival.

In all three models, smaller parties are accommodated, but as we move from unity government to minority government buffered up with a CSA, we will gain in increased coherence within government, greater check and balance and retention of identity for parties who want to stay out of government.

It is now up to political parties to put aside their personal agendas and differences to put the people first, so that as a nation we can achieve cooperation between race, religion and region as a sign of respect to the king’s decrees.

The king has come up with a dignified way forward in addressing the hung parliament, which is a unity government and gratitude is in order to the king for this solution, which puts the people first and encourages cooperation between race, religion and region.

Ampun Tuanku. – November 23, 2022.

* Azalina Othman Said is soon-to-be-sworn-in MP for Pengerang.

* 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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