Short-term stability no foundation for permanent alliance

Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin

Questions abound how long the unity government will last, given the political differences between the major parties. – Prime Minister’s Office handout, April 2, 2023.

THE coalition government has had more than 100 days in office under its belt and, perhaps to the surprise of many, it has punched above its weight in terms of stability.

It is a remarkable achievement, none more so than in Malaysia – given that this is a country that has had four different prime ministers in the crucial three years the economy was ravaged by the pandemic.

The public has at least a faint idea of how this administration intends to govern and its legislative priorities, which help in giving the impression of a stable government.

It is a welcoming change and a stark contrast to how the previous governments portrayed itself.

The controversial nature of Muhyiddin Yassin’s appointment always left him with very little capital to assert his governing skills.

However, most important was that most of the executive energy of his government was focused on containing the pandemic.

Despite some meaningful reforms under Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government, he was caught between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) and did not manage to quell the infighting between the two, which left him with a divided cabinet.

The Madani Malaysia concept might not be everyone’s cup of tea but at least it is a policy framework that the prime minister is promoting aggressively, not just paying it mere lip service.

Even BN ministers are not shying away from adopting the Madani slogan, which is certainly a departure from the previous “Keluarga Malaysia” or “Malaysia Baharu”.

The fact that BN heavyweights such as Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Mohammad Hasan and even Ahmad Maslan are so quick to jump on the Madani bandwagon also suggests that the PH-BN alliance is increasingly harmonious.

The credit is to the prime minister for at least projecting a government with one voice and also overseeing a cabinet that is willing to rally around him, despite the tenuous nature of their alliance.

The PH-BN pact that is gelling so well is the most important component to the current political stability.

Some would argue this stability is forced upon BN’s dissenting MPs due to the restrictive anti-party hopping legislation; but many were also not confident that Anwar would be able to manage this ragtag alliance.

It is safe to say the coalition government is now able to answer its critics about stability, due to the lack of animosity between PH and BN in sharing power, alongside East Malaysia-based parties.

This goodwill has inadvertently led to the PH-BN alliance extending to Malacca, where the chief minister has also a state unity government despite BN’s dominance in the legislative assembly.

If this temporary alliance proves itself in the upcoming state elections, it could signal to leaders that it is electorally beneficial and should even persist beyond the next general election. 

It is still too soon to tell who should be working with who in the next general election, while we are still feeling the outcome of last November’s polls, but PH and BN should take this opportunity as a lesson in learning how to govern responsibly, not finding new bedfellows for political survival.

The love-hate relationship shared by BN and PN previously should be replicated by the current government coalition but with less animosity and mudslinging.

PH and BN should be mature enough to know that a coalition government does not always necessitate electoral co-operation.

BN should think twice about forging an electoral alliance with PH. While working with PH might help BN to attract non-Malay votes, most non-Malay seats belonged to PH, which means there is nothing to gain from a BN perspective.

Also, what sank BN in the previous election was Zahid’s tainted leadership, which will continue to haunt the coalition.

Meanwhile, PH’s progressive manifestos have officially been thrown out because the prime minister’s survival is now dependent on the support of a party over which he has no control.

A permanent alliance with BN would mean reforms that PH has always advocated and BN opposed would be even more difficult to implement. The local elections, and Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 no-go are a testament to that.

The PH-BN alliance has certainly produced a strong and stable government for now but it seems that reforms espoused by PH have been sacrificed at the altar of stability.

A permanent alliance of PH-BN would only render those reforms promised previously even harder to achieve. – April 2, 2023.

* Kenneth Cheng has always been interested in the interplay between human rights and government but more importantly he is a father of two cats, Tangyuan and Toufu. When he is not attending to his feline matters, he is most likely reading books about politics and human rights or playing video games. He is a firm believer in the dictum “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.

* 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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