When the emergency proclamation was announced, the rakyat was told that the government needed certain powers to curb the pandemic. The Opposition maintained that the emergency was merely a ruse to perpetuate a Prime Minister who no longer commanded a majority, urging for Parliament to be reopened and for the emergency to end.
However, the real motive for reopening Parliament was simply to topple the PM through a vote of no confidence, in the hopes of regaining power. Even when the emergency was ostensibly lifted, the focus shifted towards procedural defects to drive a wedge between the PM and the Palace. Neither the emergency nor the vote of no confidence was ever meant to confer any tangible benefit to the rakyat. It was always about power.
Consider that every major political party in Parliament has had a chance to govern the country since 2018. It provides us with a unique opportunity to assess the performance of our Parliament as a whole. By all measures of national progress (GDP, FDI, unemployment, inflation, inequality, Covid-19 cases, deaths), Parliament has collectively failed, either because of coalitions that could not work together, or due to individual incompetence.
If the PM is toppled in a vote of no confidence, it will merely reshuffle the same pack of cards composed of the same politicians again. Some MPs will be promoted to Ministers or Deputy Ministers with rather large pay packets, while others will be demoted from high office, left to weep with their generous lifelong pensions. Unfortunately, what will remain the same is the overall quality of our MPs. The idea that toppling the PM alone will result in a vastly superior stable of opposition MPs being restored to power in government is a false premise that has already been explored. The new government will also likely suffer from the very same numerical deficiencies and will also have to constantly look over its shoulder.
What we are seeing today is a by-product of the fragmented result of GE14. A single party no longer dominates decision-making. Each coalition partner demands to be placated with a Ministerial position, regardless of their ability, even if there is a better candidate from another coalition party that has exhausted its proportional ministerial quota. Cabinet meetings become an arena to undermine each other’s ego instead of being a forum for rational decision-making, emboldened with the knowledge that the house of cards will collapse if anyone pulls out. For the same reason, a disproportionate amount of time is spent politicking and courting frogs, at the expense of actual management of the country.
Either way, the politicians win, and the rakyat lose. This cynicism is not unwarranted. Parliament has been the playground of the same elite club of individuals for decades. This small group of people have been each other’s friends, students, bosses, subordinates, protégés, even lovers, who then somehow morph into rivals, sworn enemies, and frenemies. Manifestos become secondary to personality politics where the true agenda is simply to take one man down. Malaysia will never progress as a nation if it is run from vendetta to vendetta.
Meanwhile, MPs will do well to stop abusing the rakyat’s name. It is readily apparent that there is one rule for MPs and another one for ordinary folks. They may cry foul when the other violates pandemic rules, demanding immediate resignations, but barely days later they display a complete lack of self-awareness by breaking the very same rules when organising public protests shoulder to shoulder. The average person gets fined thousands of ringgit they do not even have while MPs break the rules with impunity, paying fines using their lavish Parliamentary salaries that we pay for. The only social distancing that has been a complete success in Malaysia is Parliament losing touch with the people.
The rakyat needs to realise that from the politicians’ perspective, what is at stake this time around is not just power, position, money, or being magically cleansed of all wrongdoing by the courts, but also credit for the inflection point. If the pandemic peaks this month, any government that takes over from here on will claim that they were the decisive factor in victory, not unlike their self-serving congratulatory messages to our athletes in Tokyo. Just remember that any forthcoming decline in daily cases and deaths will have very little to do with whichever politicians end up taking over Parliament in the coming weeks, and more to do with our brave frontliners and volunteers who have been risking their lives every day in hospitals and vaccination centres.
Unfortunately, the rakyat’s voice is only heard once every five years. GE15 is too far away, and it would be irresponsible to call for a snap election during a pandemic. Meanwhile, the public health, economic, and education crisis is here and now. We can only hope that our politicians will have enough humility to step aside and allow group of professional experts, unburdened by political baggage or interference, to put the country on the right path, at least until 2023.