MALAYSIA EN-ROUTE TO ‘KERAJAAN LEBIH GAGAL’? WHO WILL GRAB THE PM9 POST – HISHAM-AZMIN COMBO, OR ISMAIL SABRI-HAMZAH, OR ANWAR-ZAHID-NAJIB, OR MAHATHIR-SHAFIE, OR KU LI?

PM9? Who? I don’t have an answer. “Who”-ever he or she is, “what” should be the first question.

As increasingly more people – both amongst MPs and ordinary citizens – want a change of PM8, we must start talking about PM9 and his/her policies. It is dangerous to want change just “because nothing can be worse than the status quo”.

Unfortunately, something can be worse than the status quo. If the new government were to collapse after a few months, or to suffer more power struggles between ministers than that between Azmin Ali and Ismail Sabri Yaakob, or to bend policies and laws to please more lawmakers, VVIPs and tycoons, #KerajaanLebihGagal is entirely possible.

I am not at all defending Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. As one of his 30 million bosses, I am glad that he is facing so many competitors, from the opposition and within his own government. But I want real competition and real change.

We must not lower our standard in desperation and pick any challenger who tells us: “No, I don’t have a plan. But the current guy is so lousy. How can I be worse? Just take your chance and give me the job.”

What’s your policy agenda?

It is easy to fire potshots on government policies and to offer piecemeal alternatives especially when you don’t have to worry about the budget. Remember Pakatan Harapan’s “we-thought-we-won’t-win” manifesto?

However, for any new government to replace this government and bring about change, won’t we need the new government to have a clear and coherent policy agenda that is different from the current one, backed up with pragmatic plans based on facts and figures, fully cognizant of competing demands

Policy measures cannot be assessed on their own because they affect each other. For example, closing factories can curb the spread of Covid-19 but it may cause the factories to close down and result in unemployment. How to strike the right balance?

If we are serious about having a new government, we must force PM wannabees from Hishammuddin Hussein to Anwar Ibrahim, even Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Shafie Apdal, to get serious about policies, not just affidavits.

Let’s start by posing some questions.

First, what is the overarching policy goal – flatting the curve or returning to normalcy? The latter is now favoured by international opinion, landing Malaysia at the bottom of two international indices by Bloomberg (51th of 53 countries) and The Economist (the last of 50 countries).

On one hand, can our hospitals not collapse without a full lockdown? On the other hand, can our economy survive an indefinite and real lockdown? What are the objective measures to decide what level of lockdown?

Second, who amongst individuals and which amongst businesses should be prioritised in government aids, and by how much? How to make sure no one is starving? How to stop businesses from closing and workers from a layoff? How far should the government raise its debts to save households and businesses now?

 

Third, how to speed up vaccination in both supply and administration? How to allow state governments, businesses and even charities to acquire more vaccines without competing with the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) for supply? Who should pay for their vaccination and for how much? What incentives in less control should be given to those who are fully vaccinated to encourage vaccination?

None of these has simple a black-and-white answer. It is all about trade-offs between different peoples we want to help and different goals we want to save. We need policy packages, not media statements.

Personalities

Why are we not seeing contenders and challengers of Muhyiddin, from Anwar to Hishammuddin or from Harapan to Umno, offering clear and comprehensive policy packages that are different from the federal government?

One explanation is politicians want to invoke the saviour fetish amongst Malaysians, planted by our national political history and the norm in many neighbouring countries in which strongmen shapes history.

By stereotyping politicians into three categories: superheroes, idiots and villains, the quick fix is then replacing the villains and idiots with some saviours walking out of DC and Marvel movies.

Harapan supporters are particularly fond of several highly performing ex-ministers and think that having them back in power will turn the country around. Likewise, Umno supporters believe their ex-ministers can do wonders.

I have no doubt that some ministries will see more common sense, more rigour, less corruption and fewer misconducts if some Harapan ex-ministers are back in charge. Likewise, putting aside the integrity question, even Najib Abdul Razak may make better finance, economics, or international trade and industry minister.

However, a few performing ministers do not a functioning government make. Enough non-performing and less intelligent ministers can drown the new government in public backlashes. Worse if the ministers fight each other to defend their own turf or to strengthen their party vis-à-vis their government partner.

More fundamentally and perhaps unknown by the public, most policies are made not by ministers, but by senior civil servants who stay when PM and ministers come and go.

No, it is not just the Health director-general who controls our pandemic policy. Many ministry secretaries-general and DGs are doing the same, just that they are not in the spotlight.

Why? Policymaking entails a lot of technical details and complex considerations, that most politicians whose top skills are giving fiery speeches, dishing out constituency allocations and kissing babies (or eating durians) are simply not equipped to do that.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Number

Most sickening, politicians don’t want to talk about policies so that they can do horse-trading easier. This is why every PM wannabe and their runners are obsessed with the number of MPs on their side.

For any new government to survive, it must have a reliable and durable “majority in the House”.

Remember Harapan had 139 seats – only nine short of a two-thirds majority – on the eve of the Sheraton Move but the government collapsed in 24 hours when 31 MPs defected and the PM resigned on behalf of his whole government.

A government can survive with a slim majority, which needs not be even entirely of its own if it is durable. The best example is New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern’s first-term government (2017-2020).

A minority coalition government with only a 45.8 percent parliamentary strength, but backed by a 6.7 percent opposition on a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CSA), Ardern’s was one of the world’s best-performing governments in managing the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, Anwar has got it all wrong about being “strong, convincing and formidable”. It is about being “reliable and durable”.

The reliability and duration of the parliamentary majority hinge very much on the lineup of ministers and deputy ministers.

Here it is potentially the Achilles’ heel of any new government. If the current government is so flawed with villains and idiots, how can any new government which inevitably include a substantial number of existent ministers do much better if the political structure remains the same?

Real change

Malaysians are urged to raise black flags today to show that they want a change of PM. I have been wearing black for 11 years and five months since the legislators’ coup in Perak, except when I wore yellow or green on the streets for special occasions.

I want more than a change of PM or government parties. I want a real change in the political system.

Join me to demand Hishammuddin, Anwar or any other PM9 wannabe to reveal their pandemic and economic policy agenda now. We have had enough of empty talks. 

WONG CHIN HUAT

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