An open letter to Dr M and PH

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) together with Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim) and Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), hereby call on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the leadership of Pakatan Harapan (PH) to take clear and decisive steps to bring about political stability in this country by putting in place a clear transition package based on their pre-GE14 agreement.

The current feud in PKR, a major component party of the PH coalition, is causing much concern among both our citizens and the international community as it has the potential to break up the coalition and cast our nation into political disarray.

Our concern as civil society organisations that have been and are pushing for institutional and political reforms in this country is that if political stability is not restored, the reform agenda of the PH government will stall, or worse, whatever achieved so far will be reversed. As non-partisan civil society groups, our concern is strictly limited to political stability and accountability within the term of the 14th Parliament, indicating no whatsoever preference in the 15th general election (GE15).

As such, we would like to propose the following concrete steps to be taken in order to restore political stability.

Clear transition plan for prime-ministership

We call on Mahathir set a date, somewhere between a year from now and latest May 9, 2021, to hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim in accordance with the pre-GE14 agreement among the PH component parties.

Though it is said that no time frame was stated in the agreement, Mahathir himself has said on numerous occasions it would be between two and three years from PH forming the government. To ensure a smooth transition, Anwar should be appointed as deputy PM six months before the set date. A clear and publicly known transition plan would quash rumours and conspiracy theories perpetrated by those who seek to gain from the instability and see the breakup of the coalition.

Limit the PM to two terms

This is a manifesto promise that is yet to be fulfilled and we urge Mahathir to push for the necessary legal amendments to fulfil it before he steps down as PM. The rationale of setting such a term limit is that we do not want to see future PMs holding power for too long, which not only risks abuse of power and corruption but also builds up frustration and antagonism among other aspirants for the top job.

Unless the first term which does not start with a new Parliament is less than two years, the term of a PM should start from the time of appointment and not at the start of a new Parliament term to ensure that the maximum terms permissible are kept to two.

De-concentration of power in PM

The PH manifesto also promised to reduce the concentration of executive power in the hands of the PM. The gross abuse of power by the previous PM has highlighted the fact that too much power is vested in the office of the PM. Unless laws are amended and Parliament is adequately empowered, especially in the process of major appointments, there is no guarantee that future PMs will not use such power to cling on to the top job by trading patronage for loyalty from fellow leaders and voters, causing kleptocracy to rear its ugly head again.

A flatter power structure with a term limit for the PM would make peace and stability easier among ambitious politicians by creating more chances and entry points for advancement in their political career.

Hasten institutional reforms

Another set of manifesto promises that need to be implemented without delay are those that call for the strengthening of key public institutions like the Election Commission, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Judicial Appointments Commission, National Audit Department, Human Rights Commission and Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Legal amendments are required to institutionalise the independence and empowerment of these institutions so that they can be effective checks and balances in our system of government. Draconian laws that violate our fundamental rights under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution should be repealed, and laws against racism, bigotry and gender bias should be reviewed for amendment or enactment where necessary.

Change to a more inclusive electoral system

Our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system coupled with our multi-ethnic society encourages a winner-takes-all mentality among our political parties, producing political discourse that is extreme and divisive. We urge the government and all parties to embark on a national conversation about moving away from FPTP towards a system with party-list proportional representation (List-PR) seats. This will ensure a wide representation of parties in Parliament and eliminate their need to play up communal fears over internal division to mobilise votes.

The List-PR seats system can also overcome the intra-coalition quarrels over constituency allocation so common under FPTP by allowing component parties to compete openly and healthily against each other via party votes, instead of resorting to sabotage and scheming. Not only can List-PR seats enable quotas for women and other marginalised groups, the direct mandate for parties instead of candidates can also strengthen political parties and discourage party-hopping. This would be in keeping with PH’s aspiration to build a more inclusive, progressive and prosperous nation.

We call on the leadership of the PH government – Mahathir, the presidential council of PH and Warisan – to take decisive action without delay to restore the people’s confidence in this government. A clear message must be sent by all that the welfare of the nation and the reform agenda take precedence over personal or party interests.

PH has nearly four years of its remaining term to deliver its promise of reforms and prosperity for this nation. Restore political stability and govern now for the remainder of its term.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.