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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A Contrived, Unneeded Political Crisis

 A Contrived, Unneeded Political Crisis

M. Bakri Musa



At last, five days after the election with the results certified within hours of the closing of the polls, the Agung today (1:30 PM local time, November 24, 2022) finally announced that Anwar Ibrahim will be Malaysia’s tenth Prime Minister.


            For Malaysia, Anwar’s appointment brings a much-needed breath of fresh air after the putrid haze that have suffocated the nation for the past few decades and threatened to linger forever, becoming thicker and even more stifling. It is as if the windows are now wide open so the crippling incompetence and rotten corruption of the Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri Administrations could now be flushed out.


            For Anwar, this must be a moment of sweetness and achievement in so many ways, comparable to that felt by the late Nelson Mandela. However with the many daunting problems ahead, he would have precious few moments to savor the victory except to express his gratitude to Almighty Allah and the voters.


            The Agung’s announcement today was no surprise as Anwar’s coalition had won the most number of parliamentary seats as well as garnered the highest percentage of the popular votes. The obvious question was why the delay, as well as the prolonged negotiations? The process involved leaders of all the other parties, major and minor, as well as the sultans.


            As for the other sultans’ high profile involvement leading up to the announcement today in what was essentially a federal matter, a minor though not commented upon observation but nonetheless a not inconsequential one is this. Why were the non-royal governors of Melaka, Penang, Sarawak, and Sabah not invited or not involved? This after all was a decision that would impact the entire nation. Ever wonder why secessionist sentiments are growing in East Malaysia, or that non-Malays feel left out?


            Back to the delay in the Agung’s announcement, what had transpired behind the scenes during the last few days following the election, with the series of breathless last minute negotiations and slew of press conferences? To the world, all those unseemly activities degraded the nation’s highest office. Those haggling and counter offers as well as the offering and withdrawing of statutory declarations as if they were negotiable checks are what you would expect when buying a ram’s head in a Middle Eastern bazaar. Malaysians demand better of their leaders.


            The question that immediately arises is whether all those activities were but a charade, a manufactured crisis to direct citizens’ attention elsewhere so as to conceal something more sinister and consequential?


            There is a price to pay for this prolonged political haggling both by the political leaders as well as members of the permanent establishment, including the Agung and his brother sultans. They triggered this unneeded crisis for the nation and at a time when citizens could ill afford it.


            Citizens were not apprised and thus did not know what had transpired behind the scenes in the various luxury hotels a la the Sheraton, together with what had occurred at the palace in the presence of the Agung. Transparency is the essence of democracy.


            Had the Agung made the decision he made today last Sunday following the election, then Malaysians would have been spared the ensuing needless political melodrama. Apart from the economic and political costs, this crisis has incited raw racial emotions and ethnic bigotry reminiscent of the dark ugly days following the May 1969 national election. Many are still kindling the ambers of that terrible tragedy.


            In unnecessarily delaying Anwar’s appointment, the Agung must bear the major part of the blame and burden. Had the Agung announced giving Anwar the first crack at forming the government last Sunday, all the ugly post-election drama would not have happened. The bitter rivalries and emotions of the campaigns would by now have subsided if not forgotten. In deliberately delaying the announcement, the Agung fanned this unneeded crisis.


            Again, had Anwar been invited to form the government last Sunday, being a polished politician, he would have created the necessary compromises to achieve a workable coalition with like-minded potential partners. He has to as his political survival depends on that. Politicians are by nature and vocation adept at this. Politics is after all, to quote Bismarck, “the art of the possible, the attainable–the art of the next best.”


            In a misguided quest for a “unity” government, the Agung tried to force a coalition. Force coalition, like forced marriages, rarely endures. Sultans by their very nature have minimal to no instinct at negotiations. They are used to having their ways and demands acceded to right away.


            This delay in forming a new government carries many unquantifiable costs, with the rakyat not the sultans bearing them. This central point must be hammered in, and often, lest this mistake be repeated. The rakyat is paying the Agung and his brother sultans a hefty sum every year. They better earn that by learning to be part of the solution, and not be the problem.


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