When a government only has a simple majority


When a government only has a simple majority
By Zan Azlee

Party-hopping in Malaysia has been a very big problem for many years now. It has caused a lot of frustration for Malaysian voters and politicians.

The latest and most significant frustrations would have been during the Sheraton Move in March 2020 when a slew of MPs and a whole party withdrew from the Pakatan Harapan coalition to form the Perikatan Nasional government.

So, I think it is a welcomed move that the government of the day has decided (in accordance with the MOU that was entered between them and the opposition) to initiate the drafting of an anti-hopping law.

However, it is still early days and as de facto Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has mentioned in response to a question by the opposition in Parliament this week, it will take time.

He added that when the draft is ready, it will be given to all MPs to study and discuss before being tabled in Parliament. That sounds fair.

As much as I agree that something like this should not be bulldozed through in a hurry, I also hope that it won’t be a matter where it drags on and on longer than it should.

Also in Parliament this week, Langkawi MP Dr Mahathir Mohamad said it is not as simple as outlawing ‘party-hopping.

He added that parties forming coalitions after an election should not be considered hopping because it is common when minority governments are formed. I would lean towards agreeing with this.

In many democracies which follow the same system as Malaysia, which is a parliamentary democracy, parties enter into agreed coalitions all the time when there is no clear majority.

In my opinion, this should be something of a norm in a healthy democracy where there is a strong opposition.

A ‘new norm’ of government

As we can see in Malaysia now, gone are the days when one coalition can command an overwhelming two-thirds majority.

To me, this means that we are moving away from authoritarian dominance and more towards a democratic system with proper check-and-balance and better distribution of power.

Of course, Malaysia in general isn’t used to this concept. We’re so used to a government that has a supermajority that we have been conditioned to think that is the only way a government can function efficiently.

As I have written last week, although a supermajority may allow a government to do things without conflict, it also means they can do anything without checks.

There have been many instances where coalitions have been formed among parties so a minority government could administer according to an agreed compromise and understanding.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

 

Current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern once formed and led a minority government. This has also happened in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and more.

Minority governments can work efficiently if the terms of the agreement between the parties are a balanced compromise that puts the people as a priority.

At the end of the day, whoever is voted into office won because the people made a decision and that decision needs to be respected. And for this to happen, we need politicians who have integrity and a sense of responsibility.

Malaysia might not have a minority government. When Pakatan Harapan won the 2018 general election (GE), it was by a simple majority.

Thus, it was easy for a swing if a party decides to align elsewhere (and in this case, along with several individuals who left another party).

The new coalition, Perikatan Nasional, was also in power with a simple majority. Another swing could have easily happened.

So, it is only normal for the coalition that is in power to want to take action to stay in power. Hence, the current government offered up an MOU with the opposition.

Not ideal, but the best for now

The opposition could also snub the MOU and try to wrangle back power. But then, when will this ever stop? We can’t keep changing governments every few months for five years until the next GE. So, good on the opposition for accepting the MOU.

Yes, I understand that when the 2018 GE took place, there were two clear coalitions pitting against each other and the voters voted based on that. Yes, I understand that many voters felt cheated when the Sheraton Move happened.

Yes, I understand there were parties that many voters didn’t want in power that are now in power. Yes, I understand the situation is not ideal. But that is how it is. We can argue and fight till the pigs fly and it will still be unresolved if everyone is just struggling for power.

And as much as it isn’t ideal, it is probably the best we can expect at the moment. So take the situation at face value for now and let’s move on.

Let’s work towards creating an environment where voters’ rights will be better protected in the future (at the next GE!). It would seem that many of the terms in the MOU could ensure this environment will be created or at least move towards that direction.

Limiting the term of a prime minister is a good move. Equal allocation for all MPs is a good move. And yes, an anti-hopping law is a good move.

All this isn’t enough, of course. But it’s a good start. Let’s make sure this happens. The government has to prove that they are sincere and will move forward with their promise.

The opposition needs to put pressure on them and hold them accountable. Remember, it’s a simple majority and another round of power-wrangling will not serve both sides any good. If you think about it, it’s actually quite a good situation as far as the balance of power is concerned.

So, when it comes to the new anti-hopping law, one of the most important things is to define anti-hopping clearly and carefully. There have been many different suggestions made over the years.

Among the ideas is to outlaw hopping by individual MPs and have a snap election if it does happen so voters can make a choice again.

Former prime minister and Langkawi MP Dr Mahathir Mohamad

 

I can give more suggestions and I’m sure many people can too. But whatever it is, what Mahathir says is true. An anti-hopping law isn’t as simple as just outlawing party or coalition hopping.

New Zealand had such a law, but over the years, it expired, got replaced, and even faced an attempt to get it repealed.

Countries like India and a few others are also making attempts to create an ideal anti-hopping law. Like I said, not simple.

So now, it has come down to crunch time. Those involved in all the drafting, discussions, debate, and negotiations have a tough job ahead of them. But that’s just how it is and they need to step up.

If they don’t, there are about 30 million people who will be at a tipping point with their patience and frustration. So don’t screw it up!

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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