Just over four and a half years ago on 13 May 2018, I led a small group of activists to hold a protest against the newly minted PH government in Johor, just four days after they won the right to form the Johor government in GE14.
We protested against the Johor PH government over two matters.
The newly installed Menteri Besar, the late Osman Sapian told the media that he wasn’t giving any constituency allocations to the opposition (Umno) because why would he give “bullets” to the opposition to shoot him?
The second issue was that he (PH) was receiving several political frogs who were leaving Umno to join Bersatu.
In a swift reversal to our first objection, Muhyiddin Yassin as the Bersatu president then, instructed Osman to give allocations to the opposition in Johor, though far from equal. But they continued to accept defectors from Umno at state and federal levels.
To us activists, accepting defectors from other parties was an act of encouraging betrayal of their voters and not giving equal allocation to opposition representatives is disrespecting the right of their voters to choose whom they want to represent them. Such practices have no place in a democracy.
For our principled stand, many hardcore PH supporters and even friends criticized, slammed and mocked us, called us idealistic, naive and worse names.
To them, the ends justified the means. They said PH needed to build a convincing two-thirds majority to amend the constitution for reforms and “frogs” are welcome. Furthermore, BN deserves to be “punished” for what they did to the country and to the opposition all those years.
Guess what? These two issues, the party hopping and the oft given reason for hopping, unequal allocations, brought down the PH government after 22 months the first time.
I am not saying that these were the only reasons but unprincipled actions had given justification to unprincipled consequences.
Now, after GE15, with the outcome being a PH-led “unity government,” these same pragmatists and realists are saying the same thing, principles don’t matter and what is all important is staying in power, even if it means compromising on your own so-called principles and promises.
Even as the new PM Anwar Ibrahim is contemplating his cabinet line-up, he is under pressure to assemble a team that consists of not just from his PH coalition but also MPs from other parties that gave him the number to have a majority government.
Among the candidates for the post of Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) is the President of Umno Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who still has an ongoing trial involving 47 corruption-related charges. Others with ongoing cases are Lim Guan Eng (DAP), Syed Saddiq (MUDA) and Bung Moktar (Umno).
My stand is that anyone with ongoing criminal cases should not be appointed to the cabinet until their cases are fully disposed of by the courts without interference by the Executive through the withdrawal of charges by the Attorney-General, who is a political appointee.
We should be fully aware that the AG is also the Public Prosecutor and has the power to withdraw ongoing cases.
We just have to remember Guan Eng’s case in 2018, Musa Aman’s case in 2020, Riza Aziz’s in 2020 and spy chief Hasanah Abdul Hamid’s case in 2021, just to name a few.
Would we be satisfied that the cases against Zahid, LGE, Saddiq and Bung Moktar be dropped by the AG without going through the due process of the law?
Even if the Executive denies interference, would we believe it or are we okay with such interference?
The usual pragmatists and realists are again urging us to look at the “big picture” and to be “strategic.” To them this whole PH-led unity government was made possible by the benevolence of one man, Zahid, and the viability of Anwar as PM also depends on him.
To let him be appointed as DPM and even to be let off his corruption charges is a small price, think of the “big picture”.
Let me tell you about my “big picture”. It is not about installing the longest PM-in-waiting Anwar as the 10th PM of Malaysia or to have a PH government. My big picture is to have a Malaysia that has zero tolerance towards corruption, the cancer or scourge that has plagued our country for decades.
Most Malaysians, including those who voted for Perikatan Nasional (PN), voted for a clean government because we are sick of corruption at every level of our society.
By appointing Zahid or any of those with ongoing corruption charges to our cabinet, Anwar is sending a clear message to the world that corruption can be tolerated if it achieves a “greater good”.
If that is the case, we have not voted for systemic change but just for a change of PM or government. We are already a lost cause as a nation.
Yes, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Then let the court prove their innocence and if they are, reshuffle the cabinet and bring them in.
There is no shortage of talents among our elected MPs and we would not suffer without their contribution in the meantime.
The role of civil society and activists in a nation is to be that voice of conscience for what is right. We will continue to speak out on what is universally accepted as just, inclusive, proper and reasonable so that the powers that be can be reminded of their responsibility to the rest of us. To silent or mock the concerns of civil society is to set ourselves up for a fall, a mighty fall.
As a responsible civil society organisation, Bersih, the organisation I am leading, we have not only consistently voiced out our concerns and views on many democratic governance and process issues but we are cognizance of “realpolitik” and offer alternative solutions without compromising on principles.
In other words, we don’t just slam but we offer real world solutions.
For Anwar to achieve political stability for his government, we have proposed the signing of Confidence and Supply Agreements (CSA) with both his coalition partners and the opposition as well as reforming Parliament to allow backbenchers and the opposition to play their roles as effective checks and balances.
We have issued several statements since polling day on November 19 that provide solutions and guidance to the formation of government.
These are derived from over two years of research we commissioned and can be found in our new book “Making Democracy Work.”
With GE15, we have a golden opportunity to rebuild Malaysia. Let’s not throw it away by compromising on key principles that we have fought for all these years.
Principles are what distinguish us from the old ways of governing.
Corruption is a scourge and for that, most people of this divided nation are in agreement.
Let us send a clear signal that Malaysia is back in business and we won’t tolerate corruption or the corrupt.
(Thomas Fann is the Chairperson of pro-democracy reform group BERSIH.)