By Khoo Ying Hooi
Every day in the political discussions, these questions have become a norm: Does Muhyiddin Yassin have the numbers to govern? Does Anwar Ibrahim have the numbers to be the next prime minister? Is Mahathir making another comeback?
Politics is a numbers game and it is undeniable that this takes the main attention in this country. But looking at it from other perspective, this is not a healthy development of where our country is moving. The political discussions should be more about our policies.
Since the formation of Malaysia, we have been so used to the "habit" where the prime minister comes from the party with the most members of parliament, and in the past it has always been Umno.
The 14th general elections in 2018, however, broke this convention, which is a good sign for way forward. Unfortunately, it doesn't end with a fairy tale for Malaysian politics.
The road to democracy is bumpy. While the politicians continue to be busy counting the numbers and switching sides, the people are left with feeling politically fatigue.
Merdeka Center said in its latest report released in September 2020 that majority Malaysians are satisfied with the performance of Muhyiddin Yassin. The survey that had a total of 3,415 respondents found that the prime minister's approval rating was in a comfortable, positive territory where 51% of respondents felt the country was headed in the right direction.
A similar tendency was also found in the public evaluation of the federal government. 58% of the voters were happy with the performance of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government while 28% were dissatisfied and angry. At the same time, PN also enjoyed the highest positive perception from voters in the survey. Pakatan Harapan (PH) scored the highest negative rating (52%), and only 25% were happy with this coalition formed by PKR, DAP and Amanah.
The Merdeka Center report, however, has its flaws on the representation issue as if the report is representative to look at how Malaysians view our politicians.
Does Muhyiddin really have the support of Malaysians as what the findings revealed? The report certainly provides some thoughts onto the PN administration, but as usual, all surveys need to be looked at with a more in-depth analysis.
On a more personal level, the concern of whether Malaysians continue to have high hopes on our government certainly needs a re-examination.
From my daily conversations with people in and outside of the country, there are mixed reactions towards the current development of Malaysian politics. Some praise the PN, some are neutral and others question the way PN came into power. Some criticize the PH, and some are neutral.
Of course, with the increasing COVID-19 local transmission cases, the dynamics of politics we are currently in is not the same as before, as there are other concerns to be taken into consideration.
But there is a common comment by almost all the people I came in contact with. Something is wrong with our politicians.
In general, politicians are criticized for being opportunistic, unreliable and lack of integrity. They are also criticized for not being farsighted in terms of drafting national policies, as they have been spending too much time in "politicking".
For instance, it is embarrassing that although we have been months in the period of COVID-19, yet we have not enforced the COVID-19 bill passed in August, even as a second round of movement restrictions are imposed in certain states.
A few also have commented that politicians in this country are perceived as acting in their own self-interest at the expense of the people they are meant to serve. This has serious consequences for trust and confidence in our institutions.
Democracy is not a top-down approach and it could even be described as "messy". When our politicians are doing things and bring us to the wrong direction, we need to reform democracy substantially in order to save it.
That comes from the people. If we do not, the system itself is in danger of collapse. Recent events in the Malaysian politics have put the spotlight on so many issues on individual characters and abilities.
Very often, when our politicians deliberately mislead us, they avoid accountability for the messes they make, as we witnessed in the COVID-19 management during the Sabah state elections.
At one point, it seems like we have come to accept that the lack of integrity in political leadership is the norm. It is important that now, more than ever, we need to reflect and understand why we have the wrong politicians as what is highlighted in the book by Isabel Hardman, "Why We Get The Wrong Politicians". We deserve the right politicians for tomorrow.
(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer.)