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2021-06-16 14:41:00 2495635

Malay Rulers and the country's political future

Opinion

By Tay Tian Yan, Sin Chew Daily

Today (Wednesday), the Malay Rulers will meet in a special meeting that may determine the future of Muhyiddin Yassin and his Perikatan Nasional government.

Thanks to the chaotic politics, pandemic and depressed economy, the country is constantly overcast by a thickening gloom, forcing His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Malay Rulers to exert their constitutional roles to seek effective solutions to the current stalemate.

On the surface, the political focus today is on whether the Parliament will reconvene, but this is only an excuse. The real battle is to grab the bridgehead post-Emergency.

Whoever wins this battle will emerge as the new political power from this moment on.

The Emergency decree in place since the beginning of the year has offered the PN administration a momentary respite. If Muhyiddin's government were able to do something impressive during this period of time to contain the spread of the virus and revive the economy, its grips on power would remain solid, effectively defusing the pressure build-up from Umno and PH, after the Emergency ends, owing to support from the Rulers and the electorate.

Unfortunately after almost half a year, the pandemic has worsened, with the economy remaining stagnant. The PN government's approval rating has dived. At the same time, opposition forces have been banking on this opportunity to quietly integrate their strengths in hope of taking down Muhyiddin's administration soon.

Reconvening of the Parliament is only a start. Anyone with the slightest political experiences should be able to tell that it won't be just things as simple as talking about the pandemic and economic issues once the Parliament reconvenes, but more likely a head count of supporters in the hall.

With the Emergency's deadline just around the corner, sure enough PN's wish is to have it extended for as long as possible in order to buy time. Meanwhile, opposition forces, including the PH alliance and rival forces within the ruling coalition such as the Zahid/Najib camp in Umno, simply can't wait to end the Emergency decree in order to wage their offensives against the PM.

As the custodian of the nation, the King finds himself in a very delicate position. On the one hand he has to strictly adhere to his constitutional role and meet the expectations of Malaysians towards his role as the Ruler, on the other hand he has to prevent the country from falling into utter chaos which is poised to trigger even bigger political and pandemic crises.

The special meeting of the Malay Rulers today is very unusual as it is not a regular meeting but one that is summoned by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, in the absence of the prime minister and menteris besar in a clear move to exclude government intervention.

What is more unusual is that His Majesty has summoned major political stakeholders to listen to their views on the pandemic and the country's political development.

Given the political disarray at this moment, the roles played by the King and other Malay Rulers have thus become all the more delicate. Objectively they should be seen by all quarters as being fair and just, but subjectively, the way they intervene should be seen as a form of coordination and not interference. They should take care of the needs of all parties and not to side any particular party.

Right now the opposition and the public are generally against the Emergency and as such, an extension of it may not be consented by the Rulers even if it has been proposed by the government.

Nevertheless, His Majesty must also strive to prevent the government's instant collapse the moment the Emergency decree is lifted., as the momentary power vacuum will only exacerbate the existing pandemic and political crises.

Additionally, holding a general election in the height of the pandemic should not become an immediate option.

The challenge of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Malay Rulers lies with the establishment of a peace accord to ensure that the government will continue to function normally without the need for a hastily held election after the Emergency is lifted and Parliament reconvened.

A possible solution is for the ruling coalition and the opposition to adopt a Confidence and Supply Agreement whereby certain resources, government positions and powers are to be delegated to the opposition in exchange for their support and not to table a no-confidence motion.

Another possible solution is to restructure the government to include opposition forces such as representatives from PH and pro-Zahid Umno leaders.

Neither the first nor the second solution can be long-term plan but more of a near-term contingency plan to last until the pandemic is well under control or latest by the expiry of the current Parliament when a general election must be called.

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