AFTER the electoral tsunami, the political volcano has been spewing ceaselessly with the lava of change. We barely have time to absorb one eruption before the next occurs: as I write, the loudest has been the release of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, though the marathon search at Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s residence is ongoing.
Each event is accompanied, of course, by analyses of the actors, the winners, and losers, and WhatsApp conspiracies proclaiming ‘the REAL story’. The reactions range from concern to incredulity that promises might be betrayed (such as the contradictions on the Anti-Fake News Act), and from cautious optimism to outright cheering that other promises are being delivered (with GST being set at 0 per cent).
Then there is the Schadenfreude of seeing how once-mighty alleged evildoers and their associates have fallen, possibly moderated by varying degrees of sympathy as jobs are lost and lives are upended, followed by guilt for even contemplating sympathy when remembering the many more lives ruined (or literally ended) in their pursuit of wealth and power at the expense of the nation. It is for this that justice must be sought, though many will opine about where rule of law ends and where a witch-hunt begins (have you ever ‘settled’ a traffic offence or ‘sped up’ an application to a government agency for your family’s sake?).
For all the drama about the fate of personalities, the priority of fixing the country’s institutions must remain paramount: individuals matter only for the competence they bring and the confidence they inspire.
Through this lens, the removal of individuals who had aided institutional damage (particularly those who headed those very institutions that were supposed to be independent) is most welcome, the initial names announced for the cabinet are promising, the creation of the 100-day Council of Eminent Persons is positive, and their formation of the Committee on Institutional Reforms is brilliant. Hopefully this will accelerate important reforms such as separating the offices of Attorney General and Public Prosecutor; splitting the legal and judicial services; reinstituting the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission; empowering Parliament through allocated budgets, establishment of select committees and official recognition of the Opposition; and strengthening the independence of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
In the excitement, many overjoyed activists have eagerly offered their services to the new government. Many no doubt would make impeccable contributions, but there must still be independent organisations to scrutinise the new government if it degenerates into what it replaced (by which stage those former activists might have lost their credibility). It would help if the distinctions between party, government, and constitutional or statutory bodies – blurred under the previous regime – become clear.
In their excitement too, some commentators directed their ire to another constitutional body in the hours and days after the results came out as it was perceived that the appointments of the Prime Minister and Menteris Besar were being ‘delayed’. Some of this is due to ignorance of the facts on the ground (for example, the 5pm appointment at Istana Negara was never meant to be a swearing-in, but this is what the media believed).
There is also much ignorance about the constitutional provisions. In requiring the head of state to appoint the individual who “in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House”, no time limit is specified. The audiences at the national and state palaces following the election were in pursuit of this constitutional duty. Had they been rushed resulting in the wrong person being appointed, then there would be even more anger: after the 2010 UK general election, it took Queen Elizabeth II five days to appoint the new Prime Minister, only after it was proven to the palace that David Cameron really did command the majority of MPs. Yet there have been illiterate pontifications criticising the ‘slow’ appointments, including supposedly in Negeri Sembilan (where in 2013 it took six days for the Menteri Besar to be reappointed).
In the event, Aminuddin Harun took his oath as the eighth Menteri Besar of Negeri Sembilan on May 12. In his Royal Address, Tuanku Muhriz congratulated all elected representatives and reminded them of their duty to the people, state and nation without regard to party affiliation, ethnicity or religion; to be leaders of honour and integrity; and for the Menteri Besar to develop the state sincerely and accountably while upholding its unique adat. His Royal Highness also reminded police, military and security forces as well as judicial and enforcement agencies to carry out their duties without fear or favour.
In hoping that they will, may this Ramadan be as cleansing for our nation’s institutions as for all Muslims.
Tunku Zain Al-Abidin is founding president of Ideas.