Wednesday, April 1

Malaysian version of the Ides of March

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Cabinet meeting before parliament is convened. — Bernama file photo

IN the Shakespearean play ‘Julius Caesar’, the Roman Emperor is assassinated by one of the senators on the Ides of March, or March 15 (according to the ancient Roman calendar).

In Malaysia, the honourable members of parliament started politically ‘stabbing’ each other openly since last Sunday, after months of plots and counter-plots.

That Sunday, Feb 23, 2020, was the day most foul – the fatal blow. But this is not a theatrical play; this is the real thing – serious political power struggle at the federal level of government of Malaysia in the modern world. The infighting has resulted in the technical collapse of an elected government. Who to blame? Blame the machinations of the politicians themselves for the demise of the government.

At the time of writing, the Battle for Putrajaya was in full swing. It might go on for some time, if so a cabinet of ministers could not be put in place in the meantime. Whatever happens after this article has gone to print, a solution is absolutely imperative within the next few days. Otherwise, we will continue to live with a political uncertainty for some time to come. That’s not good for everybody; we cannot live with political uncertainties for a long time. Either the new PM is appointed or else hold the general election.

Don’t panic, trust the civil service  

When news broke out of the possible formation of a new federal government through the back door, as opposed to a government popularly elected at a general election, many people in Malaysia panicked. Like Chicken-Littles, they believed that the sun had fallen down.

The trouble with many Malaysians is that they cannot distinguish between the government as such and the group of politicians who are in power. We have been indoctrinated for so long to accept the myth that government is synonymous with political parties in power.

Many do not know that if the Prime Minister of that group resigns or dies, that is not the end of the government. It is the political administration which is in trouble. However, the governing of a country is being carried out by its civil servants and the members of the other institutions of government such as the police (law and order), the Judiciary (administration of justice), and the security apparatus, and equally important, in our case, the monarchy. Together these form the backbone of the administration of Malaysia.

Fortunately, these institutions are still intact and are functioning normally. No need to worry so much so that you neglect your job because you are engrossed in looking at your mobile phone. Your boss may not like it.

In a democracy like ours, “Government comes, government goes, but the civil service goes on forever,” so said the late Tuan Haji Karim, while giving a lecture at a civil service training course, which I attended sometime in 1970.

Bearing this in mind, I replied to emails from my relatives and friends in Australia and New Zealand, by punching on the keys on my mobile phone ‘DON’T worry about us in Malaysia. We r ok, mate.’

They are, of course, worried about Malaysia going anarchic. They are concerned about what may happen to their relatives and friends over here.

I emailed them that, in Malaysia, as long as the civil service still functions impartially; as long as the police are still able to play the role of the keepers of law and order without fear or favour; as long as the judges continue to administer justice according to the rule of law; as long as the financial institutions – and the Inland Revenue keeps on collecting taxes – are able to do business as usual; and, as long as the armed forces remain non-political, Malaysia will survive and continue to thrive. We must have trust in our own resilience and the will to survive.

“The ordinary mortals are going about their daily lives as usual. The political crisis will fizzle out eventually like your fires did on the Kangaroo island,” I continued emailing to my mates in Oz.

The only people who have feverishly worked themselves up to a frenzy are the politicians and their supporters. Their stakes are high: whoever gains power will be in a stronger position to impose their wills on the rest of us. They always say that the power that they have gained will be wisely exercised for the good of the people and country, but we know that the power can also be abused for their own good.

I emailed to the Sarawak Diaspora that there are millions among the citizenry who are keeping silent and are watching the antics of their politicians with all sorts of reactions. Some of those opinions are unprintable.

In a democracy, power struggle is the norm. So regard the current political impasse as a passing phase in the development of democracy in Malaysia. We have undergone a number of political crises in the past, yet we have successfully survived as a country because our institutions are well grounded and professionally run.

When I stop emailing, that is when they ban the use of the Internet; if that happens, then that will be the time to really worry about us in Malaysia, especially in Sarawak or Sabah.

Importance of free press

In addition to the other pillars of democracy (civil service, judiciary, police, armed forces, financial institutions, Monarchy), there is another pillar which is often taken for granted: Fourth Estate otherwise known as the press. Free press!

With all these institutions intact, and with regular and properly conducted elections, there is no reason why Malaysia should not go on from strength to strength as long as possible.

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