Notes on a New Nation, Day 1

Notes on a New Nation
Day 1 Post-GE14, 10 May 2018

A few preliminary thoughts on what is happening right now in Malaysia. Unprecedented in our political history.

Yesterday on 9 May 2018, we saw the people of Malaysia voting for change against the incumbent Barisan Nasional. Pakatan Harapan the opposition coalition making up PKR, DAP, Amanah and PPBM won the hearts and minds of its citizens, sweeping the majority of our 222 Parliamentary seats and most of the states in the country. This was a clear signal that the leadership of Najib Razak is no longer respected and desired. Major leaders in Barisan were defeated including the MCA and MIC Presidents Liow Tiong Lai and Subramaniam in their seats Bentong and Segamat respectively.

The Election Commission performed its duties despite delaying the election results severely, causing most Malaysians watching the elections closely to stay up all night, myself included. As at early this morning, the results were out and reported accurately, thankfully. But due to recounts in several hot seats, a few seats seemed to change hands at the last minute. This included Wee Ka Siong’s seat in Ayer Itam, Johor (which he won, also after a recount).

Many conflicting pieces of information are flowing out of both formal and informal channels as I type. Although late last night, Ali Hamsa the government’s Chief Secretary issued an official statement declaring today (Thursday 10 May and Friday 11 May) are public holidays upon the wishes of “the Government”, leading many to believe the civil service had finally recognised the new government, this is not yet the case.

The processes to install a government in place post a general election are simple: The Election Commission first needs to declare the results and the winner. Following that, the leader of the party with the most seats won will be invited by the Yang DiPertuan Agong to be sworn in officially and appointed Prime Minister, to form the government.

However, there are many obstacles Pakatan Harapan has ahead of it. Because it is not a formal coalition (yes, they had applied for its registration but nothing came from the Registrar of Societies), it does not exist as an official entity that can be considered to form a government. The seat tally of the informal coalition stands at PKR (104), and DAP (9), so by right the 113 already surpasses the simple majority required to prove it commands the confidence of the majority of Malaysian voters.

Because there is no single party with a clear simple majority, Malaysia is now in a situation of a Hung Parliament. This was predicted by several analysts, myself included, as a possible electoral outcome given how tight the race was. This is a constitutional debacle now on procedure on how to proceed.

President of PKR, Dr Wan Azizah, can meet with the Agong to form the government. As I am not a lawyer, I am quoting extensively from Haris Ibrahim here: “If she chooses to abdicate that responsibility and appoint Mahathir with the consensus of the other parties that they choose to work with and who choose to work with them, including the 9 MPs from DAP and others, then and only then will Mahathir be sworn in as PM… Wan Azizah can by constitution meet with the Agong and accept appointment as PM to form the government with or without Mahathir’s agreement but not the other way around i.e. Mahathir cannot be PM without Wan Azizah’s agreement.”

However, this is not unprecedented procedure. Remember that in 2008, there was no official coalition since Pakatan Rakyat had not yet been formed at the time that Selangor, Penang, and Perak were won. All that was necessary was for the winning representatives to gather and amongst themselves elect a leader, and this leader with the respective party representatives to seek a meeting with the Sultan to show they commanded the majority of the state assembly. The same thing can happen at the federal parliament level here. Also, when the Perak state government was toppled in 2010, and the three pro-Pakatan assemblyperson jumped ship to be “Barisan-supporting independents”, the Perak Sultan was sufficiently satisfied that the new majority (without having to be in official coalition) commanded the majority of the state assembly. These are very crucial in setting the precedent for our situation now.

As for the states, Pakatan Harapan (again the official coalition would need to be established in order to form state governments) swept the states of Penang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor. Barisan retains the states of Perlis, Pahang and Sarawak. PAS emerges quite strong out of this election, retaining Kelantan and winning over Terengganu – this is a recognition that conservative Islamic politics still has a major role to play in the country. Whoever emerges victor will have to negotiate with the Hadi version of PAS, which may be troubling news. The three states that remain at play are Kedah, Perak and Sabah. This is because of very close seat tallies. In Kedah, it is BN 3, PAS 15, PH 18 and Perak, it is BN 27, PAS 3 and PH 29, and in Sabah BN won 29 seats while all other parties (Warisan and others) make up 31 collectively.

The voter turnout was lower yesterday than in 2013, at 76% compared to 85% the last time. A voter turnout of lower than 85% was predicted to lead to a sure BN win. With the controversial redelineation too that strongly favoured BN, this result was completely unexpected and caught most pollsters and pundits by surprise. Only Invoke and Tun Daim Zainuddin seem to have gotten the prediction of a PH win right, although with some major flaws (e.g. Invoke predicted PAS would win zero state seats). Merdeka Centre got it wrong (predicted BN would win with 100 seats) but Pusat Ilham got it closer to the mark (predicted a PH win with 100 out of 165 Peninsular seats).

Outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak in a press conference at 11am this morning, although not outrightly conceding defeat (not even a congratulatory note to Tun Dr. Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan), has said relatively clearly that the people have spoken and that “I accept the verdict of the people”. It is unlikely that he will be able to show to the Agong that he commands the confidence of the majority of Parliament.

11.35 million Malaysians voted in the country’s 14th general election. This is no mean feat, considering the mid-week polling day that caused major inconvenience. Overseas voters had to overcome late ballots arriving at their doorstep. These encumbrances led to Malaysians volunteering in a spirit never before seen, to carpool, finance transport and get votes back to the Election Commission by the 5pm deadline. It warms our hearts that we could come together in a show of great unity for the future of our children and nation.

Now, as at noon on 10 May 2018, the day after, Malaysia is in unprecedented territory. The first ever Hung Parliament in history, we anxiously await the decision of the Agong and hope that he, too, will ultimately prevail and prove that he has the best interests of the rakyat at heart.

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