Analysts laud unity government bid but doubt Malaysian politicians can handle non-partisanship

Julia Chan
Some workers watch a special live announcement by Interim Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on February 26, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KOTA KINABALU, Feb 27 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s ambitious call for a non-partisan government was commendable for its progressive vision, according to political observers who went on to doubt local politicians’ ability to set aside their differences.

Some said the idea of a government free of political lines and in which any lawmaker from any party could be appointed as minister was too idealistic.

Others also said Malaysia was in no position for such a political experiment when it was already contending with slowing economic growth and a still-unresolved coronavirus disease (Covid-19) episode.

Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah’s Tony Paridi Bagang was cautiously optimistic about the concept as a way out of the political uncertainty.

“With the current economic downturn and the Covid-19 outbreak, it's high time everyone of them to work together.

“It’s never been done here but anyone can see it will be hard to sustain because of the current interest groups,” he said.

However, Bagang said that in the past, similar “co-sharing” concepts had not worked — at least not in the long term — due to opposing ideologies and personal agendas.

“We’ve had Pakatan Harapan try before GE14 but even they could not sustain it with Tun Mahathir there. What more when Tun is no longer leading? It is doable, sure, but not sustainable,” he said.

“Unless of course, the parties or the coalitions are able to get their consensus and mutually agree on the terms,” he said.

Dr Mahathir, in his first public address since the political turmoil began last Sunday, asked to be given the opportunity to form and lead a non-partisan government covering the entire political spectrum.

He resigned unexpectedly as the prime minister on Monday following open speculation of a power grab involving his Bersatu, a rogue PKR faction headed by Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, and several Opposition parties.

After this fell through, Dr Mahathir still appeared to be on track to return as PM after nearly all major political parties expressed support for him to remain.

Barisan Nasional, PAS, and PBRS have since withdrawn support for Dr Mahathir and rejected the unity government proposal after saying they would not work with DAP.

University Malaysia Sabah associate professor Lee Kuok Tiung also supported the notion of a non-partisan administration in principle but doubted that it would be possible given the deep enmities among Malaysian parties and politicians.

“First, DAP and PKR will have to mend fences with Bersatu. GPS is also unlikely to want to work with PKR and DAP, due to intense rivalries in Sarawak.

“GPS still needs to pander to the state’s interest as their state elections are coming up,” he said, referring to Gabungan Parti Sarawak (formerly Sarawak BN) that is the state government in Sarawak.

He also said such a government would need to find ways for Azmin’s faction to co-exist with PH and PKR that accused the group of betrayal and engineering the collapse of the government.

Lee said it was unlikely that PKR could forgive Azmin and his supporters, and noted that Dr Mahathir has yet to say how he would accommodate PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who had been his anointed successor until the PH administration fell.

“There are a lot of considerations that are not straightforward that can bamboozle the Cabinet if not solved amicably,” said Lee.

“If Pakatan Harapan can persuade PPBM to reconcile, it may work. But you still need them to be on good terms with Umno and maybe PAS,” he said.

However, one political analyst linked to a national think tank said that the non-partisan concept could be successful if Dr Mahathir handpicked individuals with principles and integrity who could look past party affiliations.

“If individuals are matured, and can do the work without playing politics, it is a workable system. The role of running the government should be carried out responsibly and if they can look past their political differences, they can cobble together a good Cabinet,” said the analyst who declined to be named.

He said he agreed with Dr Mahathir that it was a viable solution in the current climate, which needed stability and focus in the face of real world challenges.

He said that such non partisan government systems are currently working successfully, albeit in countries with smaller populations as well as some states.

“But whether you can pick the right people, is another story altogether. But I think we do have capable leaders in all the parties. But leading and working together is the question.” he said.


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