‘Politicial truce’ to benefit status quo, but is it what we need to combat Covid-19? Pundits weigh in

Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin And Danial Dzulkifly
·5-min read
Yesterday, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi called for a political ceasefire, and for the government to help and prioritise the country and its people recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Yesterday, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi called for a political ceasefire, and for the government to help and prioritise the country and its people recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 — The call for a political ceasefire in order for the country to heal from both Covid-19 and the divisive power struggle precipitated by Perikatan Nasional taking over Putrajaya has grown louder in recent weeks,

Following renewed discourse of the matter by Umno itself, several political analysts polled by Malay Mail conceded that the party and its PN allies will set to benefit the most from such a move, despite agreeing that it may also boost Malaysia’s fight against the pandemic.

“When all the politicians are on the same page, then it will make it easier for the government to implement its strategy, and the government no doubt will be open to suggestions from all sides,” Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s analyst Azmi Hassan told Malay Mail.

The geostrategist and professor also urged that during a truce, the Opposition lawmakers be given equal opportunity to table alternatives and any more effective methods for the government to employ during the pandemic.

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Oh Ei Sun, drew comparison with then British prime minister Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet during World War II, which had comprised both political allies and foes to pool their resources.

The concept had previously been brought up when former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad proposed a unity government right after he resigned following his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s decision to ally with former political enemies Umno and PAS.

"At the very least, as a gesture of political reconciliation, a government of national unity should be expeditiously formed, encompassing leaders from across the political divide to deal with the national exigency,” Oh said,

Oh said despite the ceasefire inevitably benefiting those looking to maintain the status quo, the pressure of shouldering most of the blame for the apparent shoddy handling of the latest Covid-19 wave could however cause fatal cracks within the incumbent administration.

“Whether it is fair to them or not, the incumbent government would have to shoulder a large portion of the political blame for the resurgent coronavirus pandemic as in the present case.

“Such that a political ceasefire could also imply a voluntary resignation of the present government to take up the political responsibility,” he suggested.

Yesterday, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi called for a political ceasefire, and for the government to help and prioritise the country and its people recover from the effects of the pandemic. The idea was previously mooted by his party’s Youth wing chief Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.

Besides Umno, Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman’s party Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) had first campaigned for PauseMalaysia earlier this month, calling for such a “ceasefire” following Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s claim of commanding majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

Muda had also called for no snap general election as long as Covid-19 is not under control, and both political divides to cooperate and make public welfare their top priority.

Azmi, however, cautioned that such a move would only be effective if the ceasefire applies to the current power struggle between PN and Pakatan Harapan, and is actually adhered to by both sides.

He gave the example of a similar proposal after the 2016 Lahad Datu invasion in Sabah, which never came to fruition.

“But again this episode also demonstrates that even at a time of crisis, differences in political ideologies did not permit both sides working together,” he added.

Similarly, independent political analyst Hoo Ke Ping also warned of such a move’s feasibility, pointing out that political warlords will still look to press through their agendas even during the pandemic.

He gave the examples of veteran politicians with their own significant power base besides those in the government, such as Dr Mahathir himself, PKR president Anwar, and Umno stalwart Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

“Who can control these political actors? I don't think anyone can; they tend to operate as they see fit,” he said.

But Oh on the other hand was more optimistic.

“Why not? It’s for a short time only, and all public eyes would be upon them to see if they mean business or are still indulging in bickering,” he answered.

Oh also suggested a bipartisan “unity Cabinet” with the specific task of handling the pandemic.

“Such a Cabinet would have to be a small one, perhaps less than ten members, with one or two representatives from the major parties across the political divide,” he suggested.

Additionally, Oh also pushed for a more holistic leadership in combating the pandemic, suggesting how current assignments of government portfolios only stifled the administration’s pandemic mitigation efforts.

“There is an urgent need to adopt a whole-of-government, if not a whole-of-society approach in countering the resurgent pandemic.

“So, political ceasefire is not necessarily a panacea for the worsening pandemic situation, absent much more robust, holistic, and convincing leadership,” Oh said.

Yesterday, Putrajaya recorded 732 new Covid-19 positive cases and six more deaths.

The third wave of Covid-19 spike came following the Sabah snap state election, with Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah attributing it to failure to abide by the standard operating procedures during polling and campaigning.

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