Malaysia’s King applauds political truce but MPs ask for more reforms

Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah speaking at Malaysia's 14th parliamentary session opening in Kuala Lumpur, on Sept 13, 2021.
Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah speaking at Malaysia's 14th parliamentary session opening in Kuala Lumpur, on Sept 13, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, on Wednesday (Sept 15) lauded the historic bipartisan deal that will keep Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob in power for at least the next 11 months, but several MPs say the promised reforms under the agreement need to be expedited and  widened. 

Under the Memorandum of Understanding on Transformation and Political Stability signed between the government and opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH) on Monday, the government agreed to enact reforms, such as limiting a prime minister’s term to 10 years and preventing lawmakers from  party-hopping, in return for PH’s backing or abstention in confidence votes or supply Bills. 

“His Majesty expressed hope that with the signing of this MOU, the political crisis ceases immediately as MPs will set aside narrow political agendas and unite to address the Covid-19 pandemic,” the palace said.

But in Parliament, Umno’s Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said urged the government to “fast track” her private member’s motion to introduce recall elections, which will test whether the electorate still supports its elected representative after he or she defects to another party. 

“If a frog wants to hop, it does not follow any set time, whether day or night,” said Datuk Seri Azalina, the former deputy speaker who had quit in August during the last days of the Muhyiddin Yassin administration.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin came to power in March 2020 after leading Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia as well as over a dozen other MPs out of the then ruling PH pact. His government, which held a slim majority, collapsed after close to 15 Umno MPs withdrew their support for him in August. He was succeeded by Umno vice-president Ismail.

Agreeing with Ms Azalina, Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal said party defectors should be suspended from contesting elections.

The former Sabah chief minister slammed his opposition colleagues for signing Monday’s bipartisan deal, saying they were propping up the very people who last year stole PH’s mandate to govern, aided by defectors.

Datuk Seri Shafie’s Warisan was not party to the deal, which has also been referred to as a  confidence-and-supply agreement.

“I don’t want, at the end of the day, if the government of the day fails and I signed that memorandum, the public will see that I also failed,” he said.

Asserting that Malaysia’s political instability stemmed from Mr Muhyiddin’s and other MPs’ defection from PH last year, Mr Shafie said this had led to politicians “playing with numbers (sacrificing) human lives in this country” during the deadly coronavirus crisis.

PH leaders, however, have insisted that the agreement is  not a “free pass” for the Ismail administration and that the coalition’s support is conditional on the delivery of 18 outlined reforms and improvements and constant engagement from the government.

One of the reforms provides for all MPs party to the deal to receive equal financial allocations for their constituencies. Previously, opposition lawmakers received a fraction of the sum allotted to government MPs.

On Wednesday, several MPs called  for the same measure to be rolled out to assemblymen in state governments. Ten of the country’s 13 state  assemblies are controlled by parties that make up the federal administration.

Malaysian United Democratic Alliance president Syed Saddiq Rahman called on PH-governed states to implement similar deals as “reforms can’t be centred only at the federal level”.

“These are reforms that will endure, so that even five to 20 years later when the government keeps changing, equal rights and treatment regardless of their constituency will be maintained,” he said.