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Voters left feeling ‘powerless’ in ongoing political gridlock following Malaysia GE15 results: Experts

The current gridlock reminds Malaysians of "the sort of powerlessness that lies at the hands of the voters to actually determine the outcome", said one political observer.

Voters left feeling ‘powerless’ in ongoing political gridlock following Malaysia GE15 results: Experts
A new prime minister is being identified through a process facilitated by the king, after no clear winner emerged in the Nov 19 general election. (Photo: AFP/Mohd RASFAN)

SINGAPORE: The prolonging of a decision on Malaysia’s next prime minister would lead to a sense of disenfranchisement and powerlessness among voters, say analysts.

Malaysians will feel that their votes have no impact on the country’s politics, which has been stuck in limbo after no outright winner emerged in the Nov 19 general election.

The current gridlock also has shades of the 2020 political crisis, known as the Sheraton Move, in which the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government collapsed due to infighting and a new leader had to be identified through a process facilitated by Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.

The king will be holding a special meeting with fellow rulers on Thursday (Nov 24), to see if they can solve the political impasse.

Perikatan Nasional (PN) leader Muhyiddin Yassin had declared that his coalition will not be forming a unity government with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's PH. The two blocs are frontrunners after securing the highest number of seats in the Nov 19 polls, with neither achieving a simple majority, resulting in a hung parliament.

VOTERS LEFT FEELING POWERLESS

Voters in Malaysia may be left feeling like their efforts to cast their ballots have made no impact on the country’s democracy.

Dr Tricia Yeoh, chief executive officer of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said the lead-up to the election and the actual polls itself, “took place in a rather muted manner”.

“Parts of Malaysia were already flooding, and so there was already a sort of disenfranchisement with politics as a whole,” she told CNA938 on Wednesday (Nov 23).

However, the campaign period rejuvenated voters who became more excited about the electoral contest.

“The voter turnout was very high, which means that many Malaysians actually took the time, bothered to return back to their hometowns, some of them braving traffic jams for close to 20 hours,” said Dr Yeoh.

Voters waiting to cast their ballots during the Nov 19 general elections. (AP Photo/FL Wong)

However, the mood since polling day has been dampened considerably, said Dr Yeoh, partly because Malaysians are being reminded of the Sheraton move in March 2020, and “the sort of powerlessness that lies at the hands of the voters to actually determine the outcome”.

“I think whatever outcome that takes place when the Agong (king) announces it, and appoints the prime minister, is not going to be a silver bullet that solves all problems,” she said, adding that it would just be “a compromised solution”.

The eventual government formed would “really need to work very hard in mending some of these broken bridges”, said Dr Yeoh.

One of the solutions touted is the formation of a minority government, something which is allowed in the Constitution.

Malaysia's king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is facilitating the process of finding the country's next prime minister. (File photo: AFP/Malaysia's Department of Information/Shaiful Nizal ISMAIL)

Dr Sophie Lemiere, chief executive officer of Kuala Lumpur-based political consultancy SoCo, said that such a set-up would not be very stable.

“The problem that I see here is that a very large part of the voters would feel that they've been robbed of their election,” she told CNA's Asia Now.

ECHOES OF SHERATON MOVE

Dr Yeoh drew comparisons between the ongoing gridlock with the political crisis in 2020, when the king similarly had to facilitate the process of finding the country’s next prime minister.

In the crisis known as the Sheraton Move, a number of members of parliament (MPs) defected from the ruling PH coalition, which had come to power in the 14th General Election in 2018.

The move triggered the demise of the PH government, and left Malaysia with a vacuum in the prime minister's seat.

Back then, the king met with all 222 MPs individually, and also met with his fellow rulers to discuss the issue, explained Dr Yeoh.

Eventually, the decision was made to appoint Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister.

Perikatan Nasional leader Muhyiddin Yassin said his coalition will not be part of a unity government. (Photo: AFP/File/Mohd RASFAN)

“Fast forward to today … what we expect to see of course, would be the options again being laid out from whatever the Agong has heard from the various leaders of the different coalitions,” she said.

Dr Yeoh also noted that Malaysia’s Federal Constitution is “not very detailed” in the management of a hung parliament situation, which is unprecedented in the country’s history.

MINORITY VS UNITY GOVERNMENT

Dr Lemiere said the king’s call for a unity government is a “very wise decision”, as it would prevent some voters from feeling marginalised.

Noting her surprise at PN’s refusal to join a unity government, Dr Lemiere said she hoped the coalition would end up working with PH.

“I strongly think that there is enough space in a unity government for PN to have very good portfolios, in which they could do very good work and try to push for their own interests and policies in the next term. And I think there is enough room as well for PH to deploy the full range of reforms that they wish to deploy,” she said.

“I would really hope to see finally, the two big headed leaders coming to terms and at least coming to the table to start to negotiate on what could be a wise decision for the country.”

Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim speaking to the media after an audience with the king. (AP Photo/FL Wong)

Dr Lemiere noted that forming a minority government, while constitutional and legal, would be difficult.

“We have seen in the past few years that most of the efforts of politicians were directed towards toppling each other. So a minority government will be in a very vulnerable position to be democratically toppled,” she said.

For example, the upcoming United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) elections could see a new leadership take the party out of BN, and join forces with another coalition to form the main opposition, said Dr Lemiere.

The upcoming UMNO elections could change the face of the Barisan Nasional. (Photo: AP/Vincent Thian)

“That could reinforce the opposition’s power to take on the government of the day, even more so if that government is a minority government,” said Dr Lemiere.

She said that reaching a compromise and forming a unity government is the only way that Malaysians can achieve the stability they have sought in recent years.

Malaysia has had three changes of government in as many years.

“We're now in a time where politicians do have an opportunity to show that Malaysia has reached this political maturity that would allow them to actually discuss and come to the table to form a unity government, as it has been done in all the democracies in the West,” said Dr Lemiere.

Source: CNA/fk(sn)
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