Is a unity government in Malaysia formed by Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional still possible?
While a PH-PN government may be a possibility, it is not necessarily the best option, given that they may not be inclined towards unity, said one expert.
SINGAPORE: A unity government in Malaysia between Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) is possible, but both sides would need to compromise on key issues, an expert said on Wednesday (Nov 23).
Such a union was proposed by Malaysia’s king as a solution to the political impasse the country faces following its 15th General Election. While PN’s Muhyddin Yassin has so far publicly rejected the idea, “in politics, all things are possible” said Professor of Political Science from University at Albany Meredith Weiss.
“The lure of being in government is of course a very strong one especially given the extent of fiscal centralisation in Malaysia and the ways in which the system has been skewed over the years to benefit those who are in government far above those in opposition,” she told CNA938’s Asia First.
She added that the king pushing for such a resolution could have some “independent sway”.
Prof Weiss, who also spoke to CNA’s Asia First, also said that while a PH-PN government may be a possibility, it is not necessarily the best option, given that they may not be inclined towards unity.
“A unity government inclusive of all the parties would really simply replicate the current stalemate but make that the governing model and I don't see how that would necessarily move Malaysia much further along,” she said.
A better outcome might be having a minority government with a Memorandum of Understanding, something similar to the confidence and supply agreement type of a negotiation under caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri, she said.
The two coalitions won the greatest number of seats in the election, but not enough to form a simple majority individually, resulting in a hung parliament.
They were also not able to garner the support of other coalitions to make up the 112 seats needed, prompting the king, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, to step in.
The king, who called for a government that is inclusive of race, religion and region, is “the most interesting development for me", said Prof Weiss.
It is important considering PN chief Muhyiddin’s proposed solution to the impasse was a “somewhat mysterious” 115-seat majority, she said.
Mr Muhyiddin on Tuesday said he had garnered the support of 115 members of parliament, more than needed to form a majority. However, his claims were dismissed by the king.
The role of the king could prove “pivotal”, Prof Weiss said.
“That the king stepped in, (it is) good that there is a figure with stablising potential,” she said. She added, however, that it is a “fundamentally undemocratic” force by its very nature to have an unelected constitutional monarch who is making that decision rather than having the parties work that out on their own.
The king has yet to decide who would be the next prime minister, after meeting the leaders of PH and PN on Tuesday. Meanwhile, all 30 Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians who won in the election have been summoned to the palace to meet with the ruler individually.
COALITIONS WITH POWER TO BREAK STALEMATE
Sarawak’s kingmaker coalition Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) said it is going to wait for the dust to settle before making a final decision on which coalition to back, which Prof Weiss said is “extremely wise”.
“They then maintain the upper hand as being the kingmaker instead of simply one of a couple of potential kingmakers,” she said.
“Moreover, by doing so, they make sure that the specific and quite distinct interests of East Malaysia are taken into account in forming this coalition.”
BN can also potentially break the stalemate, with 30 seats to offer, but this would require the coalition to fix its leadership issues, Prof Weiss said.
Its decision to withhold support for either of the frontrunners is “quite perplexing”, Prof Weiss said, adding that it may reflect infighting within BN, which there has been speculation about.
She noted that immediately after the election, some called for Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to step down as the head of BN’s main component party United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and by extension, as the head of BN.
“We've had really conflicting messages all through the last couple of days from BN about whether they were or were not looking for an alliance with Pakatan,” she said.
“I think it's really just a question of the BN pulling itself together and sorting out what it is that it's willing to accept.”
She added that the PH component party, Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a hindrance to BN working with the coalition.
“This simply reflects the extent to which BN rhetoric has demonised the DAP,” she said.
Another factor that may lead to BN breaking the stalemate is negotiating a better deal in terms of which positions they might hold in Cabinet, she said.
Prof Weiss held out hope that the coalitions would reach an agreement.
“My guess is that the BN will come around and will decide to join Pakatan as being the easiest solution,” she said.