Malaysian Govt Signs Historic Pact with Opposition to Ensure Stability

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-09-13
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Malaysian Govt Signs Historic Pact with Opposition to Ensure Stability Upper House Speaker Rais Yatim (third from right) witnesses the signing a cooperation pact between Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (far right) and opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim (second from left) at the parliament building in Kuala Lumpur, Sept.13, 2021.
Photo courtesy Malaysia Information Department

Malaysia’s government on Monday signed a historic cooperation agreement with the main opposition bloc that is expected to ensure the stability of the administration, the third one in 18 months of political tumult.

The pact, which was signed on day one of this year’s first regular parliament session, says the parliament will not be dissolved before August 2022, which suggests Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who has a slim majority in parliament, will stay in power at least until then.

“The federal government and Pakatan Harapan today made history in the country by sealing the Memorandum of Transformation and Political Stability,” the PM said, referring to the main opposition coalition headed by veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim.

“This powerful and solid bipartisan cooperation is in the spirit of the Malaysian Family.”

Details of the pact are to be released on Tuesday, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, but Ismail Sabri said the pact covers six areas, including COVID-19 recovery plan, administrative transformation, parliamentary reform and judicial independence

Opposition MP Fahmi Fadzil tweeted that the government and the opposition agreed that “parliament will not be dissolved before 31.7.2022.”

That means political stability is assured for at least 300 days. Malaysia is scheduled to go to the polls in 2023, but Ismail Sabri’s predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, had promised general elections as soon as the pandemic subsided.

The pact is a result of a series of negotiations between lawmakers from both sides, which culminated in a joint statement issued on Sunday announcing the agreement.

King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah, who opened the parliamentary session, lauded the efforts toward cooperation as “mature.”

The agreement could also pave the way for significant political reforms, which Ismail Sabri promised on Friday in a bid to get the opposition’s support.

The reforms he had proposed included laws to prevent members of parliament from switching parties and to limit the PM’s term to 10 years. Local news outlet Malaysiakini said it saw a copy and noted these two reforms were included in the agreement.

Malaysiakini also said the pact states the Anwar-led Pakatan coalition would support or abstain from the budget vote if it and related bills were negotiated by both sides prior to being presented.

Fahmi, the information chief of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party, one of the parties that signed the agreement, said the Pakatan coalition would continue to function as the opposition.

“Pakatan Harapan will not be part of government nor involved directly in policymaking,” he said in a series of tweets.

“We remain His Majesty’s loyal opposition in parliament, to provide checks and balances on the government to make sure they remain accountable to the people.”

‘Ismail Sabri is not a reformer’

Political analyst James Chin, a professor at Tasmania University, said he is skeptical that the agreement would result in a big change in Malaysian politics.

“The agreement is a good thing, but it is not going to change politics permanently,” Chin told BenarNews.

He said Ismail Sabri was only trying to appease the king who had called for political stability.

“As I have said many times, Ismail Sabri is not a reformer. This only happened because of pressure from the palace, COVID-19, the ensuing economic crisis and the people growing sick of politics. Specific circumstances,” Chin said.

The king named Ismail Sabri PM last month after former leader Muhyiddin resigned because members of the largest party in his ruling coalition pulled support.

Muhyiddin had been named PM by the king after the elected government of veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad collapsed in February 2020 because of infighting following a historic victory in 2018.

Muhyiddin’s coalition government – which included the United Malays National Organization – was beset by infighting throughout its 17-month tenure. Since UMNO’s Ismail Sabri was sworn in Aug. 22, parties in his coalition – which now includes Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party – have also traded barbs.

Ismail Sabri, like his predecessor, has a narrow majority in parliament, with 114 of 220 lawmakers supporting him. If just four MPs pulled their backing, he would lose majority support.

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat said he sees a hung parliament after the next election.

 “This agreement gives major parties a chance to learn how to coexist with each other and compete professionally,” said Wong of the Jeffrey Sachs Center for Sustainable Development.

He said that if this arrangement works and multi-partisanship is internalized, Malaysians need not worry about their lawmakers’ party-hopping, or frequent changes of prime ministers in the future.

“While the deal revealed this evening might not meet all our expectations, all parties involved, including the public, should push for its upgrade in the months to come,” Wong told BenarNews.

“Let’s give peace a chance, even if it is not perfect.”

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