Prime Minister Najib Razak would be well-advised to pounce on this window of opportunity afforded by Lajim and do what his predecessor should have done in 2008, which is to: acknowledge the watershed political tsunami and share Federal Cabinet posts with the Opposition including Hindraf Makkal Sakthi, the Borneo rights activists in Sabah and Sarawak and the losing voices at the ballot box.
Instead, Umno has unfortunately seen it fit to send a show cause letter to Lajim. Still, he has 14 days to reply.
Where party politics ends and good government begins
The principle behind the ruling party sharing of the Government with the Opposition is to know where party politics ends and good government begins. It will also reduce the endless politicking that goes on in the country between the end of polling and the holding of the next General Elections.
On a plus point for the ruling party, the Opposition will reciprocate the goodwill and gesture if and when it seizes the reins of power in Putrajaya come the 13th General Election which must be held by April/May next year and certainly no later than Oct/Nov in 2013 if Parliament expires without dissolution.
Bringing the Opposition into Government can be trumpeted as the formation of a Unity Government or Government of National Unity but not a coalition government. Once Parliament is dissolved, the General Elections would be a no holds barred affair. The ruling party would be free to criticize the performance of the Opposition in Government and vice versa.
It’s true that under our first past the post system, the winner takes all but there’s no reason why we cannot change with the times. The onus is on Najib to seize the moral high ground and acknowledge, albeit belatedly, that the Opposition drew in more popular votes than the ruling party in Peninsular Malaysia in 2008.
Fiji, a Commonwealth nation, is an example where the ruling party traditionally reserves some Cabinet posts for the Opposition. Again, this is a practice which we can adopt as a constitutional convention.
Assuming that Najib agrees to bring in the Opposition into the Federal Cabinet, he need not share 50 : 50.
It would suffice to reserve four posts at the Cabinet level for each of the following parties i.e. Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party (Dap), Pas, Hindraf, Sabah/Sarawak and losing voices . . . one full Cabinet post, one Deputy Minister’s post, one Assistant Minister’s post and one parliamentary secretary’s post.
Obviously, the parliamentary secretary’s posts scrapped by Abdullah Badawi would have to be brought back and the post of Assistant Minister created.
In addition, a modest number of other government positions, diplomatic appointments and GLC posts must be reserved for the Opposition.
Losing voices not heard in the legislature
One area of particular concern is the fact that the voice of the minority i.e. the losing voices is not heard in the legislature.
The losing votes should in fact be tallied after the General Election and any party which fails to secure even one seat in the legislature should be awarded non-constituency based seats if they can gather at least 2 per cent of the total votes cast.
Such an approach will not detract from the democratic principle that the majority have the right to rule but subject to the equally important principle that the minority have the right to be heard in the legislature.
The state governments, including the four Pakatan Rakyat-ruled states, should emulate the initiative taken by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) at the Federal level.
Check & Balance
At the Federal Cabinet level, Najib can ensure discipline through a system of checks-and balances. For example, if the Cabinet Minister is from the Opposition, the Deputy Minister can be from BN and vice versa.
The Opposition should not be pawned off with token positions or Ministries and not more than four Opposition members should be deployed to the Prime Minister’s Department. The four can be one each in the following positions viz. Minister, Deputy Minister, Assistant Minister, Parliamentary Secretary.
Needless to say, the Opposition must be represented throughout the Cabinet structure i.e. from the most senior posts to the most junior. There’s no reason why a 2nd Deputy Prime Minister’s post – for preferably non-Malay, non-Muslim — cannot be created to accommodate the Opposition although the Constitution doesn’t mention even one Deputy Prime Minister.
The Opposition should be left to choose their candidates for Government positions including in the Federal Cabinet. All the Prime Minister should do is to indicate how many posts are available for each of the components in the opposition.
Weaknesses in first-past-the-post system
The ruling party-Opposition amity on forging good government may in the process help redress the other imbalances in the first past the post system employed in Malaysia since independence.
The bottomline is both the letter and spirit of the Federal Constitution. Much of a written constitution remains unwritten just as much of an unwritten constitution has been written down somewhere.
A constitution is not so much about law but about politics. Something can be not unlawful but if it’s against the constitution, it’s certainly not lawful. A constitution is just the dry bones and what makes it work are constitutional conventions.
For example, the unwritten British constitution makes no reference to a Prime Minister or a Council of Ministers. In practice, the Queen appoints a Prime Minister by convention.
It would be unthinkable one day for the Queen not to appoint a Prime Minister on the grounds that the constitution makes no reference to such an appointment. With all due respect, her head would probably roll if the matter is politicised as it will be and a constitutional crisis rages.
In practice a Government is all-powerful as it can do almost anything except that which is clearly unconstitutional or unlawful.
The Government of the day can also “make law” by way of policy initiatives i.e. administrative law which of course is no law at all.
Those affected by Government policies can take the matter to Court by applying for leave to initiate a Judicial Review of an administrative decision by way of certiorari (to squash) or mandamus (to compel). The recent Bersih application in Court is a case in point.