Hornbill Unleashed

November 3, 2011

Choose a better power-sharing formula

Awang Abdillah

Perhaps it time that Sarawak and its Barisan Nasional allies revisited the terms of their alliance.

Political parties have to adhere to the democratic universal law of majority rule, whereby a party or an association of parties that secures a majority of the seats (or at least a simple majority ) in the legislative assembly, namely the Parliament or State Legislative Assembly, will have the right to form the government.

The formation of the government where one single party can obtain a majority of the seats is a straight-forward case .

However, the problem arises when no one single party can garner a majority of the seats in the legislature.

A crucial issue takes centre stage when a government that has been formed cannot perform according to the expectations of the people and the standards of good governance, as expressed by the members of the legislative assembly .

Such dissatisfaction may lead to the members of the House losing faith in the chief executive or a member of the Cabinet or the whole Cabinet.

In many democratic countries there are a number of approaches adopted in forming a government in the event no one single party has obtained a majority of the seats.

Among them are:

The coalition system

There are a number of advantages to the coalition system. After a general election is held, if no one political party has garnered a majority of the seats, then two or more parties, among all the parties contesting, will have to form a partnership government provided they can obtain the majority number of seats in the legislature.

Such a loose political partnership is common in Western countries where minority political parties team up to form the government, without affecting each party’s own entity and independence .

Own check-and-balance

A coalition system of government has its own check-and- balance formula among its partners without resorting to the opposition type of check-and-balance.

In fact, the type of check-and-balance in a coalition system is most effective in bringing down a government that does not practise good governance.

Under the coalition system, there are a number of options that can be taken by the coalition partners and the opposition, and these are:

  • Tabling a motion of no confidence in the chief executive of the coalition government, and if passed by the House, forcing him to resign. A new president/prime minister/chief minister/menteri besar will be chosen among the coalition Cabinet members.
  • Tabling a motion of no confidence in a member of the coalition Cabinet, and if passed by the House, will lead to the resignation of the minister concerned. A new minister will be appointed from the coalition.
  • Tabling a vote of no confidence in the whole Cabinet, and if passed by the House, will force the Cabinet members to resign en bloc. A new Cabinet comprising new members from the coalition may then be appointed.

However, if the House does not agree, then the government will have to resign en bloc leading to the dissolution of the Parliament or the State Legislative Assembly and fresh election called.

But if the government refuses to resign, then option number four can be adopted.

  • One or more of the coalition partners will have to leave the government provided they can reduce the coalition majority seats to less than half of the total, which means the coalition is reduced to a minority government.

If this happens, all the coalition legislative members would have to resign en bloc leading to the dissolution of the legislative assembly and the holding of fresh election.

Viable provisions

Hence in a coalition system, there are provisions in our true democratic system that will ensure that an elected government will perform according to the rules and principles of good governance.

Furthermore in a multi-racial and multi-religious state like Sarawak or in a country like Malaysia where the interests of minority parties and races should be protected, the coalition system is a better alternative.

Since 1974 the state of Sarawak and Malaysia have abandoned the coalition system.

The leaders believe they have alternative approaches to achieve good governance in the context of multi-racial and multi-religious country like Malaysia. Their solutions were:

Party mergers

Party merging is possible where two minor political parties have common objectives and aspirations.

The first major political merger in Sarawak is the combination of the Bumiputra Party with the Pesaka Party in 1973 to form one entity – Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB ).

At the time of the union, the Bumiputra Party had 12 seats and Pesaka had nine seats totalling 21 out of 48 .The merger was forged while both were partners in the state coalition government.

The formation of the united front is essentially to consolidate their position whereby their combined seats can strengthen their negotiating power in the formation of a (coalition) government.

Though these two parties have become one single entity, each still retains its own internal party identity and seats. PBB now has 35 seats out of 71, one seat short of forming a simple majority government.

However, the merging of two bigger parties which have similar objectives and aspirations is more advantageous, especially if they have a considerable number of seats and are confident of securing a majority of the legislative seats to form their own government, without resorting to the coalition system.

Multi-party alliance

Unlike the direct coalition system where parties agree to form the coalition government after an election, an indirect coalition government can also be formed later where two or more parties forge a multi-party alliance before an election is held.

An alliance of political parties is an association of parties that agree to contest as a single party prior to an election being held based on the belief that they are in a strong position to obtain enough seats to form their own alliance coalition government.

In 1963, Sarawak National Party (SNAP), Pesaka, Berjasa and PANAS (the last two merged as Bumiputra Party) agreed to contest under the Sarawak Alliance Party in the 1963 state election.

They won and formed their own Alliance government which is indirectly a coalition government that ruled the state from 1963 to1969, while in Malaya the three main parties – Umno, MCA and MIC – formed the Malayan Alliance Party (Parti Perikatan ) to contest the 1955 election.

The Alliance Party formed the first coalition government after winning the 1955 election and continued on till 1973 before the Barisan Nasional took over in 1974.

However, in the 1970 Sarawak state election the reduced Alliance Party ( SNAP left in 1966) comprising the Bumiputra Party and the Sarawak Chinese Association (SCA) managed to obtain only 15 seats (12 +3 respectively) out of 48 in the State Legislative Assembly.

This meant they could not form the  government. Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), which won 12 seats, agreed to form the first direct coalition government of Sarawak with the Alliance Party.

With SUPP’s support, the Alliance now had 27 seats. Later, Pesaka Party joined in the coalition and proceeded to form the merger with Parti Bumiputra in 1973.

The national grand alliance

The Barisan National is a power-sharing entity that believes in the concept that different political parties of different racial and political backgrounds can come together to work as a team at the party, government and national levels.

They saw the possibility of power-sharing at all three levels.

For a multi-racial and multi-religious nation like Malaysia, there are many advantages derived from such a political approach, especially in reducing bickering and politicking among the parties, reducing racial tension, and having better coordination and cooperation.

As such in the BN there are procedures to join and conditions to withdraw as members.

Compared to a direct coalition approach, under the BN a party may find it difficult to join in and once you go in, it is difficult to leave, as this involves the three levels of cooperation.

The BN concept is believed to have been mooted by certain Sarawak state leaders due to their experiences in the 1960s involving the removal of a chief minister, which led SNAP to leave the Alliance Party.

This was followed by a political crisis in the 1970s and the state coalition government could not guarantee the future status of its partners like PBB.

Furthermore, there were many different political parties in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia which required better cooperation and coordination.

Hence, there was a need for the different parties to work together as a family.

Finally, the leaders of the various parties in the whole of Malaysia agreed to form a grand national alliance in 1974, dubbing it the Barisan National.

Domineering politics

Over the past 30 years, the people of Sarawak have given the state BN parties the opportunity and chance to govern the state based on good governance.

Unfortunately, instead of practising fairer and just power-sharing among the parties and implementing sound policies of economic development for the people, PBB has chosen to practise domineering politics.

Under PBB’s “domineering politics” the issues of power-sharing among the partners and good governance are ignored.

Instead, the abuses of power and corruption have become the hallmarks of the PBB-led state BN government.

Among the worst casualties are the state green environment and the democratic rights of the people.

What is worse is that the abuses of power and corruption continue to escalate by the day resulting in the state political power being vested in one man akin to that of a dictator.

And it is all happening right under the nose of the so called federal BN government!

All the hope of a better future for the state through this political affiliation has turned into a nightmare.

An unbelievable phenomenon now surfaces – the majority of the Sarawak people live in poverty in a resource-rich state.

Believe it or not, the BN federal government only watches over such a sad state of affairs, giving false promises of taking action against its comrade-in-corruption, the chief minister of Sarawak.

The BN representatives in the State Legislative Assembly are so dependenton Chief Minister Taib Mahmud for personal business handouts and positions that they leave him alone to plunder and loot the wealth of the state!

Forge new ties

Weighing the existing situation, it is time that state parties in Sarawak and in the peninsula chose a better power-sharing formula.

In Sarawak, there is no dominant race and political party that can claim the majority in numbers. Hence in Sarawak, the power-sharing through the coalition system and its safeguards is the most suitable option.

Under the coalition concept, no party has absolute power or designated power.

Parties can come and go and I recommend Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) and Pesaka to consider working out a coalition formula with PAS, DAP and PKR before the coming parliamentary election.

The Bumiputera wing of PBB only has 26 seats. It cannot act big in a coalition.

The coalition government at state level can still work with other national parties at federal level of their choice, or even the ruling party in the federal government.

Imagine if the many political parties in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malayisia can agree to form coalition governments at state and national levels.

They can have a big say in running the country without being too dependent on Umno and the Bumiputera wing of PBB in Sarawak.

1 Comment »

  1. Lim Guan Eng has done a marvellous job in Penang. He is his own man, whereas Koh has to answer to Umno for every move he makes. Actions speak louder than words – the change from budget deficit to budget surplus is good enough example. Surely it must have been due to sound planning and clear directions.

    After 50 years, it’s BN that’s directionless. At least we know the current Pakatan state government’s directions – no corruption, no wastage, no favouritism, no ‘datukship’ for serving politicians, and a clean, fair and open environment.

    It is no mere wonder that after three decades in power, Gerakan cannot produce the desired results which would have benefited Penangites. Eventually, Umno was even prompted to tear down Koh’s pictures. What a crying shame.

    Comment by Helmi — November 3, 2011 @ 10:52 AM | Reply

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