Minority Government 101
13 Aug 2021
1. Rumours abound, that PM8 is delaying the Vote of Confidence in Parliament presumably to garner support from the Opposition (PH) block via a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CSA) with the intention to form a Minority Government, thus replacing the PN+BN Coalition Government. I believe these are baseless rumours intended to sow discord among political parties.
2. Can PM8 seek Yang di-Pertuan Agong's (YDPA) permission to form a Minority Government? The short answer is NO. Not for now, not before PM8 resigns, and not before the possibility of another or a new majority block, i.e. Coalition Government 2.0 is exhausted. If there is a new majority block, it must be allowed to present a Member of Parliament (MP) who commands the majority under Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution, quote "who in his (YDPA) judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that house". In other words, such representation must come from the floor, i.e. from the MPs to the YDPA, and not the other way around.
3. Assuming that NO such representation can be made, only then the YDPA can use His Majesty's discretion to invite the former PM to offer himself as a Minority Government with Confidence and Supply Agreements (CSA). Since the Federal Constitution is silent on the option of a minority government, let's not be overhasty!
4. In a Westminster system, a Constitutional Monarch's role is not to form the government or to facilitate negotiations of forming a government. The YDPA's duty is to accept whoever can command the majority to his satisfaction. Consistent with the principle of Parliamentary Democracy, Malaysia is a government formed by the people for the people via elected MPs (FYI, Senators from the Dewan Negara cannot legally qualify as a PM candidate but they can be appointed as Ministers).
5. Typically, a Minority Government (conditional upon the signing of Confidence and Supply Agreement) is formed after a General Election. It is an option available for a formation of a government when no one political party can rule as a majority party. In January 2021, Tun Mahathir clearly explained the many shortcomings of a Minority Government which is often perceived as weak, unstable, and short-lived. A Minority Government leader will not have the ability to govern like a majority government, as he will lack the capacity to pass laws and bring policy changes according to his "whims and fancies" without the security of majority votes. In fact, the Parliament will be a Dysfunctional Playground.
6. CSAs are flexible and only assures support for an explicit motion of importance, such as the Annual Budget or specific legislation based on conscience and importance placed by a Party or an individual MP. Bilateral deals and crossing of floors will continuously occur as MPs can choose to be a temporary ally (by accepting a CSA) or opponent (by refusing a CSA), and then swap votes. This can go on and on and on and on. Who then will bear the brunt of this mess or have the biggest headache? Civil servants! Who then will suffer due to constant uncertainties? Civil societies and RAKYAT!
7. A minority government is vastly different from a Coalition Government, where political parties agree to form a government from the onset based on shared policies and agendas. With a Coalition Government, there is a greater demand for a strict interpretation of Coalition partners' expectations, set in a written agreement that includes terms for entry, exit, and procedures for conflict resolution. Coalition members can't "pull the plug" as and when they wish but they can do so within the terms of the Written Agreement. Unfortunately, the PM8 government never entered into such a written agreement with its component political party partners. Otherwise, the political chaos that we are experiencing today could have been averted (perhaps!).
8. The Federal Constitution states on the subject of Interim Prime Minister as Interim/Caretaker PM otherwise known as the "Baby-Sitting PM" allows the YDPA to appoint an Interim Prime Minister for a limited time only, with limited powers, until the next General Election. Interim comes into play only when the Parliament is dissolved.
9. We are in a very precarious situation. Now more than ever, the Rakyat needs a stable government, and MPs need a functional Parliament. It will be an uphill battle to establish trust again and win the hearts and minds of a broken system. We can start by ensuring that we do not compromise on a Check and Balance system with guaranteed Separation of Powers.
10. We are in unchartered waters and therefore, how this matter is dealt with is of utmost importance to us as a nation. Precedents will be set that will mark our history in upholding our Constitutional and Parliamentary Democracy. What is a Government without her People and what is a Leader without his/her Honour?
AZALINA OTHMAN SAID Pengerang MP