Time for PM to act decisively

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There’s so much going on the last few months, the last few weeks and the last few days, even to the last few minutes . I think these are indeed trying times for any leader given the circumstances and the multiple variables he or she needs to consider.  My friend Andrew Khoo who’s always kept a keen eye on the current affairs and specifically human rights related issues, gives a strong plea to the Prime Minister to act decisively. Read on to allow how all this unpacks from his point of view. 🙂

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Time for PM to act decisively

by Andrew Khoo Chin Hock

It is time for the PM to re-assert his leadership and act decisively in respect of 3 of his Cabinet colleagues from UMNO. Collectively they are undermining his authority, both within UMNO and the Cabinet.

Firstly, we have the call by the Minister of International Trade and Industry for the power transition plan (from the PM to the Deputy PM) to be approved by the rank and file of UMNO. On the one hand this is an admirable upholding of democratic principles. Matters such as these are too important to be decided by the leadership and ordinary members should have a say. Yet we must then go on to ask, who decided upon the power transition plan? By all accounts it was an agreement entered into between the PM and the Deputy PM, and approved and endorsed by the UMNO Supreme Council and the Cabinet. Now the Minister of International Trade and Industry is both a member of the UMNO Supreme Council and the Cabinet. Did he not raise this issue at either or both meetings? The Malay saying, “Rumah sudah, pahat berbunyi” comes to mind. After having agreed to the power transition plan as a member of both the UMNO Supreme Council and the Cabinet, why is he now further commenting on the power transition plan by saying it must be agreed to by the party rank and file? If it was discussed and dealt with there, why is the Minister for International Trade and Industry raising it outside Cabinet, as though he was not a party to the decision?

Secondly, even the Deputy Prime Minister is now doing the same thing. He too is a member of the UMNO Supreme Council and the Cabinet. Is he now denying he agreed to the power transition plan? Was the approval of the party rank and file never considered in his discussions with the PM, or at the UMNO Supreme Council, or the Cabinet? Or is this a belated attempt to catch up with the Minister of International Trade and Industry who appears to have stolen a march on the Deputy PM in the former’s attempt to position himself well ahead of the UMNO General Assembly later this year. It is unclear now whether the Minister for International Trade and Industry is a running mate to or rival of the Deputy PM in the race for the top job; it is likely the latter. So the Deputy PM now has to cast himself also as a “new democrat”, genuinely concerned with the views of the party rank and file. If not, he risks being too associated with the compromise hatched between himself and the PM and alienating himself from the party rank and file, hungry for change and a return to the good old days of Tun Dr. Mahathir.
What then of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility? The question that must be raised is whether these 2 are now political opportunists who, having agreed to one thing in the UMNO Supreme Council and Cabinet, now sense that there is a real opportunity of reneging on that agreement (and their approval and endorsement of it) if the party rank and file can be persuaded to vote against the power transition plan. And of course hopefully to benefit personally (in terms of ascending the leadership) from such a departure from the decisions of the UMNO Supreme Council and the Cabinet.
It is ironic that in the case of these 2 ministers, what has been decided collectively by the Cabinet is being totally disregarded for personal gain. Ironic because of the case of a third minister, who is appealing for Cabinet support for a decision not made by the Cabinet. I am of course speaking of the hapless Minister for Home Affairs, who is being inconsistent on at least 2 points.

On the first point, and in the case of the recent arrests under the Internal Security Act, the mainstream press had earlier reported the Minister for Home Affairs as saying the arrests were not on his instructions. Instead the police chose to act. More recently, as of today’s mainstream press reports, he is quoted as saying that it was a government decision. Even (which is not conceded) if it was a decision by the government, was it a Cabinet decision? From the comments by various ministers in today’s mainstream media, it is clear that the arrests were not a Cabinet decision. If so, it is perfectly acceptable for the Cabinet minister who authorised or otherwise permitted the ISA arrests to be challenged on it, even by his fellow members of the Cabinet.

The second point is that when challenged on this by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Law, the Minister for Home Affairs has called on the former to respect collective Cabinet responsibility. Yet the Minister for Home Affairs as I have indicated appears not to have appreciated that he cannot bind his Cabinet colleagues on the basis of collective Cabinet responsibility if there was no collective Cabinet decision. And while on this point, why has the Minister for Home Affairs been absolutely silent in respect of what the Deputy PM and Minister for International Trade and Industry have been saying about the power transition plan, where there was a clear collective Cabinet decision, and a clear breach of this principle by the 2 aforesaid Ministers? Is this a case of selective criticism? Or is the Minister for Home Affairs trying to protect his future in a possible new Cabinet led by the Deputy PM or Minister for International Trade and Industry, or by both of them?

And there is yet another problem with the Minister for Home Affairs. The Minister for Home Affairs has explained that the reason why only the journalist in the “pendatang” or “penumpang” issue was arrested was because the politician in question had been disciplined by his party, UMNO. The Minister for Home Affairs appears to have forgotten (or perhaps was never aware) that a political party is not the same as the government. I realise the Minister may not be very clear on this. So let me say that a breach of party rules is addressed by the party; a breach of the law must be addressed by the law of the land. Action by the party can in no way be equated to action under the law. He has clearly confused the two. There is no issue of double jeopardy here, where a person is punished twice for the same offence.

Instead of accepting the resignation of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Law, the PM should act decisively and call for the resignation of all the 3 other ministers. The first 2 for going against collective Cabinet responsibility, and the third for so obviously bringing the government into ridicule and disrepute by authorising or otherwise allowing the use of the ISA wrongly and for improper motives. The ISA detainees (all 67 of them, and not just the latest detainees) must be freed from detention, and either charged in court or released forthwith. The PM should use this opportunity to clarify once and for all that he is against the use of the ISA in this manner, and that the Minister for Home Affairs acted wholly outside his jurisdiction and certainly without Cabinet approval and support. The use of the ISA in this manner has embarrassed not just the government but the PM (whether unwittingly or, quite possibly these days, intentionally), so the PM must clarify his position on this matter and ask the Minister for Home Affairs to resign in order to restore some credibility to his administration. But can he afford to do so? Is he prepared to do so? Given his weakened position, the call for their resignation may instead grant legitimacy to their opposition to him in the eyes of the party rank and file and solidify the support around them either individually or jointly to challenge the PM for the leadership of UMNO, and hence the post of Prime Minister, now instead of waiting till 2010. However what the PM may not fully realise is that his resolute action, including ending the use of the ISA, will bring to him the greater and more far-reaching support of fair-minded, peace-loving and justice-caring Malaysians up and down this country of ours who are genuinely appalled by the blatant use of the ISA for purely party-political purposes. If he can do that, then at least some honour will be restored to his administration, and Malaysia (on the eve of its 45th anniversary) as a dream envisioned by its founding fathers (and mothers) way back in 1957 and 1963 can more convincingly be achieved in time to come.

And finally, with friends such as these as UMNO Supreme Council members and Cabinet colleagues, who really needs enemies?

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About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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