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Can there be a national unity government in Malaysia?

By Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 19 June 2013


With the perceived weakening of Najib Bin Razak's position of tenure as Malaysian Prime Minister, there is deep speculation within the country about moves afoot to form a national unity government.

Since the Barisan National's re-election on May 5, there has been a distinct shift in stance towards 'Ketuanan Melayu' or Malay privilege, at the cost of 1Malaysia inclusive philosophy. There is now little talk about the Government Transformation Program, and after a relaxed stance towards rallies by the opposition, authorities are now taking stern action towards Anwar's 505 movement with mass arrests of demonstrators over the weekend. Even Najib's calls to make UMNO more inclusive has aggravated many within his party.

According to political pundits, Najib Bin Razak is still prime minister, only because there is currently no other creditable and popular figure who could take the mantle of leadership away from him.

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If we go back to pre-May 5 feeling in the community, there was great anticipation that an era of change was about to sweep the country. There was excitement on the streets with an almost carnival atmosphere. But the result on election night disappointed so many people, where denial and claims of massive cheating showed that many refused to accept the result. This has left the country just as divided as it was before the election. Nothing was settled and politicking rather than governance is dominating the national narrative. Anwar Ibrahim is pushing the Government into a corner with his national 505 tour disputing the election result which seems to be directly challenging Najib to take action against him.

Today's political situation is of concern to many of Malaysia's top echelon of businesspeople, politicians, civil servants, and even members of the Royal Families. There is a strong feeling amongst the country's elite that Malaysia needs good governance rather than politicking. Many are very sympathetic to the concept of a national unity government, as a solution to this impasse, as it appears any election will not bring a harmonious result the nation requires. The idea of a national unity government is not without any precedent, as PAS was once a member of the BN back in the early 1970s.

Some feel that although the BN won through the first-past-the-post electoral system, the Pakatan Rakyat's higher popular vote justifies the opposition having some say in government. For these people, a unity government would restore moderate policies and narrative, and keep 'ultra-ism' in check. Some within UMNO, see the possibility of a national unity government as a means to maintain UMNO's long term survival, as the party to many Malays is an icon of political history and development. UMNO's participation in a national unity government would act as pressure for internal reform, something many members want.

From Anwar Ibrahim's PKR party, there are many, particularly those ex-UMNO members that see the party's participation in a national unity government would give it the legitimacy it needs to survive in the long term past the persona of Anwar Ibrahim. They want PKR to stand on its own two feet without the 'Anwar personality cult'.

PAS has been reluctantly romanced by UMNO many times over the years, but the party may favorably consider the concept of a national unity government under certain conditions. Many just feel that it's time to stop talking about race and religion, and address the real needs of the country.

If one looked through the blogs and even the mainstream media over the weekend, so many different scenarios and numbers have been canvassed. Two speculative scenarios exist. One involving Premier Najib himself and the other with a move by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Ku Li as he is known.

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The first option would involve Premier Najib Bin Razak making a move to bring in parties from the Pakatan Rakyat into the government, as has been spasmodically mooted over the last few years. Such a move would probably ensure UMNO with a much brighter future electorally. This would stall the Muhyiddin Yassin and Mahathir forces, and if completed smoothly, would sure up Najib's position as President of UMNO in the coming October elections. Such a move would also allow Najib to change the narrative from the 'ultraist' direction it is going, to a more moderate and inclusive one. Such an achievement could elevate Najib in status, which might create a very positive legacy for him.

However this move would also seal the fate of the MCA, Gerakan, and maybe even the MIC, as they are tossed aside for the DAP, PAS, and PKR.

The probability of any national unity government would hold many outstanding issues which must be solved before it could happen. This would include policies and corruption, where it is rumored the new minister in the PM's office Paul Low is shocked by the extent of waste and corruption within government. Determining a way for all parties to work through these issues could be big stumbling blocks to any potential agreement.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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All articles by Murray Hunter

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