Prominent social critic Chandra Muzaffar has disagreed with calls for a national unity government, saying a climate of great mistrust among different political blocs would only defeat its objective.
Instead, he said the recently announced bipartisan committee under the Covid-19 emergency declared this month would be more effective.
He said the committee should also be given a wider role once the emergency rule is lifted to address issues related to the pandemic and economic recovery.
“Government-opposition committees at federal and state levels, with a specific agenda of immense significance to the people’s well-being, will hopefully reduce mutual distrust and suspicion and improve interparty and interpersonality relations,” Chandra told MalaysiaNow.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had agreed to form an advisory committee comprising government and opposition leaders to report to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong throughout the six-month emergency rule.
Pakatan Harapan, the biggest opposition bloc, agreed to join the committee but said its first recommendation was that the emergency be lifted.
Chandra said a main problem with unity governments is the fact that they would involve political leaders preoccupied with positions.
“A government made up of such leaders will be fighting tooth and nail for certain positions. This scramble will not only absorb all their energy but also lead to more instability,” he said.
“Simply put, there will be massive disunity rather than unity within government.”
He said a unity government at a time of “distrust and antagonism” between political parties renders the case for a unity government unfeasible.
“There has never been a time in our history when the outright rejection of a political party or a political leader is thrust forward as a precondition for political cooperation.”
Several commentators including political leaders have called for a greater role for the opposition, saying the multiple crises facing the nation call for a unity government to ensure stability and minimise politicking.
But Chandra said recent experience had shown that politicians cannot work together within a single framework.
He said the Agong and respective state rulers could play a more decisive role with the advice of bipartisan committees.
“Since their role would be advisory, they would not impinge in any way upon the functions of the federal Cabinet and the state executive councils. Besides, since the purpose and function of these advisory committees is directed towards the pandemic and economic recovery, their boundaries would be clearly articulated,” he added.
Chandra said there would also be a more meaningful role for the rulers “as the fourth dimension of governance in our society”.
He warned that the pandemic would take years to suppress, necessitating a high degree of political stability.
“The last thing we need in the next two years is political uncertainty created by political manoeuvres and ousters.
“Such uncertainty we can be absolutely sure will not only impede severely our fight against the coronavirus but also thwart our economic recovery and impair the peace and harmony we cherish as a nation,” Chandra said.