Tuesday, September 28, 2021

No space for democratic vanities when fighting an invisible killer

There's no shame in admitting the ultimate reason behind the virus emergency.

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Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah recently nailed it when he pointed to the series of elections in India which led to an explosion of Covid-19 cases there, turning the subcontinent into an example of the worst-case scenario in the global pandemic.

Among others, he said that without a declaration of emergency, Malaysia too would have seen elections held during the pandemic – by any account a suicidal act in the name of democracy.

One such election barred by the emergency was the Sarawak polls which would have seen tens of thousands of politicians and voters from the peninsula crossing the South China Sea, entering remote areas and returning to the big cities, possibly carrying the virus along with them.

Such a scenario would have been no exaggeration. One Sarawakian who travelled from Johor to attend a funeral in Sarawak carried the virus across the sea and infected 2,693 people, causing 29 deaths.

In this regard, Dr Mahathir Mohamad deserves praise for his special appeal yesterday to the public to stay home during Hari Raya and abide by the movement control order. It is a critical call from someone whose views, especially when partisan politics is not involved, are still welcomed by Malaysians.

Yet we still see some playing politics even as dozens are dying on a daily basis, especially in calling for an end to the state of emergency.

Much has been said about the emergency and the suspension of Parliament and state assemblies, but whether for or against, neither side has provided clear answers to the public. Instead, they are more interested in playing to their galleries.

For instance, law minister Takiyuddin Hassan did little to convince critics of the need to suspend parliamentary debates when he said it was to prevent new Covid-19 clusters among MPs, especially as many of them are in the elderly category.

This is far from the truth since Parliament could still be convened online, as has been done in other countries. The difference is, those countries do not have a set of MPs ready to bring down the government at what is arguably the worst of times.

The truth is, the emergency came to stop elections, especially the nationwide snap election that had been hanging like the sword of Damocles over Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his government who have been leading the war against this invisible enemy from the start.

This is a war that gives no opportunity for those in power to score political points.

In a conventional war, it would be a simple act to launch a couple of missiles into enemy territory every day and concoct casualties to boost ratings despite the economic hardships and threats to lives.

With Covid-19, though, it is all about defence. Stopping people from leaving their homes, halting activities related to education, religion and a big part of commerce and, in the current situation, banning a huge vote bank from celebrating the biggest religious festival in the country is not politically wise.

Yet such decisions are based on data-driven justifications provided by the likes of Noor Hisham and other health experts.

There should be no shame in saying that the emergency was a direct consequence of the threat by several Umno leaders, particularly those in the court cluster, to renounce their support for Muhyiddin.

In a political landscape which, by all expert accounts, is marked by a lack of majority by any single bloc, this would mean Malaysia going to the polls to choose the next government.

Parliament is the only venue where the government’s majority can be put to the test. If it does not have the numbers due to a bunch of scandal-tainted MPs, it would mean changing the general in the middle of the war, not to mention many other bureaucratic changes that would follow any introduction of a new administration.

The current political landscape also shows that there should be no illusions about a durable alliance to form a majority that could last throughout the pandemic.

Nor should there be any illusions in the aftermath of what happened with Pakatan Harapan in 2020 that any government of strange bedfellows can last, especially when it has to impose unpopular restrictions to fight a pandemic that has so far claimed 1,700 lives.

Everything would still point to the need for an election.

The remedy, therefore, is the emergency which allows the authorities to carry out stern measures to stop the spread of the virus without worrying about being politically unpopular.

This is particularly true as the government has a fragile majority and, judging by the quality of MPs over the years on both sides of the divide, there is no telling what could happen.

As early as March last year, long before the likes of Najib Razak began talking about good governance to the amusement of those with a good memory, Muhyiddin had admitted that his was not a government that the people had voted for. However, he said he would do his best to care for them.

Like it or not, Muhyiddin came to power during a time of war, through whatever legal ways were available as an alternative to snap elections.

Like it or not, he has earned a reputation as Malaysia’s first wartime prime minister since independence.

That job does not require the strength of MPs behind him, only the strength of ordinary, thinking people who can support the measures to contain the pandemic.

Abdar Rahman Koya is CEO & editor of MalaysiaNow.

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