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Covid-19, from killer disease to reform catalyst?

Muhyiddin's offer, while perhaps due to self-preservation, may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to push through much needed structural reforms.

Marzuki Mohd Dom
2 minute read

Covid-19 has upended lives like never before, not just in Malaysia but the world over. Whether in terms of the millions of lives lost to this global pandemic, the toll on public health, or the devastating trail of economic destruction the coronavirus left in its wake, life will never be the same again.

Like other nations, Malaysia has not been spared from the ravages of Covid-19. One would be hard-pressed to find a silver lining amid the havoc and misery the virus has inflicted in our lives.

That is, until last Friday. In an unorthodox move, embattled Muhyiddin Yassin extended an olive branch to the opposition as the Umno-led move to oust the prime minister gathers momentum.

To get the opposition on his side, Muhyiddin offered to push through seven reform agendas which had been on the top of the opposition’s wish-list for the longest time. Never before had a ruling government, whether Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan (PH), offered to sponsor reforms so fundamental and far-reaching.

These include limiting the tenure of the prime minister to two terms, introducing anti-hopping laws, equal funding for government and opposition MPs and a more equitable distribution of chairmanship in Parliamentary select committees. These are groundbreaking reforms, not just window-dressing exercises.

In other words, the pandemic, once used as a cover for the Muhyiddin administration to justify emergency rule, has now precipitated efforts for ground-breaking reforms as all sides seek to avoid a snap poll amid the raging pandemic.

Muhyiddin’s offer may be due to self-preservation after having lost majority support in the Dewan Rakyat following several Umno MPs withdrawing their backing for him. But are we going to reject bipartisan systemic reforms just because we do not wish to throw a political lifeline to Muhyiddin?

This may well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to push through structural reforms that will lay the foundations to combat the corruption and poor governance that has beleaguered this nation for far too long. For once, functional check-and-balance mechanisms, youth empowerment and a departure from identity politics look within reach. Even PH did not push for these during its 20-month stay in Putrajaya.

Whether Muhyiddin survives politically if we push through this bipartisan reform is incidental. Too much is at stake because unless our institutions are robust and unassailable, we will continue to be subjected to rule by law, not rule of law.

For some 18 months now, Covid-19 has been nothing but dark clouds enveloping Malaysians with anguish and sorrow. But now, there is a silver lining in the form of the real changes that this country badly needs. It is up to us whether to embrace this opportunity or let it slip through our fingers.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.