In­sti­tut­ing in­sti­tu­tional hope

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AF­TER the elec­toral tsunami, the po­lit­i­cal vol­cano has been spew­ing cease­lessly with the lava of change. We barely have time to ab­sorb one erup­tion be­fore the next oc­curs: as I write, the loud­est has been the re­lease of Datuk Seri An­war Ibrahim, though the marathon search at Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak’s res­i­dence is on­go­ing.

Each event is ac­com­pa­nied, of course, by analy­ses of the ac­tors, the win­ners, and losers, and What­sApp con­spir­a­cies pro­claim­ing ‘ the REAL story’. The re­ac­tions range from con­cern to in­credulity that prom­ises might be be­trayed ( such as the con­tra­dic­tions on the Anti- Fake News Act), and from cau­tious op­ti­mism to out­right cheer­ing that other prom­ises are be­ing de­liv­ered (with GST be­ing set at 0 per cent).

Then there is the Schaden­freude of see­ing how once- mighty al­leged evil­do­ers and their as­so­ci­ates have fallen, pos­si­bly mod­er­ated by vary­ing de­grees of sym­pa­thy as jobs are lost and lives are up­ended, fol­lowed by guilt for even con­tem­plat­ing sym­pa­thy when re­mem­ber­ing the many more lives ru­ined ( or lit­er­ally ended) in their pur­suit of wealth and power at the ex­pense of the na­tion. It is for this that justice must be sought, though many will opine about where rule of law ends and where a witch- hunt be­gins ( have you ever ‘set­tled’ a traf­fic of­fence or ‘ sped up’ an ap­pli­ca­tion to a govern­ment agency for your fam­ily’s sake?).

For all the drama about the fate of per­son­al­i­ties, the pri­or­ity of fix­ing the coun­try’s in­sti­tu­tions must re­main paramount: in­di­vid­u­als mat­ter only for the com­pe­tence they bring and the con­fi­dence they in­spire.

Through this lens, the re­moval of in­di­vid­u­als who had aided in­sti­tu­tional dam­age ( par­tic­u­larly those who headed those very in­sti­tu­tions that were sup­posed to be in­de­pen­dent) is most welcome, the ini­tial names an­nounced for the cabi­net are promis­ing, the creation of the 100- day Coun­cil of Emi­nent Per­sons is pos­i­tive, and their for­ma­tion of the Com­mit­tee on In­sti­tu­tional Re­forms is bril­liant. Hope­fully this will ac­cel­erate im­por­tant re­forms such as sep­a­rat­ing the of­fices of At­tor­ney Gen­eral and Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tor; split­ting the le­gal and ju­di­cial ser­vices; re­in­sti­tut­ing the In­de­pen­dent Police Com­plaints and Mis­con­duct Com­mis­sion; em­pow­er­ing Par­lia­ment through al­lo­cated bud­gets, es­tab­lish­ment of se­lect com­mit­tees and of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of the Op­po­si­tion; and strength­en­ing the in­de­pen­dence of the Malaysian Anti- Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion.

In the ex­cite­ment, many over­joyed ac­tivists have ea­gerly of­fered their ser­vices to the new govern­ment. Many no doubt would make im­pec­ca­ble con­tri­bu­tions, but there must still be in­de­pen­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions to scru­ti­nise the new govern­ment if it de­gen­er­ates into what it re­placed ( by which stage those for­mer ac­tivists might have lost their cred­i­bil­ity). It would help if the dis­tinc­tions be­tween party, govern­ment, and con­sti­tu­tional or statu­tory bod­ies – blurred un­der the pre­vi­ous regime – be­come clear.

In their ex­cite­ment too, some com­men­ta­tors di­rected their ire to an­other con­sti­tu­tional body in the­hour­sand­daysafterthere­sults came out as it was per­ceived that the ap­point­ments of the Prime Min­is­ter and Men­teris Be­sar were be­ing ‘de­layed’. Some of this is due to ig­no­rance of the facts on the ground (for ex­am­ple, the 5pm ap­point­ment at Is­tana Ne­gara was never meant to be a swear­ing-in, but this is what the me­dia be­lieved).

There is also much ig­no­rance about the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions. In re­quir­ing the head of state to ap­point the in­di­vid­ual who “in his judg­ment is likely to com­mand the con­fi­dence of the ma­jor­ity of the mem­bers of that House”, no time limit is spec­i­fied. The au­di­ences at the na­tional and state palaces fol­low­ing the elec­tion were in pur­suit of this con­sti­tu­tional duty. Had they been rushed re­sult­ing in the wrong per­son be­ing ap­pointed, then there would be even more anger: af­ter the 2010 UK gen­eral elec­tion, it took Queen El­iz­a­beth II five days to ap­point the new Prime Min­is­ter, only af­ter it was proven to the palace that David Cameron re­ally did com­mand the ma­jor­ity of MPs. Yet there have been il­lit­er­ate pon­tif­i­ca­tions crit­i­cis­ing the ‘slow’ ap­point­ments, in­clud­ing sup­pos­edly in Negeri Sem­bi­lan (where in 2013 it took six days for the Men­teri Be­sar to be reap­pointed).

In the event, Amin­ud­din Harun took his oath as the eighth Men­teri Be­sar of Negeri Sem­bi­lan on May 12. In his Royal Ad­dress, Tuanku Muhriz con­grat­u­lated all elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and re­minded them of their duty to the peo­ple, state and na­tion with­out re­gard to party af­fil­i­a­tion, eth­nic­ity or reli­gion; to be lead­ers of hon­our and in­tegrity; and for the Men­teri Be­sar to de­velop the state sin­cerely and ac­count­ably while up­hold­ing its unique adat. His Royal High­ness also re­minded police, mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity forces as well as ju­di­cial and enforcement agencies to carry out their du­ties with­out fear or favour.

In hop­ing that they will, may this Ra­madan be as cleans­ing for our na­tion’s in­sti­tu­tions as for all Mus­lims.

Tunku Zain Al- Abidin found­ing pres­i­dent of Ideas. is

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