On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A matter of priority

I CAN’T be certain if Malaysians share my sentiments, but I get indigestion from the intense politicking in our country currently. Most of us are emotionally and financially drained from 60 days of the movement control order (MCO), in which time most businesses have taken a beating.

We’ve bled billions of ringgit, jobs have vanished, salaries have been slashed and companies are upending.

The real impact, in fact, will only be felt in the coming months. So the worst has yet to come even, since no one can predict the duration of this economic meltdown, with the coronavirus still living a charmed life.

Malaysia is weathering its worst recession ever, while other developed nations are facing deep downturns due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz has said the recession has not only affected the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), but also contributed to a rise in unemployment.

“The important thing here now is how fast we can manage this (Covid-19) pandemic situation. If we can manage the situation swiftly, our nation’s economy and development could also recover.”

So the last thing the country needs, especially during this time of uncertainty, is more politicking.

While the rest of us are trying to hang on to our jobs, these politicians are preoccupied with trying to overthrow each other.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will continue to face the stigma of helming a “backdoor government” with the legitimacy of his government in question. This will be harped on by his critics until the next general election.

He faces a motion of no confidence filed by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, ahead of the Dewan Rakyat meeting tomorrow.

But the latest is that the meeting ends after the opening address by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, with no other government business scripted for the day.

Predictably, opposition members have cried foul since the no faith motion has already been submitted.

The criticism now is that the PM has made a mockery of the parliamentary process and fears he’s unable to demonstrate his majority.

But even if it were a full day or week, it’s debatable if the motion would even be reviewed, since government matters always take precedence in the order of the day.

It’s the government which decides and informs the Secretary of the House on matters of priority.

Many have forgotten that the Private Members Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1975 – also known as RUU355 – tabled by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang has not seen the light of day until now.

If the no faith motion isn’t addressed, it would basically be a move to stain the Prime Minister’s record, and if it does, it’s unlikely Muhyiddin will be defeated because he has the majority support, slim as it may be.

Opposition Members of Parliament have privately acknowledged this to the media, although they won’t go on record to say so.

But it looks like Malaysians and MPs will have to wait until Parliament meets in July to find out the true numbers as mind games are played by his (PM’s) opponents to cast doubt on his hold on the numbers.

The sitting arrangement tomorrow will be illuminating, though.

While there is ire from the opposition bench as well as voters who put Pakatan Harapan into power in the 2018 General Election, it was, in fact, the leadership of PH which opened the door for Muhyiddin to form the current government.

More specifically, it was Dr Mahathir who opened the door for Muhyiddin. It’s academic now but the truth is Dr Mahathir, for whatever reason, quit as PM and caused the collapse of his own government.

He had no intention of passing the baton to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as is widely known, and neither was he comfortable with the DAP. Politics is cruel and as philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli famously said, “the end justifies the means”.

As Dr Mahathir became more indecisive, Muhyiddin and his men took advantage of that door left ajar.

But over the past weeks, we’ve seen that door turn into a “revolving door” as these politicians showed little interest in Covid-19 and its economic implications and instead were more into who should control the various state assemblies by becoming Mentri Besar and Speakers.

While most of us wish that these Houses will sit for more than a day, I doubt important issues are on the minds of these lawmakers besides destructive politicking.

Look at Melaka, where these politicians couldn’t even sit for more than half a day.

Last week, it was reported that then Speaker Omar Jaafar, who is aligned with PH, was prevented from reciting a prayer, which was the opening agenda of the sitting.

These impatient state assemblymen lack the decency and patience to even wait for prayers to begin.

A book was supposedly thrown at the Speaker, which led to chaos in the hall. Omar had to adjourn the sitting twice, and still, it degenerated into a war of disparaging words designed to demean fellow legislators.

For a while, some of these state assemblymen seemed to have forgotten that we’re in the fasting month.

Words defy when a state assemblyman walks to the other bench to confront his fellow lawmakers, and relentlessly hurl words like “babi” (pig) at DAP lawmaker Low Chee Leong, who responded with “kau pengkhianat” (You’re a traitor).

It reflects badly on independent assemblyman Datuk Norhizam Hassan Baktee, a former DAP representative, who has a history of controversies. His behaviour is disgraceful and reeks of racism.

It’s doubtful this meeting would be meaningful even if it were to stretch for three more days.

In Perak, Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan assemblymen ruffled each other’s feathers over the state assembly’s position.

I hope that the lawmakers keenly paid attention to Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah’s speech when he graciously and thoughtfully put on record his tribute to the frontliners fighting Covid-19, during the opening of the assembly last week.

He acknowledged it was due to their dedication and professionalism that most of those infected were able to recover. He then led the state assemblymen in giving the frontliners a standing ovation.

The Sultan of Johor expressed his unhappiness over the spread of a “disunity virus”, citing the “turmoil and power grabs which have caused concern among the people and threatened the political and economic stability of the country”.

Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar said those infected by the “disunity virus” tended to lose themselves and forget the welfare of the people. His Majesty has certainly said it right.

Malaysians want to know our lawmakers’ ideas in dealing and living with Covid-19’s destruction and continuing threat, and the practical steps adopted to improve our daily lives.

We’re curious about their sense of charity stretching beyond dispatching food and aid to their constituents, assuming they even did that.

In fairness, the one-day Parliament meeting and the disruptions to the state assemblies would have deprived the more rational lawmakers from raising positive ideas and questions.

But I’m not sure if anyone really wants a fresh General Election because the 2018 polls cost us between RM500mil and RM600mil, and it’s safe to assume it would cost more now. Malaysia is broke and we simply can’t afford to burn that kind of money.

With Covid-19 still lurking, the last thing we need is listening to politicians high on promise but low on fulfilling their election pledges.

We are already busy fending off the coronavirus so we don’t need the addition of a political virus, which fascinatingly, never dies in Malaysia.