What's Really Behind Dr M's Council Of Elders Plan?

Dr M wants a council of elders to guide the PM in leading the government. But why?

Cover image via ST

Dr Mahathir has admitted to mooting the idea of a "council of elders" to advise a Prime Minister, who would replace Najib Razak as it would allow the new PM to listen to different opinions.

Dr M made the suggestion to the G25 group of prominent Malays promoting moderation and called it "a necessary move" since a handpicked Cabinet would greenlight all of the PM's decisions.

The former PM, who was speaking at 'Malaysia's War On Corruption Symposium 2015' in Bangsar on 11 November, told reporters that:

"In the system that we have now, the PM chooses his own Cabinet, and he chooses people who will support him all the way. And of course, that means whatever he does will be okayed by the Cabinet."

"Whereas an outside council appointed by other people will not agree with the PM all the time. They can give their opinion. Maybe the PM would not accept, but at least he would hear other opinions."

At the same conference, he also said that his top priority is to replace PM Najib and that the move to reform the country's system of governance was up to the majority, and not him, to decide

He said this when asked for his response to a statement made by civil society activist Ambiga Sreenevasan on Monday that activists would only support him if he also pushed for reforms in the country’s system of governance and that de-seating Najib alone was not enough.

"My first priority is to get Najib to step down. That's why I joined the demonstration (Bersih 4 rally). But as to the others, it is up to the majority to decide. Not for me to decide," he said.

When asked to comment on the alleged "corrupt system" within UMNO, Dr M again defended the party, saying that the ruling party was not corrupt, but the people in it are the ones who are corrupt

“They were led by good people but now it has a lot of people who joined Umno because they want to get something out of Umno, not to contribute. So these people are corrupt.”

Coming back to the topic of "council of elders", Dr M was responding to G25 member Tawfik Ismail, who in a recent interview with TMI revealed that the group met with Dr M on two separate occasions this year, where the topic of replacing Najib was raised

Tawfik had said that during the first meeting earlier this year, he had pressed Dr M on why he believed that Najib's replacement would fare any better, prompting the former Premier to suggest that a "Council of Elders" would 'guide' whoever was appointed next.

Dr M admitted to seeking help from G25 to make a joint statement with a Chinese group in opposing Najib's leadership. However, he said he did it to lobby for a multiracial voice to speak out against the Government and not let the issue be judged along racial lines.

Tawfik said he could not accept such an argument, as it would be undemocratic to have an unelected "Council of Elders" dictating the Prime Minister. He said G25 was non-partisan and wished to work with whoever was in power, rather than attempt to change the government.

Tawfik, who is the son of Malaysia's second Deputy PM Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, said Dr M is obsessed with getting rid of PM Najib

In an interview with the NST, Tawfik said, "Personally, I think probably Dr Mahathir is someone who wants things to go his way. He is on a power trip", adding that Mahathir's legacy, however, is a legacy of "betrayed trust" as Malaysians were now "paying" for the mistakes made during Dr Mahathir's administration.

“So, I think he shouldn’t be talking about trust. In terms of his ability to do good and keep the trust of the people, I think he has failed in many ways,” Tawfik reportedly said.

An example of this, he said, includes compromising the Judiciary and concession agreements which are now burdening Malaysians

“He damaged the judiciary (the Malaysian constitutional crisis) and that is a big betrayal. Now, the judiciary cannot act as independently as it had before the late (former Lord President) Tun Salleh Abas’ episode,” Tawfik was quoted saying further.

Tawfik also blamed Dr Mahathir for the recent toll hikes, saying that the former prime minister had allowed and legitimised a non-transparent way of running things.

"Whose fault is that? Who made the initial agreement between the government and concessionaires?" he asked.

Tawfik claimed that Dr M had undone the work of Dr Ismail and Malaysia's founding fathers in his desire to cling to power, adding that the rapid Islamisation of the country is due to Dr M's policies

Racial issues only started when Dr Mahathir became increasingly concerned about “Malay rights” and began using the other races as a scapegoat to unite the Malays, said Tawfik. Malaysia's increasing “Islamisation” could also be traced back to Dr Mahathir’s attempts to counter the influence of PAS, he added.

Ultimately, Dr Mahathir’s successors were only striking out on the path that he had carved himself, said Tawfik.

“Najib may be the son of Abdul Razak, but, politically, he is the son of Mahathir.”

Meanwhile, according to law expert Dr Abdul Aziz Bari, a lecturer at the Universiti Selangor, a "Council of Elders" to advise the PM does not have a place in our Federal Constitution. He said that installing such a council would only worsen the system of governance.

Image via TMi

"I have to say that minister (Datuk Seri Salleh) Said Keruak was right to say that TDM's (Dr Mahathir) suggestion to have a council advising the PM has no place in the Constitution, which follows the Westminster system. Mahathir was basically doing what the Malays say 'tikus baiki labu'," said Aziz, referring to a Malay proverb, which means making a situation worse by trying to fix it without having the proper knowledge.

Aziz said control of a sitting government should be done through a system known as responsible government, where the prime minister is subject to questions and motions of confidence by the legislative branch of government.

Even Aziz, who sits on the Selangor DAP committee, warned that Dr M had a "habit of tampering the system" and that one of his biggest disservice to the nation was the emasculation of Parliament, including abolishing an independent Parliamentary service in 1993

Aziz also said that in 1982, the country's longest-serving prime minister placed a non-elected Speaker in the Dewan Rakyat – Tun Mohamed Zahir Ismail, a retired high court judge. He reminded the public that Zahir was also chairman of the tribunal which dismissed former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas from office in 1988.

Aziz added that before Dr Mahathir became prime minister in 1982, the attorney-general would sit in the Dewan Rakyat and be subjected to questions from lawmakers. But Dr Mahathir discontinued that practice and appointed a civil servant, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, as the attorney-general, said Aziz.

"These are some of the changes introduced by Dr Mahathir that had systematically weakened the checks and balances system, and this has frustrated all the initiatives to bring those responsible in the 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) scandal to book," said Aziz.

While it's said that Dr M's plan to have a "Council of Elders" is unconstitutional, another thing that's out in the open is that how determined Dr M is to continue to have a say in the running of the Government, despite stepping down as PM. Furthermore, if his plan succeeds, there is little doubt that Dr M will be calling the shots.

Image via ST

Previously, UMNO stalwart and Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, fondly known as Ku Li, painted a bleak picture of Malaysia:

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