Why A 'Unity Government' Sounds Good But Really Isn't

Ideally, it would put a break to the politicking. But is it possible in Malaysia?

Cover image via The Jakarta Post

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who resigned as prime minister on Monday only to be appointed as interim Prime Minister by the Agong, has hinted towards a 'Unity Government' void of any party lines

In his televised speech on Wednesday evening, the nonagenarian said that he wants a Cabinet built of capable individuals who prioritise national interests instead of their parties.

"I do not look for something that is liked by many. I will do what I think is best for the country. Whether it is right or wrong, politics and political parties must be set aside for now. If allowed, I will try to form an administration that does not side with any party. Only national interest is prioritised," he added.

Dr Mahathir looks on as he leaves the Palace on 24 February.

Image via The Jakarta Post

What's a unity government?

In essence, a unity government is a broad coalition consisting of all major parties in the parliament.

Usually formed during national emergencies, the concept is not a new one. There are over 20 countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, that have previously formed a unity government.

Now, the idea of a 'unity government' sounds good to hear.

Because, at least in theory, it would comprise of individuals whom the Prime Minister thinks are the most qualified from different parties.

Ideally, a unity government in Malaysia would mean that the political leaders from both sides of the divide might come together to work as one for the country's political and economic stability. "Ideally", OK?

In the Pakatan Harapan coalition, its two biggest component parties DAP and PKR's objectives are based on a just system that — on paper — benefits all Malaysians regardless of race and religion.

On the other hand, we have PAS, a party that has over the years asked the government to implement hudud laws and leans towards Islamisation of Malaysia. Then we have UMNO, leaning towards Malay nationalism, whose number of high-profile leaders are currently facing corruption charges.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that all these racially and ideologically different parties somehow agree to work together under a unity government, which is despite the major parties saying they don't want to work together — Dr Mahathir is against UMNO, PAS is against DAP, and Anwar's PKR is against Azmin's PKR.

So one of the ideal advantages of a coalition devoid of any of these specific parties might be that it could reduce rivalry for power grabs among Malaysia's race-specific political parties.

It could also — dare I dream — put a break to the politicking and corruption among ministers.

And as former chairman of Bersih 2.0 Ambiga Sreenevasan has been arguing on her Twitter, a unity government would provide "immediate stability" and would "cost less" than a snap election

Ambiga gave an example of Indonesia's Defence Minister, Prabowo Subianto. The former general is a political rival of President Joko Widodo, whom he appointed in his new Cabinet last year.

However, what Ambiga seems to miss here is that Prabowo's appointment allows him self-enrichment that the seat of the Defence Minister in Indonesia's Cabinet affords, thus quashing any ideological qualms and opposition he might have offered to policies of President Widodo.

Again, as I said, it sounds good. However, Indonesia is not Malaysia. And an appointment of one political rival to the Cabinet shouldn't be used as an example in support of a "non-partisan government".

In Malaysia — if the events of the past few days showed us anything — it is that our representatives lack integrity, seeing as they failed to stick to the party through which they came to power.

Additionally, they have also displayed an abysmal level of immaturity by acting in a manner that has left the general public feeling disheartened in the democratic process of voting.

Why a unity government might not work?

Well, first of all, if a unity government — or a "non-partisan government" as Dr Mahathir called it — is formed, a Cabinet in such a coalition will give Dr Mahathir the sole discretionary power.

In other words, it would essentially be a "Mahathir government", not beholden to any party, ideology, or manifesto, and effectively giving the nonagenarian the free rein to do what he feels is right.

Having absolute power means authoritarianism, which makes a PM unaccountable to people.

Secondly, this Cabinet may have the same people who caused the current political crisis.

For example, while UMNO as the party might not be there in the Cabinet, but politicians from UMNO will be there. Do remember that some of them are currently in court facing criminal charges.

What happens to their cases?

Who is to say that once in government, they won't use their position to quash their cases?

Moreover, haven't we learned anything from the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan coalition?

Here was a coalition of the parties that had more or less the same set of promises and principles who couldn't stick together when faced with the slightest bit of political uncertainty and succumbed to their greed for the grab of power — what makes anyone think MPs from opposing parties will stick together?

To argue that they would — after collapsing a government that was democratically elected to Dewan Rakyat in a general election — because they care about the rakyat is dishonest.

Dr Mahathir shakes hand with Anwar in Putrajaya on 22 February.

Image via Vincent Thian/AP

Additionally, as civil rights lawyer Syahredzan Johan has pointed out on Twitter, a unity government — devoid of a pre-election manifesto — would not necessarily face any political repercussions

Regardless, the idea of a unity government is not only unpragmatic, but it is also undemocratic. It takes away power from the people's hand and gives it to one man to act without checks and balances.

In this case: Dr Mahathir who resigned claiming that he is not "power crazy", but somehow still ended up holding the most powerful post in the country.

The PH government was given the mandate by the people in the 14th General Election.

To collapse an elected government because the politicians failed to stick to their promise about agreed-upon power transition and then claim that they want to save the country is basically telling the people that in the game of politicians and their individual greed, the people and their votes do not matter.

Azmin Ali, Abdul Hadi Awang, Dr Mahathir, and Annuar Musa at the Malay Dignity Congress in October last year.

Image via 1Media

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