Race and religion, Umno Supreme Council member Johari Ghani said yesterday, should not be a factor when it comes to forming a government. I agree with him.
Right now, only two factors should be considered: unity and effectiveness.
We want a government that is inclusive and will be able to bring everyone together and we need a government that will be able to effectively deal with economic headwinds slamming the nation.
People are suffering due to the rising cost of living and the public wants a government that can rein in rising prices, or help those suffering in some other way, and ensure stability. People have no time to even think of prosperity for now, as many lower income and middle income Malaysians are finding it difficult to manage their finances.
According to a survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center in October, 74% of Malaysians identified “economic concerns” as the country’s biggest problem. They are worried about inflation and the economy.
The need of the hour is a strong and stable government that can effectively handle the economy.
Malaysia has seen three prime ministers and the collapse of two coalitions because of power struggles among factions since 2018 and Malaysians do not want to see more of the same.
As neither Pakatan Harapan nor Perikatan Nasional has a simple majority, there is a need for a broader coalition of parties.
This is why, I believe, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, requested PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim and PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin to form a unity government together. However, Muhyiddin turned it down.
So, the King is meeting MPs from Barisan Nasional and other parties as I write this to find out where they stand. He understands the desire of the people for a stable government.
Also, with the world economy expected to slow down and with some nations facing recession next year, Malaysia needs a strong finance minister in a stable government. Unless sound economic policies aimed at boosting local businesses, attracting investors and creating jobs are in place, Malaysians will continue to suffer.
Economist Geoffrey Williams noted recently that “under the economic management of the outgoing government and finance minister, Malaysia now faces huge structural issues: low-paid jobs, inadequate pensions for 96% of the population, high levels of under-employment, structural problems in higher education funding, a low-impact SME sector held back by ineffective policies and crowding out, an inadequate social protection system, low domestic private investment and foreign direct investment, a lack of agility and competitiveness, and cartels, monopolies, and corruption in major economic sectors and of course in foreign worker recruitment”.
That may be a mouthful but it does reflect the seriousness of the major problems facing the nation.
A strong government can be expected to better handle the federal debt which stood at RM979.814 billion last year, much more than the RM879.56 billion in 2020. The increase in federal debt caused the government’s overall liability in 2021 to be at RM1.3 trillion, or 84% of GDP.
Given the circumstances, and since PH has the highest number of MPs, a unity government made up of PH, BN and parties from Sabah and Sarawak would be welcomed by the people.
They should be able to pool the best talents from among them to steer the country out of the present situation and prepare it to face the predicted more difficult times in 2023.
It will certainly bring about stability and confidence. And certainly, the stocks of all these parties will go up in the eyes of the voting public as they would be seen as putting the interest of the public above party or personal interests.
The stock market, too, will take this as a positive sign. As will investors and businessmen. Businessmen want stability and prefer those who promote market growth at the helm of any country.
In this sense, the likes of Anwar, who was finance minister for eight years in the 1990s, and Johari, who served as second finance minister under a BN government, working together in a unity government will certainly add to business confidence.
The other option is for BN and the Sabah and Sarawak parties to team up with PN. But if PN were to form the government, it will take a long time for businessmen and foreign investors to warm up because of PAS, an Islamic party known to push conservative or traditionalist views and policies. Investors will adopt a wait and see attitude before committing themselves and their millions or billions.
Malaysia cannot afford to wait as people are suffering.