Maybe Nurul Izzah as PM?

By Emmanuel Samarathisa

IT is Day 3 of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s tenure as prime minister. Since we are pretty much settled in, let’s talk about the future. 

If there’s one lesson we can learn from an entire week of political circus and horse-trading, it’s that we are still obsessed with elite old men. More specifically: grandfathers. 

The entire saga, which felt like a long-drawn affair despite being only eight days, was all about four seniors who just couldn’t resist a power grab: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and Muhyiddin. Azmin, at 55, is the youngest of the lot but he is a grandfather, literally. 

And while these men played their game of charades, albeit a terrible one, we had to just sit and watch. We had no say – alas, we received an important lesson regarding the limits of constitutional democracy. 

Muhyiddin, the winner of that battle royale, said in accordance with Article 43 of the Federal Constitution, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong can appoint a prime minister who commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the Dewan Rakyat.

“In accordance with this provision, His Majesty appointed me as the prime minister. It was the wisdom of His Majesty as the Head of State in discharging the duty in accordance with the Federal Constitution,” he said in his inaugural address yesterday. 

So, Pakatan Harapan (PH) goes back to the drawing board. I’m not sure whether they will want to work with Mahathir moving forward, especially after Mahathir’s usual tirade of blaming everyone including “crazy” (in Mahathir’s own words) Anwar. 

“Anwar is always crazy for the PM’s post. He cannot be the prime minister… In the past, he had so much support. But now, people support me,” Mahathir said, hours after Muhyiddin was sworn in as PM with backing from Barisan Nasional, PAS, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and several MPs from Bersatu and PKR.

Yes, that is the state of affairs we are in and will continue to be if we are to rely on Mahathir or Anwar. For the record, Anwar was impatient, too. It was Anwar who went on Bloomberg to say that he expects the transition to happen in May this year. Yeah, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

Diehards and hopefuls are wishing that some legal action can help turn the tide. Maybe a court injunction to stop Muhyiddin from entering the Prime Minister’s Office. He has already clocked in. And any legal drama as of now will remain a drama. 

The reality is, Muhyiddin is in a sweet spot to hold office until the next general election in 2023. PH might push for a vote of no confidence but that will be moot given our parliamentarians’ (MPs) appetite for party-hopping. 

So it’s back to the drawing board for PH. And at this stage, I’d like to moot an obvious but painfully difficult strategy: field the younger and more capable MPs to lead PH and the reform agenda, whatever that means. 

This includes pushing someone younger as prime minister. That person, I believe, who would do us good is Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar. She has been active in politics since 2008 debuting as Lembah Pantai MP. She was then 27 years old. And she took on an Umno heavyweight, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. 

She understands the game well. She knows what it means to be a victim of draconian laws when her father, Anwar, was sacked as deputy prime minister and detained without trial. And she understands what it means to set aside a painful history for the bigger picture. In 2017, she met with Mahathir at London to convince him to stay on, amid tensions over PH’s leadership line up.

“I think my mission at the time, my purpose was to ensure the coalition remained intact, and to do so we needed to ensure there were compromises, and several degrees of engagement,” she told Malay Mail on June 13, 2018.

More importantly, she doesn’t have the baggage of the old but acts as a perfect bridge between the old and new. And she has all the credentials to boot. She has the right persona and has worked with voters from both urban and rural areas, from the rich to the poor. She also has mass appeal, someone who can be accepted by all races and political leanings.  

She can be a bit strong-willed. She has insisted on not returning to active politics but instead decided to serve as a backbencher. She is now completing her final term as a backbencher.

But she is a woman of our times. She is not too young to be PM. She is now 39 years old. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is 39 as well. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is 42. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is 33. 

Also, she can perform well if her father Anwar exits from active politics. Anwar has to go. His time is up. Even Merdeka Centre flagged that Anwar is not popular among the Malays. According to the pollster, his Malay support dwindled to only 13% in November last year

And from this recent political spat, we also know Anwar can’t command the majority of the House. Only 92 MPs, it seems. Mahathir, too, can’t command 112 MPs. So it’s game over. 

And it’s time to start anew. Nurul Izzah should be brought back to the forefront. And PH is not short of young, talented politicians. There are Yeo Bee Yin, Fahmi Fadzil, Steven Sim Chee Keong, Liew Chin Tong and Rafizi Ramli. 

So, there’s no excuse for PH to fumble this time. It’s time to get on with the programme. 

But you may ask: How can we push for such changes, given that backdoor governments can be formed, and politicians can just appoint whomever they want to be PM or to run for this constituency?

To that, I say, it’s time to get organised. Those of us who are below 40 have quite a while to go before we push daisies. We also have to share the burden of an ageing nation, something which Malaysia will be by 2030.

All the more the young, not the old, should lead and shoulder the burden of taking the country forward.

(Emmanuel Samarathisa is under 40 years old.)

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