Just a week ago Malaysia could hold its head up high in the community of nations as a progressing state – a place to do business after having plummeted down the corruption tables and press freedom indexes over recent years.
Thanks to a peaceful transition of power through general elections a corrupt government had been replaced by a reforming coalition with an agenda for law and order.
Then a coup attempt took place. It has emerged that a complex web of plotting, that was none too surprising on the part of establishment kleptocrats facing now trial, had successfully exploited the usual tensions within party politics to break away an ambitious duo of politicians to disrupt the ruling coalition and try to seize back power.
Now, thanks to the playing out of those events the Sultan a week later finds himself inviting a rebel, who is not even the legitimate leader of his own party, to form a government out of a raft of minority parties whose leading lights include some of the most famously disreputable alleged criminals in the world and some of the most backward and extreme religious bigots in Asia.
The first action of this proposed government is likely to be the appointment of a new Attorney General who will bring to a crashing halt a series of grand kleptocracy trials, which for the past two years have been conducted with scrupulous due process by the now rejected PH coalition government.
News bulletins across the world will cover how the crooks of 1MDB have been allowed off the hook, thanks to a blatant Malaysian government coup apparently supported by the establishment.
The Sultan must surely have paused to consider the consequences of endorsing such an outcome. The gravity of such lack of credibility has been emphasised by the awful reality that has emerged over the past hours over the lack of genuine legitimacy on the part of his choice of designated PM8, a politician who simply does not command the majority backing needed to form a government.
The palace had spent the previous days engaged in counting MPs’ support amidst a series of changing allegiances as the coup played out. Yet, having declared on Friday that no side had the numbers, the Sultan on Saturday radically revised that assessment in favour of the rebel Muhyiddin, even as his former colleagues buried their differences and restored their ruling coalition.
That restored coalition of the largest parties DOES now have a majority of MPs and has gone on to demonstrate that fact. However, in the meantime the Sultan had seemingly inexplicably selected Muhyiddin just at the very moment when all hope of him raising his numbers above those from the day before evaporated.
In the following hours it became clear that a terrible deception must have taken place as Muhyiddin’s obvious shortfall in MPs were tallied up. The present layout of parties means this sick and obvious front-man in the job (Muhyiddin is in remission after treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer) can barely command the support of more than 80 MPs (at best). By contrast, the revived PH coalition under current Prime Minister Mahathir has at least 113 MPs presently pledged to him.
Rubbing it in, Mahathir yesterday showed the full list of those MPs and demanded a review of the palace’s choice of his unconvincing rival. The move further exposed Muhyiddin who has refused to show his own list of followers.
A genuine majority needs 112 and throughout the day concern had grown that Muhyiddin, who could not produce anything like the required numbers on Friday, had somehow produced a deceit on Saturday.
It is the constitutional obligation of the King to offer any party that demonstrates it has the support of the majority of elected MPs the chance to from a government. However, it appears the Agong has invited the wrong party to do so, one that is way off the required numbers.
How will that look to the wider world?
Is there a hope on the part of the ‘Coup Coalition’ of minority parties that with the chance now offered to form a government they will be able to beg, bribe and steal MPs to pack their benches?
You bet there is, but will they succeed? If they do not the former prime minister Najib Razak (who is seeking by hook or crook to get off scores of charges for outrageous theft) is crowing publicly on Facebook that the people behind Muhyiddin plan to use his dubiously acquired PM8 position to seek to dissolve Parliament and call an election.
Clearly, they prefer this opportunity to export popular anger and chaos in untimely elections rather than offer the majority a chance to take back control of government. For them this coup is about over-turning the disastrous outcome of GE14 for themselves.
Could the Sultan countenance such abuses of his own duty to offer the majority its right to form a government? What about the right of the electorate to the government of their choice? And how would it look to the outside world were such an agenda driven by famous criminals to proceed?
In the run up to this crisis there has been another way that wealthy disruptors have sought to destabilise a government that was bringing criminal charges against so many of them.
Toxic nationalism spread through social media has been the shock global development of the past through years and this tool has been blatantly employed for months in Malaysia, in order to build fear and stoke suspicion against the reforming government. Against this backdrop an outraged electorate is beginning to become vocal against what they rightly see as a stolen election.
The Sultan, therefore, not only has to worry about an embarrassing and unstable proposed minority government but also the consequences amongst an angry and cheated populace, already made unstable thanks to the sowing of discord.
With such issues at stake he needs to be seen by all Malaysians to have made the right and fair decisions in response to this crisis, according to the constitution and the spirit of the law, over the coming hours and days. The consequences of failing to do so may be grave indeed on so many fronts.
Everyone wishes him well and much wisdom in that task.