The fallout from Latheefa's appointment - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, June 10, 2019
The woman in this controversy
Malaysiakini : “Elections determine who is in power, but they do not determine how power is used.” - Paul Collier
COMMENT | PKR assemblyperson Dr Afif Bahardin is correct when he argues that the select committee for major public appointments has failed miserably
to do its job. In my last piece, I argued that the noise surrounding
the appointment of Latheefa Koya as MACC head was credible, but when it
comes to politicians making the noise, it is a different story. Lim
Kit Siang's statement on the issue, while welcome and reaffirming the
spirit of the manifesto, unfortunately, does little to reassure people
who believe in the manifesto as a guide to institutional reforms.
also points to the failure of Harapan to make legally binding reforms,
blaming the old bugbear of lack of numbers. The reality is that Harapan
did not make this a priority, and LKS was more interested in taking
potshots at Najib than reminding people that one of Harapan's core
promises was constraining the power of the PM. In the Latheefapiece,
I argued that Harapan political operatives should be working on
reforming institutions – with bi-partisan support if needed – instead of
merely engaging in rhetoric that worked up either base.
February, I wrote a piece asking if Harapan really wants to control
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. In it, I went back to the
pre-election promises of the then Harapan opposition that they had a
mechanism in place to “control” Mahathir Politician after
politician reminded the base that there was a mechanism in place to
control Mahathir, despite offering no credible evidence of this.
Post-May 9, Mahathir played along, stepping aside when he was reminded
that he could not do this or that. It was all very playful and it did
not last very long.
While politicians have attacked this appointment as process deviation, the reality is that there was never any process, to begin with. Afif
rightly points out that this particular select committee had not made
any reform proposals, and the consequence of this is that even if this
select committee is briefed – on a fait accompli – they have no power to do anything about the appointment of Latheefa.
Syahredzan Johan (photo, above), Lim Kit Siang’s political secretary, tweeted:
"What the Major Public Appointments Committee can do is to review Lat’s
(Latheefa’s) appointment after it has been made, to see whether it is
proper and whether she is suitable, etc. "It will have no legal effect on the appointment itself, of course, but it's a review of government action."
politicians understand this. While people will blame factionalism in
PKR for this, what they fail to understand is that this not only a PKR
issue. The appointment of Latheefa was a provocative act, and while it
is important to understand this, the greater message is the
acknowledgement that Harapan has failed yet again to initiate reforms. William
Leong is one of the smarter politicians PKR has. However, this debacle
falls directly into his lap. This select committee not only dropped the
ball, they were not even in the game.
Leong going hat in
hand to the PM seeking clarification of the PSC role is laughable. So is
claiming that if the strongman does not give you power, you will
disband. All this demonstrates that yet again, it is an amateur hour in
Harapan. This fiasco has not only illustrated the
schisms within Harapan, but it has laid the foundation for future
unilateral actions, which the majority may not agree but would have to
stomach because the politicians from Harapan preferred to rely on the
public's hostility of Najib instead of actually carrying out reforms.
we are all to blame for this because we get distracted. Afif rightly
points out that there was no issue when the prime minister selected
Tommy Thomas. We were all too busy wondering if the royal establishment
would bow down to the demands of the far right than think about the
process of reforms to constrain the power of the prime minister.
I never referenced the select committee when I was arguing that Tommy Thomas (photo, above)
was the right person for the job, when I should have, because scrutiny
by a select committee and a public hearing of the candidate would have
been a check on the prime minister’s powers. Since it is always
about race in this country and the machinations of the “ketuanan” types,
I forgot about credible checks and balances and signalled my support
without consideration of the process.
In this case, it gets more
complicated. Supporters and detractors of Latheefa have been flooding me
with articles, tweets and comments about the various schisms in PKR,
and Latheefa’s role in many of these political manoeuvrings. It
does not matter which faction Latheefa belongs to (indeed there are no
political parties without factions, only political parties that are
better at maintaining party discipline), but rather how credible she is
when it comes to engaging with the system and her activism. Notice how
nobody is questioning her credentials, only that her “impartiality” is
in question when it comes to personalities within PKR.
think the fallout is bad now, with the PM’s unilateral move of
appointing Latheefa, can you imagine a select committee hearing on her
appointment? You should, because this is how democracy works. If the people we elect do not carry out the reforms they promised, how do we create this new Malaysia everyone is talking about? More
importantly, if we, who voted for Harapan, do not hold our elected
representatives accountable for the promise of reforms they made, how is
this new Malaysia supposed to be created?
Calling for the resignation of Latheefa and using ridiculous pleas, like PKR Youth vice-president Syed Badli Syah Syed Osman (photo, above),
to Latheefa to “prove her integrity,” is making a bad situation worse.
It is the ultimate form of bamboozlement. It shifts the focus on
Latheefa, instead of the reforms that could have taken place to avoid
this fiasco. PKR politicians do not get to use the “process” as a
sword when they have done nothing to ensure that the process is legally
binding and the PM is constrained by the legislative branch.
anyone arguing that the lack of a legally binding process somehow makes
everything kosher is as mendacious as those who are using an informal,
non-binding process to justify their opposition to Latheefa's
appointment. One of the benefits of public select committee
hearings is that, eventually, the factionalism within PKR would be on
public display, instead of the online bickering that goes on now.
Already, the various camps are flashing their colours, hoping to derail
the process and the only person who benefits is Mahathir, who comes out
looking like a decisive leader when this appointment was engineered to
provoke a reaction from the various camps in PKR. Rational
Malaysians should understand that a process in place, which acts as a
check and balance to executive power, is not solely aimed at Mahathir,
but at the next grand poobah who steps into the picture.
Mahathir always knew he could rely on a weltanschauung
that would put up with anything he did as long as it served some sort
of greater purpose, which in reality was neither greater nor beneficial
to the long-term politics of this country, but instead encouraged
toxicity in the national discourse.
The irony is that PKR, which
leads this particular select committee, could have done something about
this, as Afif rightly points out, and the narrative would have been
different if politicians did their job. As it is, the old maverick
played the game better, Latheefa’s reputation is collateral damage, and
now every decision she makes will be viewed through a factional lens.
takeaway from this fiasco is that Mahathir has exposed the reform
agenda of Harapan as a sham, and reinforced the narrative that only a
strongman can lead this country.