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  • Writer's pictureBait Al-Amanah

The Vibes Article: Shahrir on Umno, the shambolic PN, and what must happen after

Image by Sadiq Asyraf/The Vibes pic

The full interview article is published by The Vibes.

KUALA LUMPUR – For decades a formidable presence in Malaysian politics even when in the margins, Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad has been variously described as “imaginative”, “stubborn” and “outspoken”.

He held the Federal Territories and social welfare portfolios in the first Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad administration, and the domestic trade and consumer affairs portfolio in the Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration.

And now, he has been lacerating in his criticism of the Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin-Perikatan Nasional administration.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Vibes, Shahrir details his criticism, speaks of Umno’s “search” for itself in the past three years, and the institutional reforms the nation desperately needs which, he asserts, can emanate from Umno.

Eddin Khoo: Tan Sri, you have advocated Umno’s pulling of support from the Perikatan Nasional government, claiming in a recent interview with Astro that this administration has made “error upon error”.

This would be a perfectly acceptable exercise in ordinary times, but during a pandemic, where would this leave a nation whose principal preoccupation should be addressing fundamental issues of health, livelihoods and the well-being of the people as a whole?

Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad: If you know that the leadership has failed, do you carry on with the situation, which has now become so untenable?

Why are we now back to where it all started, when in fact we had done very well at the beginning? Where was the mistake?

We, the public, do not have all the facts, but we know the results. And with such results, I think, at the very least, if we change the government, we can get the facts and perhaps change the results.

We need fresh minds and ideas, and we can get this only if we stop this top-centric approach. Because there is an alternative approach that begins at the grassroots level, in which the state governments and local authorities have a role to play.

The local authorities started out as health and sanitation boards with responsibility for public health. So, they have the resources. At the beginning, if you had just combined and used them, I believe we would not be in this situation.

Leadership is not just about your dictates.

The principal mistake this administration made was not convening Parliament. Maybe it is not in the nature of his (the prime minister) leadership to be consultative, but when you are prime minister, you have to be consultative!

You can talk to other national leaders, but you are not prepared to talk to your own people? This shows a real failure in leadership where, in a crisis, you just want to drive something without building consensus.

You must get the country behind you in a crisis, and who else if not members of Parliament and the respective political parties? Because this is a democracy. It is not a system based on individuals.

The emergency, in fact, was not actually a problem since the ordinances created were specifically for the purpose of fighting Covid-19. The biggest mistake was not allowing Parliament to convene.

In a time of crisis, a leadership that is not consultative, and not open to other ideas and other perspectives, is no leadership at all.

EK: If this crisis is to be managed and a transition of leadership required, it must be done rapidly and with conviction. Yet, only two Umno ministers have resigned, and there has been silence since. What is this gradualist approach? Strategy, or is there a serious problem of consensus within?

SS: Umno is split in two, and then three – between those who are in the government, and those who are not. Those in the government, meanwhile, are split in two – the (Datuk Seri) Hishammuddin (Hussein) and (Datuk Seri) Ismail Sabri (Yaakob) groups.

What is clear, however, is that there is no majority for this government, right? And that is why I am surprised that ministers who took an oath on the constitution are still defending this government. They should step down.

EK: But these are the senior leadership, they are not non-entities, so it says a lot about…

SS: …the quality that we have. That is why I say, when Ismail Sabri holds his press conferences, I do not see quality.

They cannot even demonstrate that they understand what the constitution is. Section 43(4) explicitly says that the prime minister and cabinet must resign if they do not command a majority.

So, you are a cabinet member who is unlawful. And you are still there enjoying the benefits of the office. What are you waiting for? Your August salary?

For the full interview article, visit The Vibes.

Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad is the Chairman of Bait Al-Amanah

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