The refusal of Khalid Ibrahim to tender his resignation as Menteri Besar of Selangor is disobedience to the express direction of his political party, PKR, and is without precedent. Malaysia’s system of parliamentary democracy from Merdeka has been based on political parties, or, more accurately, coalitions. The Alliance coalition comprising Umno, MCA and MIC representing the 3 principal races negotiated independence, and became the governing coalition in 1957. In 1974, the Alliance transformed into the Barisan Nasional (“BN”), which is now a 14 party coalition.
In the early decades of independence, the opposition parties were fragmented, disunited and never presented an alternative coalition to BN for the Malaysian electorate to choose. Whether it was PMIP (as PAS used to be known). DAP, the Labour Front or the PPP, multiple candidates stood for general elections to the benefit of BN. The establishment of the Pakatan coalition and the decision to field a single candidate in every constituency on the Pakatan platform nationwide meant that both in GE12 and GE13 Malaysian voters had, in effect, a choice of 2 coalitions. It is now accepted that Pakatan can become the federal government of the day.
In GE13, 1,744,620 votes were cast for the 56 seats in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly. Out of that total, 1,050,664 (60.22%) votes went to Pakatan, while 693,956 (39.78%) were cast for BN. Pakatan won 44 seats, and Umno secured 12 seats. No other BN component party won a seat in Selangor in May 2013. The 60% support for Pakatan in Selangor was well over the 52% it received nationally. But more significantly, very few of the 1 million odd votes who voted for Pakatan in Selangor voted for any individual candidate. Neither did many vote because Khalid was going to be returned as menteri besar. Instead, the vast majority voted for the Pakatan coalition. That is the political reality surrounding the Khalid problem.
Just like voters of Selangor did not vote for Khalid to become menteri besar in 2008 or 2013, the political reality is that voters have no say in his dismissal from office. Thus, the 6 Prime Ministers and all the Menteri Besar in all the states of Malaysia have been nominated by their party, and some likewise removed. The Westminster system that we follow is not presidential in nature, and personalities are not critical. Can one imagine any Umno Menteri Besar refusing to obey his political masters if they directed him to resign. It would be unthinkable.
Even the once mighty Harun Idris was removed by Umno as Selangor menteri besar in the mid-1970s. Umno changed its menteri besar in Terengganu as recently as May 2014, with Razif Rahman replacing Ahmad Said. Removal from political office by one’s own political party across the democratic world is never rational, but is an occupational hazard: remember Margaret Thatcher, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
However, the sad fact is that party discipline does not seem to exist in PKR. The 3 line whip system, which is essential for a proper running of a parliamentary democracy system, obviously does not operate with them. Anwar Ibrahim and other senior PKR leaders realized very quickly after GE13 that they had erred in re-appointing Khalid for a second term. Rather than just removing Khalid, as Umno and any other self-respecting political party would have done, the very complex “Kajang move” was set in motion. When Anwar was announced as the Kajang candidate with the objective of replacing Khalid as Menteri Besar, Umno was spooked. The prison sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal disqualified Anwar. That explains the candidacy of Wan Azizah.
If Khalid expects to stave off a motion of no confidence in the Selangor State Assembly, he would have to rely on the 12 Umno votes and all the 15 PAS votes. With his vote, a tie would ensue. But that would signal the end of Khalid’s political career because he would be expelled from PKR, and would become either an independent member or a member of Umno or PAS. PAS has intimated that it will finally decide on its position on Khalid on Sunday, 10th August. PAS has a straight-forward choice: Khalid or Pakatan, that is, an individual or a political coalition. PAS should remember that the voters of Selangor elected the Pakatan coalition, and pushing the state to snap polls just 15 months after GE13 is not in the interests of Selangor and its electorate.
In any event, Umno as a wily, experienced political party may not be happy to go to bed with PAS and Khalid. Any pact between PAS and Umno cannot be limited to Selangor; instead, it will have national repercussions. Umno is aware of such baggage. The 1974-78 partnership between Umno and PAS had left scars on both sides of the divide. Finally, one must not assume that all the 15 PAS Assemblymen will take a united position on Khalid, and public factions in PAS may emerge.
The golden rule in politics is that a leader who has lost the confidence of his political party must resign. Khalid can thus avoid all these eventualities if he behaved honorably and resigned. It is still not too late to save his reputation.