The making of the Perak govt

Sultan Nazrin has made it clear that the MB and state excos now work for him, the state and the people 


DAYS before the election day, Perak caretaker Mentri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad was a man oozing confidence. The 61-year-old former teacher and district officer was overheard predicting that Barisan Nasional, powered by Umno, will win at least 40 of the 59 seats up for grabs in the state. 

Not many saw the winds of change that were about to hit them, and hit them hard. Once the dust settled, BN came a humbling third in the state, with only nine seats in hand. The big winners were Perikatan Nasional (PN) with 26 seats and Pakatan Harapan (PH) with 24 seats. 

The situation was not very much different from the race for the federal government. With 30 MPs emerging victorious, BN was lined third after PH (82) and PN (73). 

It must have been a humbling moment for the BN state leaders. 

Then, came the moment to place their cards on the table. Who will join whom to form the state government? 

The question didn’t linger long in the air. On Nov 20, the day after the polls, discussions had started to take place, away from the glare of the voters. It took another day before it became clear that BN and PH would come together to steer the Perak government. 

At this juncture, the quandary as to who would control the Parliament was still far from settled. PH chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his rival, PN chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, were locked in a fierce battle with intense horse-trading going on in the background. 

Political observers were watching Perak closely, trying to get a sense as to how things may pan out in Kuala Lumpur. Perlis was little help in terms of direction as PN had thrashed its opponents to sweep 14 of the 15 seats at stake. The state government was clearly theirs. 

Pahang presented a story similar to Perak, with no single winner. Here, PN won 17 state seats with BN winning 16 and PH eight. 

The Back Story 

Last Monday (Nov 21), news broke that PH and BN would join forces to form a government. Saarani, who is also the Umno chairman, made his way to Istana Kinta to have an audience with the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah.

While it is difficult to confirm, political observers saw the imprints of the Perak Ruler in the way the government actually came into being. 

“In Perak, we are also guided by the viewpoints of the Sultan. The Sultan has spoken many times against corruption, and extremism — religious and racial. I think this has played a part,” said a political observer. 

The crux of the matter was the potential composition of the state executive committee (exco), the group of men and women who run the state. The outgoing exco was an all-Malay exco from BN and PN. 

“The Chinese and Indians make about 40% of the population. You would expect such a sizeable population to be represented at the table where key decisions are made. Diversity is the buzzword the world over,” the observer added. 

Perak has a population of 2.5 million people, with 2.04 million eligible to vote. Population-wise, Perak is equivalent to Sarawak, but trails Selangor, Johor and Sabah, according to the latest estimates from the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM). Bumiputeras make up 57.1% of the state’s population, followed by Chinese (29%) and Indians (11% ). 

When contacted, Perak Islamic Religious and Malay Custom Council president Tan Sri Mohd Annuar Zaini declined to comment on the state exco composition by race, noting that the Perak Ruler can only approve the members presented before him. 

Saarani (right) taking the oath of office as the 14th MB of Perak for a new term before Sultan Nazrin Shah at the Istana Iskandariah (pic: BERNAMA)

“The Sultan is the voice of moderation. He always asks for inclusiveness. He feels that Malaysia belongs to Malaysians, and as long as the major principles related to Bahasa Melayu, the Malay special privilege, the Sultan, as long as this is not touched, anyone is accepted to run the state,” he told The Malaysian Reserve in a telephone conversation. 

Indeed, Sultan Nazrin has on numerous occasions called on Malaysians to reject racial and religious extremists. 

“The future of the people and the country should not be handed to groups that bring racial and religious extremist ideologies,” the Sultan said in one such speech some years ago. 

In the speech, Sultan Nazrin urged the youth to value unity and respect the presence of other races, and avoid things that can hurt feelings, deny the rights of any race, or impinge on any basic things agreed on when the Federal Constitution was written. 

With that in mind, some political observers welcomed the BN-PH combination, led by Saarani, as they bring to the table a more diverse set of leaders in terms of race and religion. 

Honour the Decision 

Mohd Annuar was present at the state palace during key moments leading to the appointment of the new MB. He shared bits of what transpired. 

“The various party representatives came and presented their understanding to the Ruler, and they showed that they had the numbers. The Ruler wanted to be fair to the other side. They were also invited, and asked if they wanted to contest the number. They admitted they didn’t have the number to form a government. 

“Once they have an understanding, and the numbers to form a government, the Palace just gave its consent,” he said. 

The Perak Sultan also made it plain and clear as to what was expected from the new team that was about to run the state. 

Mohd Annuar said that the Ruler told them: “Forget all your political baggage from the campaign. You now work for the state, you now work for me and you now work for the people. I don’t want to see what happened after GE14, when I had to swear in three MBs. Now that you both have agreed on this marriage, make sure it lasts for five years.” 

Saarani may not have managed to win 40 seats, but the new unity government under his care now has 33 seats, giving it a comfortable majority.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition