When opposition politicians agreed to sit down with the government to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), they ought to have recognised they were dealing with a government that was not democratically elected.
The fact our opposition politicians were minded to engage with a government that was devoid of legitimacy was telling.
The two sides executed the MoU ostensibly to facilitate political stability and transformation.
Although an MOU does not confer any legal obligations to either party, we have the right to know the underlying intention of the parties executing the document, especially the aspirations of the opposition politicians.
For a start, did the opposition even contemplate a recalibration of the embedded race-based socioeconomic policies of the government. Even if the opposition had that intention, Budget 2022 has failed to address this objective. As in the past, the Budget is ethnocentric.
If the opposition politicians had intended a needs-based agenda in its MoU with the government, are they still beholden to Budget 2022 despite the obvious inequities?
The most marginalised communities are still wallowing in the low and middle-income trap; what more, the vast population seeking a living in the informal sector. The most vulnerable do not have adequate social security protection, except for the grossly insufficient ad hoc handouts dished out by the state.
Budget 2022 could at least have addressed the enhancement of the minimum wage, let alone migrating to a living wage. Did the opposition seek a transformation of the low and middle-wage ecosystem so prevalent in the country?
The Employees Provident Fund admitted that only about 3% of private sector workers can afford to retire as the rest have insufficient old age-savings.
Did the opposition even think of an old age social security protection scheme when they entered negotiations with the government on the MoU? Such fundamental issues ought to have been part of the bargaining process.
Sadly, the opposition leadership seems to have taken a broad-based approach to so-called parliamentary reforms, as opposed to a holistic transformation of the socioeconomic and political eco-system of the nation. They have missed the forest for the trees.
As we understand, a point of understanding between the opposition and the government was the need for a law to curb party defections. But even before the ink could dry, we witnessed the unthinkable: PKR and Amanah embracing those who jumped ship in Malacca!
Given its bargaining strength, opposition leaders ought to have raised a long list of socioeconomic and political reforms, when they entered the MoU. Unfortunately, those pressing concerns were not prioritised.
Instead, the MoU neglected to address the essential issues confronting the nation – no thanks to the opposition leadership’s inability to leverage on the government’s fragile bargaining position.
This was a missed opportunity to attempt a progressive political and socioeconomic transformation of the nation.
K Veeriah is a veteran trade unionist based in Bukit Mertajam in Penang