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Be pragmatic, demand competence first in governance

Parliamentary systems often become the fulcrum of political machinations and manoeuvring, as they give a higher degree of autonomy to political parties and members of parliament to navigate and change the political course of a nation.

This means a high degree of potential political instability that can manifest itself in frequent changes in the government.

The opposite can be said of the presidential model, where stability is supposed to prevail even if such a system has safeguards to balance the powers vested in the president.

In the United States, you have the midterm elections and in France, you have legislative elections that are separate from the presidential one, whose outcome might lead to the prime minister belonging to a party different from the president's, which is a situation called cohabitation.

In both the American and French scenarios, a system designed to guarantee stability can unfold into a situation marred by un-governability when the political agendas of the president and those of the party with a majority of seats in the legislature collide, bringing the policymaking process to a standtill.

As we have witnessed in unfolding political events, despite the recent deal on "hard" infrastructure voted by Democrats and Republicans in the Congress, bipartisanship is something very hard to sell.

Bipartisanship is founded on the notion that the common good is greater than any party's agenda and compromises can be found to accommodate legitimate concerns on both sides of the political aisle.

It is based on the belief that my opponent's point of view, even if it greatly differs from mine in terms of policy positions, may entail some instances that, if properly addressed, may strengthen or better my own proposal.

Joe Biden's political agenda, which centred on solid, middle- ground moderate politics, was enriched by embracing progressive policies initially brought forward by Bernie Sanders, whose manifesto has always been much progressive than Biden's even if the two are in the same party, though Sanders is technically an independent.

This shift allowed many progressives to trust him and helped him get elected.

Bipartisanship means studying the other's agenda objectively, without biases and prejudgments.

This column doesn't aim at offering easy solutions to the ongoing political stalemate faced by Malaysia, but it is a call for moderation among political leaders, and for them to put aside their own agenda and prioritise the interests of all Malaysians in order to pull the the country out of a difficult economic situation and build a better way forward.

As someone who writes often about the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, it might be odd for me to delve into national politics in Malaysia.

Yet, what I know with certainty is that all the major challenges the country must face, starting from enabling the conditions for a much stronger and inclusive economy, as well as quickly laying the foundations for a shift to a greener future, can only be won if the political parties find some common ground and work together.

I left my own country, Italy, to embrace Asia a long time ago, and I know that rarely do national politics get as messy as they do in Italy.

That said, watching the forming of a government in countries such as Belgium and Israel does help one gain a certain perspective on Italian political shenanigans.

Italy is infamous for changing its central government frequently.

It is well known for its political instability, but even though maintaining the same prime minister for a longer period of time would help resuscitate a country often described as "paralysed", the actual reality is more complex.

Regardless of the prime minister in charge, the core policies based on the national interest are always maintained and brought forward.

This is because under pressure from the European Union, the political parties have always been able to agree to disagree on many things and muster the courage to find common ground with "technical" governments or governments with political appointees, but run by a technocrat.

Mario Draghi, the current prime minister who is a former banker and president of the European Central Bank, is just the latest example of this approach.

It is not ideal, but when the situation does not allow other, more representative ways around, then it can be the best way forward, putting competence ahead of party politics.

Italians learned this approach the hard way, and they were often pushed by European partners and by the market.

Citizens in Malaysia deserve better and should demand such pragmatism.


The author writes on social inclusion, youth development, regional integration and the SDGs in the context of Asia Pacific

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