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Strong interim PM with clear strategy the need of the hour, says Johari

PETALING JAYA: It is imperative that a strong and untainted leader be appointed as interim prime minister to steer the nation out of the Covid-19 and economic morass now that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has lost the support of Umno, says Johari Ghani.

The former second finance minister said now that Umno had withdrawn support for Muhyiddin, an interim government with a new leader was needed until the next general election which, by law, has to take place within the next 16 months.

Saying this was not the time to play politics but to save lives and revive the economy, Johari, who is also the Umno Federal Territory chief, added that the interim government should draw upon and include talented people from all sectors, including opposition parties.

The Umno Supreme Council last night decided to officially withdraw its support for Muhyiddin as the prime minister. In calling on Muhyiddin to step down, its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the Perikatan Nasional-led government had failed to resolve the present crisis and that the people were continuing to suffer.

Johari said that the interim prime minister should focus on restoring the image of the country that had been badly damaged since the emergence of Covid-19 and the failure of Muhyiddin’s leadership. These shortcomings, listed by the Umno Supreme Council last night, should be rectified as soon as possible by the interim government.

“We need a leader who can demonstrate leadership in managing a crisis. This is not about politics. It’s about our beloved nation which has suffered badly due to a lack of leadership. We need someone strong to take us through this pandemic, someone fit and healthy, untainted and who can command the respect of the rakyat, government servants and MPs.

“He has to be able to strategise, plan and monitor the execution of our collaborative actions as a nation without caring much about popularity or gaining political influence,” said the Umno Supreme Council member.

Given the current crisis, Johari said it was only right that the talents of Malaysians – regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or status – be incorporated in battling the pandemic and reviving the economy.

“Even if we need to tap the brains, experience and expertise of some of the talented young leaders in the opposition – whether in PKR, DAP or Amanah – or professional people out there to be part of this interim government to rescue this nation, we have to do it.

“We cannot afford to play politics at this crucial period of the nation’s survival. All the best hands must be on deck, so to speak. There’s no time to play politics. The health and welfare of the rakyat are the ultimate goal.

“There are those who may talk about or push for a ‘Malay-Muslim’ only government. But we have to be practical and remember that having a Malay-Muslim government without the necessary talent and experience to manage this pandemic is not going to help anyone – the larger Malay-Muslim majority population included.

“The Covid-19 virus is no respecter of race or religion. All Malaysians – regardless of race, religion, political views and educational qualifications – are dying or suffering. This is the time for all Malaysians to come together and work as one to defeat the disease and revive the economy so that we can all survive and live better.”

Johari noted that Malaysia was ranked 114 in the Nikkei Covid-19 Recovery Index for June. The index ranks more than 120 countries and regions on infection management, vaccine rollouts and social mobility at the end of each month. Malaysia received a score of 29, compared with top-listed China with a score of 76.5. Neighbours such as Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia were ranked above Malaysia.

Earlier this month, Malaysia was placed right at the bottom of 50 countries in The Economist’s Global Normalcy Index, again an indication that the nation is mismanaging the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery.

Johari stressed: “The primary goal should be to help the suffering rakyat by reducing, if not eliminating, the prevalence of Covid-19 and putting the nation on the path to economic recovery.”

For this, he said, a clear strategy was needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, incorporating both short and long term solutions. These must be executed speedily and efficiently, or the nation will collapse.

Giving practical suggestions, Johari reiterated that mass testing must be scaled-up, especially in industrial areas and workplaces, to trace and isolate those who were Covid-19 positive. The government should also allow people to self-test and isolate themselves if they are asymptomatic and in the low risk category. This needs to be done regularly.

Prolonged and continuous lockdowns, he noted, were unproductive and had proven ineffective. Targeted lockdowns with mass testing in hotspot areas is the way to go.

“Vaccination is key and it must be done transparently. If the government needs to pay higher prices for the supply of vaccines because of high world demand, so be it. However, this must be done, approved and distributed very transparently so that no one profits from other people’s misery.”

He called for the vaccination process to be expedited in high population density areas such as the Klang Valley and other capital cities such Johor Bahru, Penang, Ipoh, Kuantan, Kota Bharu, Melaka, Seremban, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and secondary cities.

“Once such focus is given, we can achieve a faster rate of herd immunity because almost 73% of the population stays or commutes within cities. This will allow the re-opening of the business, manufacturing and services sectors in these major cities and spur economic activities.

“Government assistance to those who are affected by the lockdown must not only be expedited, it must also be adequate enough for them to get back on their feet. Government agencies such as the welfare department and zakat institutions must ensure basic necessities such as food are on the table to feed the whole family. If bureaucratic procedures are a problem, then these should be cut or eliminated to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.”

On Umno, Johari said: “People have associated PN’s failures with Umno too, as the Cabinet is made up of many Umno MPs who hold important posts with regards to Covid-19 management. Any decision made by Umno MPs will be closely watched by Malaysians.”

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