Commentary Politics

2018 — high expectations but limited delivery for Malaysians

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Written by Aziz Hassan

December 31, 2018.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

BY the time we step into 2019, which is tomorrow, the Pakatan Harapan federal government would have been in power for a little short of eight months, a mixed bag period of a few positives intertwined with flip-flops and most significantly, the failure to so far honour many of the promises contained in its election manifesto, for which there have been many excuses, of if you prefer it, justifications.

There was much hope prior to the May 9 elections that the Umno-led Barisan Nasional government which expanded from the Alliance about three years after the May 13 racial riots of 1969 would be ousted after being the only coalition to have ruled the country since independence in 1957.

Much to the elation of voters and other Malaysians, the miracle did happen, with much of the unexpected success credited to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, a man who many felt contemptuous about during his first stint as prime minister for 22 years from 1981, widely criticised at home and abroad for being authoritarian – a leader intolerant of any critical press, used draconian laws to restrict what his political opponents could do and one who was combative in his dealings with leaders mainly from the First World while becoming chummy with those from the Third World.

Many Malaysians decided that they were willing to consign the negatives from Mahathir’s first reign way to the background after the then 92-year-old succeeded in leading his new coalition to depose Umno’s Datuk Seri Najib Razak, so unpopular with the people for all the stories told either in the foreign press, social media or by word of mouth about sinister dealings involving sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Najib now faces multiple corruption and other charges mainly linked to 1MDB.

After some delay, Mahathir eventually managed to form his full Cabinet, with people from his Pribumi Bersatu party being given several Cabinet positions disproportionate to the number of Parliamentary seats it had won. That didn’t look like such a positive start for a new government needing to continue from where it left of to ensure strong support from the people, whose hopes by now had turned into expectations.

One change that has been widely accepted is in having a new attorney-general who finally got moving on the 1MDB case, although the trials have yet to start. However the appointment of the AG remains entirely in the hands of the prime minister and whether Tommy Thomas is one truly fair and independent AG has yet to be tested.

Thus far Pakatan has yet to deliver many of the people’s expectations

So Otherwise it is on the expectations that Malaysians have found Pakatan to be wanting, especially since nothing much has happened to the widely propagated institutional reforms. True there have been changes but these have been in the form of appointments of chief executives, chairman of the board and some board members but in the more critical areas of how a CEO or head of an institution is appointed and who he reports to, nothing significant has changed.

One hurdle is that some of the intended reforms would need to be approved by at least two-thirds of Parliament and this Pakatan doesn’t have. Nevertheless, the signs are all there that the now opposition Umno is willing to throw its support for any reforms that’s good for the country, that make for better governance, transparency and provide checks on corruption.

The problem is the people have not been told even if the first step, that is the drafting of proposed legislation, has been taken. In fact, as is known, nothing has been done till now.

Which makes the following statement today by Datuk Seri Azmin Ali most bewildering. Not surprisingly he hasn’t given any example to back up his claim and it looks like no one asked him either.  

(“The Pakatan Harapan government has implemented many of promised institutional reforms within its first 100 days, claimed Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.”)

And we also have Bersih 2.0 asking the same question.

“Bersih 2.0 has questioned if the Pakatan Harapan government and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) specifically are committed to electoral and institutional reform.

“The electoral reforms group said it was shocking for Bersatu vice-president Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman to suggest that the party use its position to channel resources and projects to division chiefs so that they can win elections by hook or by crook.”

A committee to look into the possible reforms was formed not too long after the elections, with the panel eventually submitting its report to the Council of Eminent Persons under the ambits of which it was formed.

The wider report by the CEP was long completed after it met with something like 350 individuals over a 100-day period and duly submitted to the PM. Since then many have expressed the hope that the report will be made public, including the CEP chairman, former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin.

It is believed that the report was submitted to Mahathir in late August. Mahathir’s reaction to the calls for it to be made public? “Their job is to do the investigation and report to me. Whether I accept the report or not is my business.”

It sounds much too simple, for Mahathir that is.

It’s been four months now since the report was submitted and there has been nothing to show that Malaysians will get to know what those prominent persons had discovered from the hours and hours of interviews and deliberations. More importantly, the people want to know what they recommended.

The longer this drags on the more likely more people will forget, with the report becoming yet again another piece of document that may be gathering dust on someone’s desk.

2018? To me there were positives but for the most part, just as uneventful as many other years. So it’s something best left behind.       

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.