Commentary Politics

New Malaysia’s not-so happy birthday

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

May 9, 2019

A commentary by Zaidi Azmi

WHEN they were out gunning for victory in last year’s national poll, the leaders of Pakatan Harapan (PH) had not only dished out a total of 555 rosy promises but also claimed that things will take a turn for the better if they formed government.

A year – 365 days – has passed since they won GE14 and as it is, things have not been a bed of roses as many had high expected so much so that several poll firms have pointed out that PH’s popularity had considerably dropped in the last 12 months.

For example, Merdeka Center – a pollster whose survey findings were often highly regarded by PH leaders – stated that only 39 per cent of respondents gave the government positive ratings.

That was not all, the centre also pointed out that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s popularity had slumped from 71 to 46 per cent within the one year but expectedly, Dr Mahathir was unfazed with his dwindling fame.

While a myriad of reasons were touted to be the cause of PH’s unpopularity, the biggest root cause in which every single one of these outfit highlighted was the ruling coalition’s flip-flop in fulfilling its election manifestos, particularly its 100-day promises.

At the moment, PH had only managed to fulfill four of the 12 hundred-days-promises and of the 555 promises, the coalition had, so far, fulfilled 23 which stand at a meagre four per cent completion rate.

It has also, for now, broken 11 promises.

Pakatan Harapan’s 100 days promises

Promise

Status

Abolish the Goods and Services Tax

Done

Stabilise the price of petrol

Done

Abolish unnecessary debts imposed on FELDA settlers

Not started

Introduce EPF contribution for housewives

In progress

Equalise the minimum wage nationally

Done

Restructure PTPTN repayment & abolish blacklisting policy

Done

Set up Royal Commissions of Inquiry on 1MDB, FELDA, MARA and Tabung Haji

In progress

Enforce the Malaysia Agreement 1963

In progress

Introduce the healthcare scheme, “Skim Peduli Sihat” nationally

Not started

Initiate a comprehensive review of all megaprojects

In progress

Solve the problem of stateless Indians

In progress

Set up an independent Health Advisory Council to advise the ministry on strengthening healthcare delivery.

In progress

The excuse that it cited was a combination of PH not expecting to win GE14 when they made the promises, the “misdeeds” of the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government and the country’s supposedly weak fiscal position following the controversially redefined RM1 trillion national debt.

Not only that, Dr Mahathir had even gone a step further in silencing critics, who were dogging him over PH’s botched promises, saying that “election manifestos are not bible.”

And while the RM1 trillion debt sort of lend credence to such an excuse – depending on which side of the political fence one is on – the allocation of this year’s budget that was presented at parliament last year seemed to suggest otherwise.

For starters, the allocation for this year’s budget – which many predicted will include a lot belt-tightening measures – was RM314.5 billion and this was a 12.2 per cent increment from 2018’s RM280.25 billion.

The most pertinent point that inadvertently proved that the country has money after all was the fact that allocation for this year’s development expenditure was also upped by 18.9 per cent, totalling to RM54.7 billion compared 2018’s RM46 billion.

But even if money – or rather lack thereof – was touted to be the biggest hurdle for PH to keep its promises, not all of its promises, particularly those concerning political reforms, needed massive amount of cash to act on.

Cases in point would be giving parliament the power to vet the appointment of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) number one and PH’s promise to separate the prosecutorial power of the Attorney-General (AG).

Pakatan Harapan’s broken promises

Promise

Give commensurate discounts for PTPTN borrowers

Separate the Office of the Attorney General from Public Prosecutor

Remove the Prime Minister’s ability to manipulate key institutions by creating stronger check and balance mechanisms. Decentralized the said relevant powers to other bodies

Give Parliament the power to validate the appointment of the commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Ensure the appointment of state and national GLC Board members be made based on merit and professionalism, not based on politics

Appointment of Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister must be done after he is cleared of his corruption case

Ensure that there are at least 30 per cent policy makers

Mind you that the said promises were already broken after the government appointed Datuk Seri Shukri Abdull as MACC chief commissioner and lawyer Tommy Thomas as the AG without first separating the said powers.

Another example was PH’s promise to not allow the prime minister to manipulate key institutions – in order to strengthen check and balance – that it had broken following last year’s Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s drama.

The drama that led to the en-masse resignation of the government-link-company’s board members and managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar happened following Dr Mahathir’s refusal to Azman’s appointment requests.

Then there’s the essentially botched attempt to repeal the Sedition Act which was rather ironic given the much contempt PH leaders have expressed towards the “draconian law” only to now admit that the country still needed it.

But enough about PH’s broken promises.

As mentioned before, of the 12 hundred-days-promises, the government had managed to fulfill four of it and while staying true to one’s words is a virtue, the aftereffects following the fulfilling of some PH’s promises were not all sugar and rainbows.

The abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax, which DAP’s Tony Pua confidently touted, in parliament, will make goods cheaper did not happen. Instead, it was the opposite, prices did not go down despite the three months consumption tax holiday and soared higher when the Sales and Services Tax were imposed.

A similar unintended consequences had also occurred when the government overhauled the National Higher Education Fund Corporation’s (PTPTN) repayment system and delisted its defaulters which had significantly lowered repayment rate.

Apparently, the rate had dropped by 39 per cent since the delisting exercise – that had exonerated 429,945 defaulters – and not only that, the repayment collection, from June to September 2018, only stood at RM817.56 million compared to the previous year’s RM1,324.43 million of the same period.

And after a series of public backlash over several of the government’s proposed PTPTN repayment mechanisms, the Cabinet, in December last year, instructed PTPTN to gather input from all stakeholders to plan the most acceptable loan servicing system.

Today, is the anniversary of “New Malaysia” and while some might be in a salubrious mood, PH’s so-far unimpressive report card seems to suggest the need for a thorough reflection instead of a merry celebration.

As it is, PH’s performance is – to put it plainly – akin to an overhyped Instagram-worthy cake sold at hipster cafes that doesn’t quite live up to its sales pitch.

But whatever it is, happy birthday New Malaysia.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at zaidiazmi91@gmail.com.