KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 ― Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad may be forced to make tough decisions and risk upsetting Pakatan Harapan (PH) allies to shore up support from Malay voters and placate the Malay-majority civil service, Singapore’s Straits Times (ST) said.
ST regional correspondent Leslie Lopez wrote in a commentary that a Cabinet reshuffle was expected in the next few months, which he predicted would strain the power-sharing formula within the “fragile” PH ruling coalition comprising Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), PKR, DAP, and Amanah.
“Remedying the twin confronts of a less-than-hospitable civil service and its flagging support from the Malays will require some tough decisions in the coming months, which could see Tun Dr Mahathir assert his role as Premier at the risk of upsetting his partners in the PH coalition,” Lopez wrote.
He said some powerful civil servants who were loyal to the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration have used red tape to block the new government’s reform efforts, such as making government procurement practices more transparent.
Lopez said senior PH leaders have privately acknowledged the coalition’s appeal among the Malays remains lukewarm at best.
“As the government struggles to find its footing, Malaysians, particularly the country’s politically dominant ethnic Malays that make up more than 60 per cent of the population, are growing restive,” he said, citing polls that showed almost 70 per cent of Malay voters chose Umno and PAS in the 14th general election.
Other issues which plague the PH administration include a lack of experience among Cabinet ministers, whom Lopez said still harboured an Opposition mentality, as well as internal rivalries among the component parties which is showing increasing signs of strain.
“Of particular concern is the growing tensions between Malaysia’s presumptive successor Anwar Ibrahim and his deputy Mohamed Azmin Ali, who is also the country’s powerful Economics Affairs Minister.
“PKR, with its 50 parliamentary seats, is the largest component in the PH coalition and an internal party split could have far-reaching ramifications to the already fragile coalition government,” Lopez said.
As a result of all this, Malaysia’s economic prospects are set to take a dip amid growing domestic and external economic headwinds.
“Japan’s Nomura Research has forecasted economic expansion to slow to 4 per cent in 2019, down from the expected 4.7 per cent this year and 5.9 per cent in 2017. Deutsche Bank Research, which has also flagged sovereign rating concerns, has pegged 2018 gross domestic product at 4.4 per cent this year and 4 per cent in 2020.
“International rating agencies have so far been restrained because of PH’s pledges to improve governance, curb excesses and tackle widespread corruption in government. But their patience, and that of Malaysians in general, is wearing thin because of the government’s failure to deliver on the economic front and honour its many elections pledges,” Lopez said.