COMMENTARY, March 4 — Perhaps one of the most enduring photos of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's first day at work as prime minister was that of him at his desk with his feet in a pair of capal or traditional sandals that are a common match for the baju Melayu he wore that day.

For many, it illustrated that the new coalition government — which has since been dubbed the "unity government" — would not waste a single minute before getting to work after a fractious general election.

But it would also be more relaxed and less uptight. In a similar vein, Anwar would later appear in his first press conference in a coat but sans a neck-tie, prompting many Cabinet members to amusingly follow in his footsteps a few days later.

The PKR president and Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman would later formalise this more casual dress code for at least the first year of his administration.


However, it is this informality that perhaps marks a divide between a government that wants to portray itself as less uptight versus a government that is taking it too easy.

Today marks 100 days since Anwar was sworn in — and 100 days are never enough to judge a new government, especially when said government is made of different coalitions with different wants, different needs that are at times at odds with each other.

While we wait to see if the Anwar administration will ever formulate a shared manifesto to seal its unity, we take a look at some of its actions and decisions in the last 100 days and rate them:


The good:

1. Addressing the bread and butter issues

Perhaps in anticipation of today, PKR political architect and now economy minister Rafizi Ramli released a statement yesterday reiterating that the government's economic policies will focus on two pertinent issues: the rising costs of living, and to uplift wages for the public.

On this count, nobody can fault the government for not trying. Sustainability concerns aside, the “Rahmah” tag that was first introduced with the Sumbangan Tunai Rahmah financial aid caught popularity with the RM5 “Menu Rahmah” affordable meals. This has now been expanded to other initiatives.

Falling under the “Payung Rahmah” grand initiative spearheaded by Parti Amanah Negara's Domestic Trade Minister Salahuddin Ayub, the tags also encompass the “Bakul Rahmah” groceries aid, “Pakej Rahmah” package of 10 essential goods sold at cheaper prices, the “Jualan Rahmah” series of sales by supermarkets, and “Kafe Rahmah” — an expansion of “Menu Rahmah” to serve students.

Add this to the revision of income tax rates that would lower the burden of the middle class at the expense of the middle-high tier of the top 20 per cent (T20) households and targeting the elites through luxury goods tax and capital gains tax — it seems Anwar has everyone covered financially.

2. Tackling low-hanging fruits

There is a reason why Transport Minister Anthony Loke has consistently been named among the best performers in the Cabinet: the man just knows how to single out low-hanging fruits, and immediately addresses them.

The mere sight of the Seremban MP going under cover under a mask on any public transport would spark a meme, a testament to his effective patrolling to detect shortcomings within the system.

Since he became minister, he has fixed broken escalators and lifts, scrapped crappy physical road tax stickers, rebranded klia2, brought back Penang ferries for bikers and started free bus services to the Parliament. All this begs the question: why did nobody bother with these issues before this?

Aside from Loke, Umno's law minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said has also moved with a laser-sharp focus.

Last month, she wasted no time in prodding the Cabinet to amend the Constitution to finally allow children born abroad to Malaysian mothers to be recognised as citizens automatically.

She has since then been busy picking fights and righting wrongs — from the so-called “Sulu heirs” attempting to bleed the country's coffers dry, to those named in 2021's Pandora Leaks but have been flying under the radar all this while.

The bad:

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (right) and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi during a press conference after chairing the Cabinet meeting in Putrajaya February 8, 2023. — Bernama pic
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (right) and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi during a press conference after chairing the Cabinet meeting in Putrajaya February 8, 2023. — Bernama pic

1. Addressing the BN in the room

Pakatan Harapan's (PH) “one vote for Perikatan means one vote for Zahid” rallying cry during its 15th general election (GE15) campaign has blown up in its face big time.

What is more concerning than PH's alliance with Barisan Nasional (BN) that it had vehemently portrayed as corrupt back in the day is the fact that Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is now the second most powerful man in the country, despite his 47 criminal charges.

The same period has also seen Umno warlord Tan Sri Shahrir Ab Samad acquitted from a money-laundering case, and just yesterday former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak was acquitted from the allegation of removing key information from the auditor-general’s 2016 report on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Though the government has nothing to do with these decisions, nobody would soon forget Zahid himself demanding justice for Najib during the recent Umno general assembly and insisting the latter was politically and selectively persecuted.

All the while, another Umno warlord, Datuk Nazri Aziz was announced as an ambassador to the United States, while children of PKR leaders like Nurul Izzah Anwar and Iqbal Johari were accused of being beneficiaries of alleged nepotism.

It remains to be seen if voters will forgive and forget these episodes in the upcoming state elections.

2. Futile pandering to the conservatives

Anwar did not have to throw the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community under the bus in a January RTM interview by saying that they will never be recognised along with secularism and communism.

He made the remark unprompted, and perhaps to burnish his Islamic credentials but this has definitely soured the trust of some of his supporters and he has nothing to show for it from the conservative Malay set that he wishes to woo.

Several other manufactured waves of moral uproar have since followed, from protests over a risque scene in the trailer of horror film Pulau, to the mouth-frothing over the release of the thought-provoking indie film Mentega Terbang on streaming platforms Viu and Mubi, bigots trying to stop lives being saved with PrEP drugs, and the insistence that foreign artists must abide by local "Eastern" sensitivities — in most of these cases, the Anwar government has sided with the conservatives.

When the issues of local elections and Malay domination in the civil service were brought up, DAP leaders were similarly quick to sweep the matter under the carpet in order to preserve "harmony" in the unity government.

The biggest culprit seems to be Local Government Development Minister Nga Kor Ming, who not only rubbished the idea of the third vote amid false accusations that it would lead to Chinese domination, but has also since backed Anwar in insisting that the country was never secular.

The jury is still out:

1. Getting chummy in the international scene

There is not one global leader who does not know who Anwar is and what he has gone through, and the prime minister has been more than keen to take advantage of that fact, perhaps as a way to prove his reputation with the voters.

The prime minister has jetted around the region to rekindle his ties, with his visit to Indonesia and meeting with its president Joko Widodo eliciting remarkable envy among some Indonesian youths.

To them, Anwar is seen as a paragon among Malay leaders with his eloquence and intelligence in comparison to their political leaders.

In his first days, Anwar made it a point to show off these global connections: among the many telephone calls he received in congratulations upon becoming prime minister, none was as famous as the one from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he took in the middle of a press conference.

In a show of support for Erdogan and his country, Anwar even made a one-day trip to Turkey following the disastrous earthquake there.And yet, both Jokowi and Erdogan are not who they were a decade ago.

They are no more seen as exemplars of liberal democracy, with the Jokowi administration recently passing a criminal law seen as violating the rights of women, religious minorities, and the LGBT, while undermining freedoms of speech and association.

As for Erdogan, he has faced backlash over his response towards the disaster amid old videos where he boasted letting builders avoid earthquake codes.

Anwar's foreign forays have been mixed so far. While Singapore's Vivian Balakrishnan has described Anwar as “an old friend” — which perhaps contributed to the former to halt reclamation of land at Pulau Batu Puteh, Anwar had ruffled feathers in the region with his bravado declaring that Asean “should carve Myanmar out for now.”

2. Tackling disinformation and communication

Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil acted swiftly in censuring TikTok following rampant race-baiting content on the social media platform following GE15, and did so again last week following allegations that its moderators are sympathetic towards Perikatan Nasional (PN) — which has thrived from incendiary content that has slipped through TikTok's filters.

While Fahmi has pledged that tackling disinformation (that is false content deliberately spread with malice) and misinformation (false content spread unintentionally) remain one of his top goals, the first-time minister seems to have one hand tied behind his back as he is burdened with the additional responsibility of being the government's spokesman.

It is as if Anwar has not moved on from the days of Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat when the then Information Ministry was essentially the government's propaganda arm.

The government should ignore calls from PH hardcore supporters that it should run its own brigade of cybertroopers to counter PN's propaganda.The allegations that the government is not doing enough to inform the public of its policies and initiatives can be remedied by closer relationship with the media, so the government does not need to reinvent the wheel.

For example, surely the cringe-inducing initial breakdown of the "Madani" slogan could have been prevented if the media were briefed on it prior?

Instead, the press are usually seen in the Prime Minister's Office's official WhatsApp channel begging for copies of speech texts and dreaming of advance embargoed copies.

Worryingly, a few press conferences have been held where reporters only knew about them after they were over. Sometimes, questions would be asked... and were left hanging to this day.