Pakatan government survives infancy

MAY 9 — It’s a year. The knives remain out, or garlands ready for anniversary parade? Though it must discomfort Pakatan Harapan naysayers to admit their blades grow dull as the coalition crosses the symbolic line.

The first 12 months were expected to be difficult to navigate, and they were. Now they have, it’s their opponents turn to sweat.

It’s going to be uphill for Umno from hereon. Not impossible, but they are set to experience difficulties.

Meanwhile, KUASA, the organisation I help run has thus far resisted the lure to issue a report card, for telling reasons.

A year, or 1/61 of Umno’s time in power, two per cent in other words, is on its own an inadequate period for any new management to be appraised. 

But the persistent efforts to derail the new government by all means possible, ratchet up communal discord and perceived injustices from every act, has hurt the ability of this administration to steady its oars.

There’s no precedence for Malaysia’s unique break in political trajectory.

The collapse of communism in the late 1980s through to the mid-90s draws parallels, but it has no companions in this period, unlike the seismic shifts across Asia between 1998 and 2002.

These considered, a Year One report card may be premature. A Year Two appraisal, however, should be par for the course.

This is not to excuse the monumental displays of incompetence from Pakatan Harapan operatives, new to the hallowed halls of Putrajaya, nor shush rumours of extravagance apparent in their ranks.

Yet, the past year must be measured with caution, primarily, factor the previous government’s direction. It’s not conjuncture, the facts are presently unravelling in courtrooms with smouldering revelations worthy to launch a marathon Iflix series.

It would be far more instructive to look at the past year qualitatively. However, please look at the various results issued by Harapan Tracker, Open Promises, IDEAS and Civicus Monitor, as references to reflect and shape discussions.

The qualitative evaluation, where to begin?

Promises and perspectives

The manifesto, certainly. Still, appreciate the hundred odd pages of it are not equal in substance. Five hundred plus promises are not committed to memory by our citizens. Some resonate more than others.     

While a quantitative report can be better defended, counting how many per cent have been executed at this juncture would be premature. Harapan Tracker states only 23, or 4 per cent, of 555 promises have been fulfilled.

The clearer examination would be where those 23 stand if all the promises were ranked in import to the rakyat?

Reducing Cabinet positions in the prime minister’s department to three matters less to present voters than to forgive PTPTN student loans. Graduates are upset. It’s not just them, but their families affected by their adversities. Pakatan has bungled this. The Goods and Services Tax(GST) was abolished but timid cousin, SST (Sales and Services Tax), replaced it to the people’s chagrin.

The rakyat by large are tax averse, and rather than building on the painful but successful process of constructing GST, this government stayed true to its populist pledge. I’d preferred if they reneged on this promise because consumption taxes are inevitable.

Next year will be halfway through a usual administration cycle, and more proof will emerge when the first batch of pudding arrives.

Second, the economy. There is a simplistic, but not unfounded, notion that a stronger economy improves everything. 

Regardless if it is powered by governmental development expenditure, or the activities disincentivise fairer distribution of wealth. Regardless, the economy directs public mood.

Which explains why the government after initial recriminations has re-embraced ECRL, MRT Project 2 — and possibly three — and LRT 3. The cost adjustments have improved their attractiveness. 

The effects of these decisions would aid the economic performances in the second half of 2019.

That and also from July we’d be counting down to the once-mythical Vision 2020.

Improved economic outlook for 2019 will cool down resentments, and simultaneously dim Umno’s own short-term prognosis.

Which leaves us at three and four, leadership and the communication of the said leadership. To the unacquainted they are separate, but to the seasoned veteran it is foolish to separate them. After all leadership is perception in most situations.

The administration’s faux pas — by large — down to Pakatan leaders' ignorance that a nation is far more complex than running a dysfunctional party or a service centre. 

It is not more difficult, it is just layered, the point has been lost on many. To govern is to accept complexities, not cast them aside.

Pakatan leaders sacrificed much in the past, especially when the whole machination of government ignored them. With small offices and limited resources they went about supporting constituents.

The wins were far between, but it was the conviction to lost causes which made them marvels.

Now in government, they have to harness the system despite their personal history. Suspicion won’t help.

The previous ministers and appointees — from Umno’s Barisan Nasional — survived and thrived because they were light on purpose but keen on ceremony. They let the civil servants get on with it. The activist Harapan government won’t avoid upsetting the service, but they must avail the system to achieve their goals.

Communicating commensurately, consistently and appropriately reflects on government.

Issues improve or decay not on the weight of principles but on the manner they are presented to an impressionable citizenry.

Confidence in government is synonymous with confidence in a future.

If there was the risk of a fail mark for any of the four areas, it would be in this.

Abysmal does not cover it.

At times, the activist cap has to be stowed away. The temptation to comment on anything and everything is not the makings of a minister or member of the administration.

It is not as easy to resolve like appointing a communication tsar for Pakatan. There are four parties and one ally in government. It probably needs a process manager rather than a camera-facing professional.

Overall

A pass. This was all this government could aim for considering the elements.

If BN leaders wanted the Perak 2009 putsch to be replicated, they are mistaken.

But Pakatan has its work cut out for it.

The manifesto chatter will continue. The fulfilling matters as much as them handling the narrative of the delivery.

The collective credibility enhances over time, but Pakatan leaders must learn to capture the attention of the masses without gimmicky moves.

Peace must prevail between senior civil servants and the administration, and the onus is on Mahathir Mohamad’s team to realise this.

The prime minister’s stratagem in rearranging key positions is reminiscent of a grandmaster readying his pieces for an attack-play.

It is going to be a livelier second year, from the inside. Consolidation is on the cards

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.