Malaysia afloat, captain and first mate playing hide and seek

OCTOBER 3 — Citizens speculate daily whether or when Anwar Ibrahim replaces Mahathir Mohamad.

It’s tiresome.

It’s also a red herring.

There are two urgent questions, of greater import. Firstly, should our future be markedly different from the path so far, which includes 65 years of Umno-leadership and a year plus of Pakatan Harapan?

The Pakatan administration has organically melded its functional philosophy to the Mahathir administration of the early noughties, therefore any ideas to implement must fall within the larger conservative tent. 

Simply put, over a year, this government has abandoned boldness for caution reminiscent of previous Mahathir Cabinets.  

And second, what’s the evaluation of both men, firstly Mahathir and then Anwar, on their respective abilities to fill the job, as per its present scope?

Only a fool would believe Alex Ferguson should manage Manchester United today because he could manage Keane and Beckham 20 years ago.

The answers may illuminate whether Malaysia has bigger problems than about succession.

Reform

There’s only one way to read the will of Pakatan, through its manifesto.

However, a quantitative discussion about the delivery is impossible one year in, and most certainly unfair. 

The spirit of the manifesto is easier to discern and measure. The higher ideal they wanted to espouse, which were translated into numerous principles.

In brief, to aid people (end GST, return subsidies, abolish PTPTN loans and a series of populist band-aids), end corruption (investigations, trials, transparency, accountability and hire Lateefah Koya!) and increase fairness (undocumented children, local elections, support East Malaysia, abolish cruel laws and sign to international standards).

Pakatan’s economic plan is wafer-thin, from examination of the manifesto to the Malay blueprint from last year. Uncannily wishy-washy with a focus on which businesses to help rather than the economy as a whole.

Pakatan’s right-sized ambitions are to reduce the poorer population’s burden and become a nation of law and order.

Are those necessary and possible? Should more be done?

It seeks to offset living costs, and not implement policies to shift society so that they’d be paid more. It seriously undermines Malaysia’s ability to foot the bill.

The “Fairer and Just Malaysia” agenda is a victim of its own populism and coalition make-up. 

At every juncture, progressive social reforms are qualified with lines intended to preserve every previous condition, and often fortifying them. 

They wish to give everyone everything they ever wanted but could not get under Barisan Nasional (BN) and retain what BN used to give.

It’s madness. And coalition politics reinforces the situation of being pulled in every direction. 

To get an unapologetic Malay nationalism party; an uncertain progressive Islamic party split from its traditional base; a Chinese-populated party serving masters of equality and communal priority; a multicultural party which insists it can’t be too multicultural in order to retain Malay dominance; and a Sabah specific party born out of regional frustration and agreement to piecemeal the country, all to agree on major decisions. 

Expectedly, the required consensus means panders to all directions.

So, the present course is expensive in the first answer, and contradictory in the second.

Neither of them progressive.            

Which leads to the next matter, economy.

And the economic sense emerging from the government is about further central planning to fuel growth. 

This is directly from the Mahathir playbook of the 1980s. The weightiest comment to direct at the returning prime minister is that he’s too old and too set in his ways to have solutions for a future he can’t comprehend socially, even if he does intellectually.

The country, meaning this government, has limited ideas on how to bring its people forward materially.

Which might possess the actual to the situation, that after years of central planning and control, our future is about our people figuring out the economic future with the facilitation and not the assistance of government.

As Rafidah Aziz said throughout the election campaign last year — the country is fine, its fundaments solid, only the PM (then, Najib Razak) is wrong and if the old boss returns, it will be OK.

Well it is not OK, and it reeks of competition between versions of Umno rather than revolution.

This column states the country needs a drastic shift in progress and certainly ambition, may it be burden alleviation, law and order or the economy.

Malaysia needs a prime minister with ideas for this century possessing a style compatible to our times.

Rivals

The prime minister can obfuscate on his handover, but the jury certainly has to pass verdict on him without relating it to Anwar.

Mahathir struggles. There is no value to Malaysia, when he goes to the UN and speaks about Israel and Palestine. There is no present escalation in the West Bank or Gaza, it’s merely an exercise to curry favour with the Muslim electorate here.

The Budget next week will surprise few people. The populist streak will continue with promises rather than solid deliverables which grow the country.

Anwar, without exception, is populist.

The rhetoric to cover all possible eventualities will be expounded but it is unlikely more solid plans will emerge. What will be delivered are soundbites to appease different segments. Exactly what Mahathir does, but with less qualified lines.

Therefore, the true rumination must be, of the years left between now and next general election, whatever ratio of time Mahathir and Anwar occupy the hot seat, based on their inclinations toward central planning and populism, would it make a difference?

And if it does not, then surely the questions are completely different.

Like, why the fascination with Anwar or Mahathir for leadership when the product will remain the same? 

More of the same.

I have a novel idea to end this. When both of them conspired to end Parti Bersatu Sabah in 1994, they recruited an army of assemblymen after the election to turn from loser to winner overnight. 

Thereafter, to appease so many different groups and segments they rotated the chief minister every two years. As a compromise.

Maybe Mahathir and Anwar can rotate till the next elections. I’m kidding. But they have to be kidding themselves, dragging the country into this “will he, will he not” quagmire.

But above all, above the fixation to be prime minister or stay as prime minister, can they, between them, find some courage for the people, and not just seek support to retain their positions or topple the other?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles