Promises and Politics


As I write this column, it has been 252 days since the government changed.

It has been roughly 36 weeks and a little over eight months, since Pakatan Harapan swept to power on the promise of a kinder, gentler, cleaner, more progressive and more tolerant Malaysia.

My party, which was part of Barisan Nasional before it left the coalition in June last year, was on the wrong side of history. Gerakan is now totally irrelevant, without any seat in Parliament or any state assembly.

It pains me to say it, but someone has to be honest.

I have been fairly criticised in the past couple of months. Some have said that I have been converted like Paul on the road to Damascus and obsessed with mea culpas about my time in government.

Other have said that I refused to heed the warning signs of Barisan's demise; in the words of a former friend: "You refused to see it coming."

Now I do not know how others seem to think they know my thinking better than me; alas, that could be one of the great mysteries of life.

But many have been supportive and understanding, helping me get back on my feet.

It has been 252 days since I lost my job as political secretary to Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, who was the former Plantation Industries and Commodities minister.

It has also been 252 days since I was a part of the local scene in Teluk Intan. It has been 252 days since I gave a political speech. But more importantly, it has been 252 days of discovery, realisation, repentance and renewal.

I thought bouncing back after Barisan's devastating loss would be hard, but I told myself: When one chapter closes, another opens. I have also become more accustomed to an ordinary and simple life minus all the hullabaloo.

I have come to realise that the beauty of politics lies in its impermanence because as democracy has it, the people are the ultimate judges. Or as they say in Malay: Rakyat hakim negara.

Even though it took 60 years to dislodge Barisan, it was done nonetheless, and the transfer of power was seamless.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best: "Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country."

Pakatan came to power on the back of some very enticing promises.

It promised an end to corruption and abuse of power. It promised the end of bad and oppressive laws. It promised to lower the cost of living. It promised to defer the payment of student loans.

It promised to abolish road tolls. It promised to raise the minimum wage. It promised to abolish the Goods and Services Tax (GST). It promised to reintroduce petrol subsidies. It promised to devolve power to Sabah and Sarawak.

Some of these promises were supposed to be implemented in its first 100 days in power. It has been 252 days. Some promises have been forgotten, some have been reneged on, some have been implemented and some are said to be works in progress.

In April 2018, a few days after Parliament was dissolved, I attended a forum organised by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) to discuss the manifestos of Pakatan and Barisan.

A prominent Pakatan leader, who is now a Deputy Minister, kept saying that Pakatan would abolish the tolls. I kept saying it was impossible. I am now proven right, but it does not make me feel good, because I do not like paying tolls.

I'm sure millions of Malaysians who pay tolls every day feel the same way.

Another glaring U-turn for Pakatan was the National Security Council Act and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, both of which Pakatan claimed was oppressive and high-handed. Both acts remain in place today.

Honesty is not a value that comes to your mind when you speak or think about politicians or politics. In fact, it is the total opposite that comes to the mind of most people when one talks about politics and politicians.

However, Pakatan still has the power to change all that. They did, in fact. Their first 50 or 60 days in power was stupendous. The reforms that kept rolling out even made me feel good despite being on the losing end.

I told some friends that I finally see the silver lining in my loss. The reforms to the judiciary, Parliament and the institutions of government inspired everyone. Suddenly, politics in Malaysia was about hope and justice, not fear and corruption.

Recently at a forum, a pro-Pakatan academic said Pakatan has not lived up to expectations.

Now, I fully understand that it is not easy to make all of these changes. I was in government for 10 years, and I know government is one circuitous and cumbersome maze. But the even the "low-lying fruits" are not being "plucked."

The last two months have been exceptionally disappointing. The Sedition Act has been used to silence critics of the government despite most Pakatan politicians making a career out of opposing that Act.

The Attorney General should read his own books, so he is reminded on the need for urgent reforms as promised in the Pakatan manifesto and detailed in his books.

The economy has slowed down, and businesses are hurting. Nothing is being done to ameliorate the impact of America's trade war with China nor the global slowdown.

Rural Malaysia is in pain because subsidies for farmers, fishermen and rubber tappers have been removed. Palm oil prices are crashing, and the government seems clueless about what to do.

The Sales and Service Tax (SST) remains confusing and has not led to a reduction in prices.

The stock market is anaemic and the government continues telling investors that the country is on the brink of bankruptcy.

The lighting effect of a building in Penang that resembled a cross was met with reprimand, casting doubts on Pakatan's promise for a more tolerant Malaysia.

Pakatan has also sought to bolster its numbers by taking in defectors from Umno. This has negated all the efforts of Pakatan foot soldiers who fought valiantly to dislodge Umno and Barisan.

So, it begs the questions why even bother making promises when one does not intend on keeping them.

I can only remind those in power that ultimately, rakyat hakim negara!

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.