THERE is a French saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It is attributed to Alphonse Karr.
As I recall the events that have transformed Malaysia’s political landscape over the past year, it would have been unthinkable 366 days before. Who would have thought that a former Prime Minister would be in and out of courts or that the Finance Minister would be Lim Guan Eng?
A year ago, Malaysians rallied around the palace along Jalan Duta to ensure Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in as the seventh PM of Malaysia.
I still vividly recall my personal experience in the 14th General Election (GE14), especially after the results, were pronounced in Teluk Intan. I was the campaign manager for Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, the Barisan Nasional candidate. He was defeated by Nga Kor Ming of Pakatan Harapan.
I knew by 6.30pm on May 9th, 2018 that BN had lost Teluk Intan. Predictably we polled less than 15% in most Chinese-majority polling districts but when we started polling around 40% or less in Indian-majority polling districts, I knew we had lost.
I chose to leave Teluk Intan that night itself after being there for over a month. All I could think about was sleeping in my own bed. There was too much to digest and fathom; most of us were in shock because, by the time I left Teluk Intan around 9.30pm, we knew Barisan would likely lose the government.
I texted my girlfriend to tell her that I was jobless. I then called my best friend and told him the news and he proposed we have a drink. I told myself I could do with a drink after a gruelling campaign.
As my close friends gathered at Taps Beer Bar in Desa Park City, everyone was glued to their smartphones. One by one, they kept shouting out the names of seats Pakatan (or PKR then) had won. Of course, they were good enough friends to not be smug about it, given my political inclinations.
Around 1 am on May 10th, 2019 it was clear that Pakatan had a majority and I told myself, I could really sleep in my own bed right now. I woke up early the next morning and my mother gave me a warm hug. A mother’s hug can make any pain feel less painful. I told them what happened, and my parents were as supportive as ever.
I kept asking them what I would do next, they said it was too soon – it was time to relax a little.
That night, as I watched Dr Mahathir take his oath of office, I could not help but feel proud of being a Malaysian. Despite being on the losing end, I was proud of my country and her people. The change of government has been seamless.
The sadness of losing also started to ebb as I told myself – Malaysia can do with a change.
I remember Nga’s GE14 campaign in Teluk Intan very well. It was predicated on three very powerful promises – no toll, no GST and a return of oil subsidies. Besides replacing GST with SST (which was not told to anyone unless they looked at the fine print of the Buku Harapan), oil prices are still the same and tolls are still there.
The 10 promises for 100 days have now been forgotten. A feeble attempt was made to return sovereignty to Sabah and Sarawak. BN project have been rebranded without any change – examples of this rebranding exercise are Automated Enforcement System (AES) to Automated Awareness Safety System (AwAS), Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) to The Land Public Transport Agency (APAD), 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) to Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH), Klinik 1M to Klinik Komuniti, Federal Territories Affordable Housing Project (Rumawip) to the Residensi Wilayah and many more.
The economy is in free fall and the blame has been laid on the debt burden left by Barisan. Now, in fact, government debt has increased under Pakatan from RM687bil in June 2018 to RM739bil today. There has been no drop in prices with the introduction of SST and no one is really better off than they were a year ago.
A flurry of announcements greeted the government’s first 100 days including the formation of the Council of Eminent Persons and the Institutional Reform Committee. Their findings are still secret and there is no independent mechanism to monitor the implementation of their recommendations.
Further, repressive laws like the Sedition Act, Security Offences Special Measures Act (SOSMA), Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) are still in place despite an express promise in the Pakatan manifesto that they would be repealed.
And the repeal will not cost a single sen so it will not add to our debt burden.
In fact, the Sedition Act is still being used to investigate the very same stalwarts who defended Pakatan when it was in opposition.
As for rural Malaysia – it is hurting. The subsidies for fisherman, farmers and settlers have all been reduced or removed. The price of commodities is very low and all the Minister in charge can think of is a campaign to love palm oil, forgetting that we already do (very much in fact) and encouraging Malaysians to drink more palm oil.
There is no plan on curtailing the anti-palm oil campaign that is causing the industry much heartburn.
The quota system is still in place for matriculation and supposedly 300,000 Indians with no identity cards have not been found. New approved permits (APs) for the import of foreign vehicles have been dished out despite claims by the current government when they were in opposition that it was pure-rent seeking.
These are just a few examples.
I must say all is not bad. The MACC has worked very hard to bring those who have wronged the country to book, but the rights for all those who are standing trial must also be respected.
Also, the Minister of Multimedia and Communications has worked hard to bring down the price of broadband and the Minister of Transport has tried his best to unencumber our labyrinthine public transportation system.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge for Pakatan is the transition from opposition to government where in the past they could criticise without having to really implement anything and now that the roles are reversed, the instruction to deliver is bewildering.
Also, they have to defend the very policies they have consistently opposed because they are in government and the legitimate question on the mind of everyday folks like myself is: Were they honest when they opposed these policies?
Also, it's disappointing that Pakatan is using the very methods and instruments of governance that they previous criticised and this includes, but not limited to, making arrogant statements, using government machinery for political purposes and using restrictive laws to prop up their government and insulate themselves from genuine inquiry.
The promise of an open government has been forgotten.
But for me, the only hero is our PM. At 93, he is putting individuals half his age to shame. He works indefatigably assuaging Malaysians that despite all the hullabaloo – the country is in good hands.
The PM has to work doubly hard to ensure his cabinet, which he rated five out of 10, can deliver on the lofty expectations of the rakyat due to the loftier promises made by Pakatan. However, not all of those in government are newbies.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs were previously chief executives of Penang and Selangor respectively. The Minister of Home Affairs was previously Deputy Prime Minister.
So, in summation, after 365 days I can say with some degree of certainty that the more things change the more they stay the same.
PH has four more years and if those four years are anything like the first year, then they are in trouble.
Lastly, I owe a debt of gratitude (that I most likely can never repay) to my fiancée, my family (especially my parents) and my friends who have been incredibly supportive and understanding over the past year.
Some have asked if I will return to active politics – my answer is a flat no.
Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly political secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.