Time to learn from BN’s mistakes

  • Sharing The Nation
  • Sunday, 05 May 2019

Positive change: Tengku Maimun has been appointed as the country’s first woman Chief Justice, and probably a first in the Muslim world too.

As its honeymoon year draws to a close, the Pakatan Harapan government needs to summon the political will and courage to do more of what is right and what is just and start fulfilling its promise of change and to make life better for all. 

IN spite of the many disappointments expressed over the failure of the new Pakatan Harapan government to deliver on its many promises, I am one of those denigrated liberals who work and hang out in Bangsar who actually still have faith that change is possible.

I write this column to celebrate the momentous change we made a year ago in throwing out a ruling party that had gripped the country for 61 years and brought it to near implosion. I write this column, still feeling proud that the rakyat had the courage to put their faith in a coalition of disparate parties and strange bedfellows to give us all a chance to pursue a better future that we all deserve.

And I write delirious with joy that this government has just appointed the country’s first woman Chief Justice, and probably a first in the Muslim world too. From all accounts, Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat is reputed to be a judge of impeccable integrity, honesty, fairness and independence. What a breath of fresh air.

After one year of trying to find its feet to govern this country, I do hope this government will summon the political will and courage to do more and more of what is right and what is just. Enough flip-flopping on important policy decisions, caving in to incitement by those out to destroy this country just because their gravy train has derailed. Stop getting into a panic at every bit of criticism and attack by the ultra right wing that uses race, religion and royalty to ensure that nothing changes.

Think, consult, plan, strategise. Manage the change! Communicate effectively! Find solutions, build support and shift the narrative instead of retreating from doing the right thing.

Resistance to change is normal. People fear the unknown. People fear the risks that change brings. So, anticipate and prepare how you manage the change you want to bring.

It’s not easy of course, but the art of change management is also not rocket science.

It is obvious that some ministers are doing well with their policy announcements, going to the ground to build support, giving articulate interviews and sharing facts and data. But some are completely out of their depth, and a few we don’t even hear a pip squeak from. We don’t even know who they are, let alone what they are doing in their ministries.

The Prime Minister truly needs to be better served by a Cabinet that works together, provides clarity of vision and well-thought out policy instruments and roadmaps to deliver on the Pakatan Harapan change agenda.

Many have said again and again that this government so desperately needs a communications strategy. By now, they know already that winning the elections was actually the easier part. Delivering on their promises, governing well in the midst of a cacophony of diverse and dissenting voices and relentless efforts to turn every contested issue into a matter of race, religion and royalty is a much bigger challenge.

How does it deal with these challenges? How best to manage the fears, whether real or imagined, of that segment of the Malay population who feel their rights and privileges are under threat? How to win over the B40 of this government’s plans to make life better and kinder for them, that there are strategies for economic growth, for bringing down the cost of living, for better job opportunities, for reducing inequalities?

How to convince its support base that for decades had campaigned for change and made possible this victory to Pakatan Harapan that they will not be forsaken? That there will be an end to the intertwining of business and politics, that repressive laws will be repealed, that human rights treaties will be ratified, that development will take place with representation, that the environment will be protected, that equality, justice and non-discrimination will underpin policymaking and implementation, that appointments to important positions will be made on the basis of merit?

Not least, how to deal with the hate and fear mongering that continue unabated? To panic and turn your back on your principles and values for short term appeasement is not the answer as that will only embolden and give permission and legitimacy to those out to make this country ungovernable by continuing to stoke the fires of race and religion, and increasing royalty.

What is needed is clarity of vision of what this country stands for, where it is heading, the policies and plans and means to bring

this new Malaysia into reality, and bringing everyone on board in this next stage of nation-building.

We are tired of the infighting within parties, the distrust among leaders, the shoot-from-the-hip statements and policies that they cannot defend or promote. We want the ministers and their teams to get on with the job of governing and leading and delivering. We want to see the government bring the people together and galvanise the nation into action to bring about the change they promised and that we believed in running up to May 9, 2018.

We want this government to succeed, not retreat. Remember what happened to Abdullah Badawi’s administration. Within four short years, it all went wrong. From the most grand electoral victory in 2004 with his vision of a kinder, gentler and inclusive Malaysia, and his promise of a democratising, transparent and accountable government to the ignominious loss of four additional states and the much vaunted two-thirds majority in 2008 – because of his failure to deliver on his change agenda in the midst of resistance from powerful centres of power from within his own party and his own government.

I don’t think Pakatan Harapan is in danger of this massive repudiation yet. It still has time on its side to get it right and it does have a team that believes in change. And I believe it still has a reservoir of goodwill from among its supporters who are willing to give it more time to deliver, given the dire straits the country was in.

Some important progress has been made, not least in terms of the fight against corruption. But playing up to the gallery, giving in to the merchants of hate and fear, which was what Pak Lah did by backtracking on his change agenda, and allowing the histrionics of race and religion under threat to rise unchallenged by both his party and his government, led to the most crushing blow in 2008.So learn from the mistakes of Barisan Nasional. Don’t turn friends into enemies. Don’t alienate your support base to appease the extremists. Build bridges. Give hope. Provide support to those left behind. There is much that is good in Malaysia and among Malaysians. There is much that is good among today’s leaders, who have fought for so long to be in power to bring about the change they believe in. So roll up your sleeves, mobilise the support needed and engender confidence that the change you promised to make life better for all, is indeed for real.

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