In vibrant democracies like the United States and Britain, the approval rating of the president and prime minister after one year in office usually goes down. It comes up again when the economy is doing well.
I am confident that if the Pakatan politicians stop blaming the mess left behind by the previous administration and instead show a strong commitment towards building a multiracial society and invigorating the domestic economy, they can turn the public sentiment around.
There is a lot of negativity in the air about the state of race relations in the country. The leaders must distance themselves from the racial and religious hawks if they expect to win public trust that they are trying to improve race relations in the country. I do not think the voters who put Pakatan into power are satisfied with the performance of the government on this score.
The public is also sceptical of the government blaming the national debt for the slow progress of reforms. If we read the Treasury and Bank Negara economic reports, nowhere do they mention the national debt level as so seriously crippling to the country as the politicians were claiming. The World Bank and IMF as well as our think tanks like MIER (Malaysian Institute of Economic Research) and Ideas (Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs) take the view that the country remains financially stable despite the 1MDB and other scandals. The Finance Minister has also said the debt problem is manageable.
Despite their confidence on the economy, economists agree that various reforms are urgently needed in view of the emerging problems like high cost of living, low wage levels, graduate unemployment and low standard of our education system. All these are contributing to the worsening income inequalities among households.
The people voted for a change of government in May 2018 because they had lost all hope in the previous administration, which they blamed for the collapse of integrity, accountability and transparency among the institutions of law and order. The new government acted quickly in taking legal action on those involved in the hijacking of public funds and corruption. It is also making efforts to strengthen the various institutions so as to restore public confidence in Parliament, the Judiciary, civil service, electoral machinery, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the police.
We hope the IPCMC (Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission) Bill to monitor police behaviour will be implemented this year. We are also hoping to see improvements in the governance of the GLCs especially those under the statutory bodies and state governments, as their close political links are often associated with corruption, cronyism and nepotism.
It is frustrating to see that when the government is faced with opposition from those who use race and religion to attack the reforms, it tends to recoil into a corner and do a U-turn. The reforms that are often opposed on grounds of race, religion and royalty are those dealing with human rights. Yet, in a constitutional democracy, the laws must recognise the rights of the media, civil society, academic community, and student and women’s groups for them to become the eyes and ears of the people and bring the issues and problems out into the open.
Freedom of information and freedom of speech and assembly will enable the political leaders to be held accountable for good behaviour in their public as well as private life. It is therefore crucial for the government to speed up the reforms for abolishing or amending the draconian laws to remove the climate of fear in the country when criticising the high and mighty.
Some apologists for the Pakatan government have blamed the slow progress of the reform agenda on the existence of “the deep state”. From the statements that have been made about reform proposals being blocked in the inner circles at the ministry level, the deep state probably refers to the civil service. It is difficult to believe that the civil service is engaged in sabotage. If indeed there are civil servants who are working against the present government because their loyalty lies with their previous bosses, they should be identified, exposed and referred for disciplinary action, including dismissal. But it’s not right to treat the whole civil service as an enemy of the state.
Pakatan apologists should stop bringing up the deep state as it is most damaging to civil service morale. Besides, it is self-defeating to the present government as most Malaysians will just dismiss the deep state allegation as another excuse cooked up to defend the slow progress of crucial reforms.
Malaysians hope that from 2020 onward, the government will step up the pace of reforms without looking for new excuses. All the reform proposals in the Pakatan coalition’s election manifesto are not recent ideas. They have been fought for over several decades since the ‘80s. All that is required of the government is to abolish or amend the laws, with top priority being given to the draconian laws that hang like a sword over our fundamental rights.
Human rights are universal values that are neither West nor East. They belong to the whole human race.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM
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