New Malaysia? No, only a new Putrajaya, says Wan Saiful

PETALING JAYA: PPBM strategist Wan Saiful Wan Jan has cautioned Pakatan Harapan that it may end up being a one term government if it fails to carry out reforms promised before the May 9 polls and if ministers fail to “shut up” when necessary.

He added that so far the government had only managed to create a new Putrajaya but not a new Malaysia, as society had yet to change. Many reforms, he added, had to be carried out before that could happen.

“Pakatan has to deliver because it won due to promises to reform.

“We would be frustrated and would become a one term government if we don’t. We better keep our promises to reform,” he said during a talk titled “What are the Prospects for Political Reforms?” The talk was held at the Australian National University in Canberra and shown live on Facebook.

He said the main problem faced by the government was carrying out reforms based on the manifesto drawn from official data available at that time in 2017.

“When we came into Putrajaya, our assumptions were broken down on the first week itself,” he said referring to the huge national debt of RM1 trillion and unsupportive civil servants.

“The money was simply not there. When we said we wanted more research and academics, the money was not there and it made our reforms difficult to be carried out due to lack of money.”

Secondly, he said, PH had been wrong to assume that the civil service would support the new government.

“They did not facilitate changes. Due to these reasons, we could not make changes within the 100 days (after May 9 polls).”

He said the government was now more aware of the problems and was learning fast but pointed out that some of the advisers to the ministers needed to learn fast as the expectations from the public were high and they were eagerly waiting for constant announcements to be made.

“This is a major challenge for us. Another expectation is that the public wants politicians to know everything. The public expects politicians to be next to God, to know and resolve everything immediately.”

However, he said, ministers should also learn to “shut up” when necessary, and not act as opposition members any longer, a skill acquired when they were in the opposition.

“When you are in the government whatever you say is seen as or becomes a policy. We need to manage public expectations, to run the show, shut up and be humble to say I don’t know everything.”

Wan Saiful said Malaysians must know that politicians were not leaders but people who wanted to be popular and “that is why it is hard for them to do things that are not popular. If society wants to change then society needs to work together to make good ideas popular. Politicians would then follow the popular ideas. ”

He hoped civil society would be “critical friends” of the government rather than opposing it. “If they treat people in power as enemies, the people in power would treat them as enemies. This is natural and very sad, to be honest.”

A new Putrajaya not a new Malaysia

He said, unlike Bangsar where the elite met to talk about the new Malaysia, people in rural areas still talked about ways to pay for the following day’s lunch or transportation to transport their sick family member to the hospital.

Due to that, he said, the government needed to go to the ground to understand the daily problems faced by rural folk to carry out reforms or “we may become a one-term government.”

“We have only changed the government in Putrajaya. We have not changed society.”

He said there was still a lot of work to be done as Pakatan Harapan had done well in mixed constituencies but badly in Malay-majority areas where the support was still very much for Umno. This could be seen from PPBM’s performance where it had contested in 52 federal seats but won only 13 seats.

“That is the indication of the challenge that we have. Many people who live in the Bangsar bubble say this is a new Malaysia not this is really a new Putrajaya.”

He said some of the reforms may take time and due to that education programmes to create awareness must continue.