KUALA LUMPUR: Universiti Malaya Professor Terence Gomez today expressed concern over the lack of progress under the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and the apparent power struggle between Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.
He said the political elites were just trying to dominate the state and consolidate their own positions, instead of focusing on reforms.
“These are not the reforms we wanted,” he said during a panel discussion at C4’s Conference on Conflict of Interest today.
Also present at the conference were Petronas’ chief integrity officer Rohaizad Yaakob, Election Commission (EC) chairman Azhar Azizan Harun, Deloitte Malaysia’s operational risk adviser Cheryl Khor and C4 executive director Cynthia Gabriel.
“Is it not true there was a big feud between Mahathir and Anwar?
“Is it not true there was a big feud over Cabinet membership? Is it not true that Anwar, who was going on a two-year sabbatical, has now become a sitting MP?
“Is it not true that we are hearing repeated stories on concerns by Mahathir having Anwar as prime minister-in-waiting?
“Is it not true, that newspapers themselves made this their headlines?” Gomez asked.
He asked if the duo had sorted out their issues, urging everyone not to sweep this matter under the carpet.
“Are politicians speaking the truth to the nation?”
He said issues such as political appointments in government-linked companies and race-based policies, which were prevalent in the past, were still popping up.
Despite a change in the government, Gomez said the key leaders were the same as in the 1990s, namely Mahathir, his economic adviser Daim Zainuddin and Anwar.
“Why is this problematic? Look at the political discourse. Soon after they came to power, they said politicians will not be involved in business. But they reneged on that.
“They said no more race-based policies, but now we have the Bumiputera policy. It is a repeat of the discourse we have seen in the past,” he said.
Businessmen in politics
Gomez also questioned the use of money in elections and how businessmen could use their influence in politics to shape public policies.
He said when businessmen become politicians, political funding becomes a problem.
“Our politics is like a revolving door. People become politicians, then they leave and do business, and then they come back to politics.
“Can state capture happen? Yes, it can. Should we be cautious about state capture? Yes, we should be.
“Do we have reforms in place to prevent state capture? No, we don’t,” he said.
State capture refers to a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage.
Gomez said the Scorpene scandal in the past is the 1MDB case today.
He noted that most of the scandals in politics involve money and it was mainly due to the politicians with a business background.
Gomez raised the issue of elite domination in power and politics.
“In the past, we considered Najib (former prime minister Najib Razak) a symbol of elite domination. But who else are the elites?”
He then listed out the “elites” who were political leaders in different states and in different parties.
“If you go to Selangor, you have PKR. If you go to Kelantan, you have PAS. Now, they are being monetised with RM90 million,” he said.
Gomez stressed the government must deconstruct this system of elitists and businessmen.
Destroying this system, he said, could create a path for transparency to allow the people of the country to hold the politicians accountable for their actions.
‘Remove race-based policies’
Meanwhile, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said there was a lot of discussion on how to approach racial and religious issues in politics.
“There is a claim we should remove race-based policies. I call on all of you to think carefully and look at things not just from an economic lens, but also through a political lens,” he said.
Syed Saddiq said that in the US, when there was a vacuum and reforms were made very quickly, “the pendulum swung from someone as respectable as Barack Obama to someone as unfortunate as Donald Trump very quickly”.
“In Malaysia, when you embark on the path of reforms and if you go too quickly, you can lose sight of your electorate and you will lose in the next general election,” he said.
He said certain reforms had already taken place. This included the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) no longer reporting to the Prime Minister’s Office but independently to Parliament and the EC being free and fair.
“There are many more — reducing the voting age, automatic voter registration and abolishing the Sedition Act.
“We cannot just steamroll these reforms. We need to have a fair debate. It takes time,” he said.
The PPBM Youth chief cited how the bill to abolish the Anti-Fake News Act got pushed back from the Senate and now requires the government to reconsider and make amendments in order to move it forward.