KUALA LUMPUR: A frequent critic of Pakatan Harapan (PH) acknowledges that the coalition has, in its first year of power, made laudable moves in the interest of democracy but complains that the pace has lately slowed down.
On a scale of one to ten, “I give PH six as of today,” political activist Ambiga Sreenevasan told FMT in a recent interview.
She noted that the coalition dismantled the National Civics Bureau (BTN) soon after it came to power. “That was very brave,” she said.
She also mentioned key appointments to strengthen the judiciary and the Attorney-General’s Chambers. “And don’t forget, we also have a good strong Election Commission now, which means our elections are safe.”
Ambiga is one of the founders of the election watchdog Bersih. She served as its first chairman. She is now a member of the government-appointed Institutional Reforms Committee.
She spoke of Malaysians now being less afraid to speak their minds than when Barisan Nasional (BN) was in power, but she said the “air of freedom” they were breathing had a slightly bitter taste to it because the Sedition Act 1948 was still in force.
She said she would continue to pressure PH to keep all of its promises with regard to reforms.
“I know a lot of people think I criticise too much, but I do this because I feel that unless you make changes quickly within the first year or so, people will become complacent and the changes won’t happen.”
She pointed out that PH made “all those positive changes” quickly after winning the general election last year. But it was now risking the loss of public support with its loss of momentum, she added.
She cited U-turns on promises and decisions such as abolishing the death penalty, repealing the Sedition Act and acceding to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Rome Statute.
She said such about-turns made the government look “as if it’s not handling things very well”.
Ambiga acknowledged that many people within the government were working hard, with certain ministers “slogging their guts out”.
“But I really think they need to pull together a little bit more and be serious about reforms,” she said.
She commended the ruling coalition for the speed with which it managed to repeal the law against fake news, but pointed out that the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 was still in force and that the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission had yet to be set up.
She said Putrajaya needed to lay out its plan clearly in its pursuit of reforms.
“Then you can say, ‘We’re going to do it this way,’ and the people will say, ‘Ah, we know you’re going to do that by this date. So we won’t push you on this.’”
She urged the government to roll out its plan for reforms for the next year.
She also said it was incumbent for members of the administration to improve their communication and public relations skills.
“Sometimes we hear ministers saying things which are really not very clever. And I know people are working quietly but we don’t know what they are working on. They don’t know how to advertise their achievements.”
She expressed confidence that PH could do better, but she warned that “the whole world” was waiting to say that democracy does not work in Malaysia.
“Many people outside Malaysia will be very happy if we fail,” she said. “So we need to show that democracy can work, as it has in Indonesia.”
Nevertheless, she said PH deserved praise for turning Malaysia into an example of a democracy at work. “And I want us to be a shining example.”