Don’t give up on reforms now, we’re only halfway there

It was disingenuous of Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar to tell Singapore’s Straits Times that she was “broken hearted” at having to work with “a former dictator who wreaked so much damage, not just on our lives but the system”.

Nurul Izzah was referring to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who in 1998 jailed her father, Anwar Ibrahim, on a slew of corruption and sodomy charges.

Perhaps not many would want to work with Mahathir, but those who do work with him, including the people, do so because they remember the state of the nation before Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over federal power last year.

Let us remind ourselves how we got to this situation, where a 93-year-old man had to come out of retirement to serve the nation once more. Who else could have kicked out Barisan Nasional and Najib Razak?

Anwar could not have done it on his own. The charismatic Anwar is best known for his oratory and his close ties with the Muslim brotherhood, but he can’t even control the infighting in his party, PKR.

Lim Guan Eng could not have done it on his own, either. His party, DAP, has been demonised for decades by Umno and Malay extremists. In a way, Mahathir working with Lim as the finance minister goes some way in repairing the damage for which he is also partly responsible.

PAS under Abdul Hadi Awang has little hope of uniting Malaysians. Even if Nik Aziz were still alive, PAS would have gained little traction with the public. Today, PAS hopes to align itself with Umno, using race and religion, to conquer Putrajaya.

Even Umno’s Oxford-educated Khairy Jamaluddin, a prime minister-hopeful, failed to recognise the signs of a failing party, a broken economy and a suffering people.

Remember, too, that it was Nurul Izzah who allegedly chased after Mahathir when he was in London. Together, they initiated the first steps to form PH and to use the PKR logo for GE14.

No one who is lazy or who leaves homework undone should ever attempt to work with Mahathir. Those who are close to him tell me that he is a workaholic. He starts his meetings on time. He goes through the list of items to be discussed with hardly a break. He conducts spot checks. He makes do with little sleep, and he can be a pain when he micro-manages.

In his earlier days, when he had a clinic in Alor Setar, Mahathir used to give free treatment for the poor. In the villages, the Malays adore him and many Felda townships welcomed PH canvassers during GE14 when previously they would have been turned away.

Neither should anyone forget that Mahathir was the architect of the modern Malaysia we inherited: from the tips of the skyscrapers dominating the Kuala Lumpur skyline to the depths of depravity of the Ketuanan Melayu ideology.

Many households in villages are the proud owners of Protons, but on the other hand, those who benefited from the AP system live a life of luxury that few of us can even dream of.

When Nurul Izzah said the “former dictator” had “wreaked damaged on Malaysians and on the system”, she did not mention that her father was also part of the problem.

In the 1980s, Mahathir plucked Anwar from Abim and installed him in his Cabinet. Anwar was a student leader and a skilful orator who mobilised students and organised protests to help starving villagers up north in Baling.

Umno was going through a rough patch, and the Malays were becoming increasingly attracted to PAS through the rise of global Islam and the Iranian revolution, which helped boost the profile of Islam.

Anwar’s appointment served two purposes. The student leader was “contained” and would bring no further embarrassment to the government. More importantly, he would help make Umno more Islamic and increase its appeal to the Malays in future elections. Ask any Malaysian who was in school or university in the 1980s about Anwar’s role in the Islamisation of Malaysia.

Today, a well-travelled, well-read and well-informed Mahathir has probably realised the mess he created through the imposition of race and religion. In order to preserve his legacy, he knows that he must put things right.

Unfortunately, he has many untested and immature people in his Cabinet. Those with dodgy degrees and those with fake degrees have failed both Mahathir and the people. With their conservative upbringing, their lack of exposure to other cultures and Umno’s daily indoctrination of race and religion, many PH Malays who now hold positions of power cannot think outside of the race and religion box.

Mahathir is aware that ours is a complex nation because past policies have polarised people and forced them to live separate lives. Their children are sent to separate schools, they live in separate housing estates and work in separate fields. Most Malays join the civil service while the rest enter the private sector. Religion is not a unifying factor, and race-based parties compound the division.

When he came to power last May, Mahathir wrote to the Agong requesting the removal of Apandi Ali as attorney-general. Apandi was replaced by constitutional expert Tommy Thomas. Thomas was the unanimous choice of all PH leaders, and his appointment, it was hoped, would reassure the business world and the international community and show that PH means business and is serious about reforms.

Mahathir is also aware of how far Umno leaders have let things slide since he left office nearly two decades ago. He understands the fragility of the situation and knows that if he introduces a slew of reforms overnight and does too much in one go, he risks alienating Malay support.

Remember, too, that many Malays in the civil service are still loyal to Najib. They undermine the current administration. How can they be weeded out? They are not going to expose themselves. Nurul Izzah, of all people, should understand that.

Instead of giving up, she should have helped with the effort. She knows that if Najib were still in power, none of the changes made over the past 10 months would have happened.

If Malaysians gave up as easily as that, we would never have achieved the success of May 9, 2018. Our work of rebuilding Malaysia is only half-finished. Democracy is not accomplished as soon as the election is over.

We still have a lot of work to do to unite Malaysians and to move past racism and religious intolerance. Giving up now because of one man who is in a hurry but who has to work with inadequate tools shows a lack of moral fibre.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.