PH’s greatest achievement, one year on

I joined a couple of neighbours for tea yesterday and, you guessed it, the main topic was Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) loss in the contest for the Rantau state seat in last Saturday’s by-election.

Both felt PH had lost credibility because it had failed to “keep many of its major election promises” and that this had affected the Rantau result. Another reason, they felt, was the use of race by Umno and PAS to coax Malay voters to vote for winner Mohamad Hasan of Barisan Nasional (BN).

It was not much of a jump from this to PH’s one year in office – May 9 is less than a month away – and they felt PH could have done so much better.

One said: “We had such high hopes when PH took over. I was so certain that we had entered a new era in politics and that it would force Umno and PAS to drop their race-religion approach. I was wrong.

“The Rantau by-election result and the PAS-Umno partnership appear to say that the race card will continue to be played for a long while yet. What a sad day for Malaysia.”

If you think the one who said this is a non-Malay, you would be wrong. He is a Malay gentleman, but one who is not a member of any political party.

The other, a Chinese gentleman, said: “PH missed a golden opportunity to set things right. It has bungled. It has reneged on many of its election pledges.”

I said every party that came to power ended up not keeping many of its election promises, pointing, as example, to the many reforms that Najib Razak had promised when he became prime minister and then let everyone down by caving in to the ultra-conservatives and naysayers.

“Please don’t bring in Najib. I cannot understand how he can go around smirking from ear to ear when he has been charged with major crimes. I would be so ashamed if I were in his shoes,” said the Malay gentleman.

“Some people got thick skin,” said the Chinese gentleman, adding: “But you have to admit he is innocent until proven guilty.”

But all three of us found it weird that so many people actually want to take selfies with Najib. Do they realise the message they are giving?

How many people took selfies with him when he was prime minister? How many ordinary people would have been allowed to take selfies with him in those days? Today, he needs public sympathy in his off-court battle with the government and is therefore making himself available for selfies, handshakes and whatnot. He is desperately trying to win in the court of public opinion. But it shows that the man has a splendid strategy and is taking the battle directly to PH politicians.

All three of us agreed that PH may have underestimated Najib.

The Malay neighbour said I was wrong about most governments not fulfilling many of their election pledges, adding that he had read a study which said that governments fulfilled most of their promises.

After returning home, I googled and, sure enough, there is a large-scale comparative study which says the common view that political parties break promises is wrong.

A group of scholars from various universities, who undertook a study of over 200 pledges in 57 election campaigns in 12 Western countries, found that many parties which went on to form the government actually fulfilled many of their promises. The study was carried in the July 2017 issue of The American Journal of Political Science.

“We found the highest percentages of pledge fulfilment for governing parties in the UK, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, and Canada, most of which governed in single‐party executives. We found lower percentages for governing parties in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Italy, most of which governed in coalitions,” the study authors say.

That perhaps explains why PH is slacking in this area. It is a coalition of disparate political parties, each with its own vision of what Malaysia should be and each with its own strategies, but which came together only because all of them wanted to remove Najib. PH leaders have admitted that even they were surprised they had won the 14th general election.

Then again, it would be interesting if someone here were to undertake a similar study of our region. The study quoted above may not apply to Southeast Asia as political structures are quite different here.

While I am disappointed that PH has not undertaken some crucial reforms it had promised to implement, I am not disillusioned with it; not yet. I think we should only judge it midway into its five-year term of office. A hundred days is terribly short, and a year is still inadequate, particularly if we take into consideration the nature of the coalition and the problems it inherited from the previous government.

Sure, PH has failed in some areas; sure, it has yet to get its act together; but there has been progress.

Even if you disagree about there being progress, I’m certain you’d agree the nation has not regressed. Things could be worse. Can you imagine what would have happened if BN had won in GE14? There would have been no 1MDB probe and those who had been critical of it would have found themselves hounded or jailed. The Anti-Fake News Law would have been used to go after every critic of the BN government. Groups such as the Red Shirts would be strutting about with chests puffed. Protests would be met with tear gas and baton charges. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the message.

One thing I can clearly see is that dissidents are not being jailed, unlike during the days of BN. Sure, some individuals found to have insulted the royalty or some religion have been charged in court, but how many people have been charged for criticising Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad or other ministers or government policies? I haven’t heard of any artist or cartoonist being arrested, have you?

Just see how free people’s comments are these days, whether in print or online. So many people are bravely criticising government initiatives and remarks by ministers on social media.

Even political analysts are freer with their views today than they were in the past. In fact, when I listen to some of them on television, I can’t help but wonder if these are the same guys who tried so hard to look balanced as they leaned towards BN and its policies for fear of reprisal or to apple polish the then-government leadership.

Look at the number of groups taking to the streets to protest. Have you seen baton charges and water cannons being used against protesters who want to voice their grievances? Remember the huge protest against the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination? The PH government facilitated it and the police kept their distance.

So, I say there is greater freedom today than in the past 35 years. And that is an achievement.

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