The prime minister was reported as saying that the string of defeats in recent by-elections since the Pakatan Harapan came to power in May 2018 do not necessarily point to a one-term government.
I think he is right because it’s quite common in the developed countries too that after a brief period of honeymoon, the ruling party’s own members will start to express their feelings at by-elections or in the media to show their disappointment at the local level.
In vibrant democracies like the US and the UK, the approval rating of the president and prime minister after one year in office usually goes down.
It comes up again when the economy is doing well.
I am confident that if the Pakatan Harapan politicians stop blaming the mess left behind by the previous administration and instead show a strong commitment towards building a multiracial society and invigorating domestic economy, they can turn around the public sentiment.
There is also lot of negativity in the air about the state of race relations in the country.
The leaders must distance themselves from the racial and religious hawks if they expect to win public trust that they are trying to improve race relations in the country.
I do not think the voters who put the Pakatan Harapan into power are satisfied with the performance of the government on this score.
The public is also sceptical of the government blaming the national debt for the slow progress of reforms. If we read the Treasury and Bank Negara economic reports, nowhere do they mention the national debt level as being so seriously crippling to the country as the politicians are claiming.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as our think-tanks, like MIER and IDEAS, take the view that the country remains financially stable, despite all the IMDB and other scandals.
The finance minister has also said the debt problem is manageable. Despite their confidence in the economy, economists agree that various reforms are urgently needed in view of the emerging problems like the high cost of living, low wage levels, graduate unemployment and the low quality of our education system.
All these are contributing to the worsening income inequalities among households.
The people voted for a change in government in May 2018 because they lost all hope in the previous administration which they blamed for the collapse of integrity, accountability and transparency among the institutions of law and order.
The new government acted quickly in taking legal action against those involved in the hijacking of public funds and corruption. It is also making efforts to strengthen the various institutions so as to restore public confidence in Parliament, the judiciary, civil service, electoral machinery, MACC and the police.
We hope the IPCMC bill to monitor police behaviour will be implemented this year.
We are also hoping to see improvements in the governance of the GLCs, especially those under the statutory bodies and state governments as their close political links are often associated with corruption, cronyism and nepotism.
It is frustrating to see that when the government is faced with opposition from those who use race and religion to attack the reforms, it tends to recoil into a corner and do a U-turn.
The reforms that are often opposed on grounds of race, religion and royalty are those dealing with human rights.
Yet, in a constitutional democracy, the laws must recognise the rights of the media, civil society, academic community, student and women’s groups for them to become the eyes and ears of the people and bring the issues and problems out into the open.
Freedom of information and freedom of speech and assembly will enable the political leaders to be held accountable for good behaviour in their public as well as private life.
It is therefore crucial for the government to speed up the reforms for abolishing or amending the draconian laws to remove the climate of fear in the country in criticising the high and mighty.
Stop blaming ‘deep state’
Some apologists for the PH government have blamed the slow progress for the reform agenda on the existence of “the deep state“. From the statements that have been made about reform proposals being blocked in the inner circles at the ministry level, the deep state probably refers to the civil service.
It is difficult to believe that the civil service is engaged in sabotage. If indeed there are civil servants who are working against the present government because their loyalty lies with their previous bosses, they should be identified, exposed and face disciplinary action, including dismissal.
But it’s not right to treat the whole civil service as an enemy of the state.
PH apologists should stop bringing up the deep state as it is most damaging to civil service morale.
Besides, it is self-defeating to the present government as most Malaysians will just dismiss the deep state allegation as another excuse cooked up to defend the slow progress in crucial reforms.
Malaysians hope that from 2020 onwards the government will step up the pace of reforms without looking for new excuses.
All the reform proposals that are in the PH coalition’s election manifesto are not recent ideas.
They have been fought for over several decades since the 1980s.
All that is required of the government is to abolish or amend the laws, with top priority being given to the draconian laws that hang like a sword over our fundamental rights.
Human rights are universal values that are neither Western nor Eastern. They belong to the whole human race.
Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.