May 8, 2020

Pakatan Harapan's Future in the 'New Normal'





For supporters of Pakatan Harapan (PH), the 2nd anniversary of the 9 May 2018 General Elections will be a sombre affair.


It is more than just because our alliance lost power at the Federal level due to the controversial “Sheraton Move”.


Malaysia is also beginning to grapple with the socio-economic fallout of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic and the Movement Control Order (MCO).


Even with the opening of our economy via the Conditional MCO (CMCO), which, lets face it, has also been marred by disagreements between our Federal and State governments, it will take a lot of work and time before we get back to where we once were.


This is the health and economic ‘new normal’.


The fluid political situation following the ‘Sheraton move’ is the political ‘new normal’.


All the same, ordinary Malaysians were suffering even before the country was hit by the last wave of political chicanery and the pandemic. This suffering will continue and even exacerbate without wise and transparent policies that are centred on the rakyat rather than vested interests.


So yes, while we must “focus on the economy”, it will all come to naught without good and open politics.


Any economic recovery or future growth will not be sustainable or equitable without strong institutions as well as political reform.


And I believe the best hope for this in Malaysia lies in PH getting its act together.


As the old saying goes, if we fail to learn the lessons of history, we will repeat it.


Why PH won


Forging a better political and hence economic road ahead for Malaysia’s ‘new normal’ is key to understand why PH succeeded and failed.


Two points are clear.


First, we must acknowledge that PH won in 2018 not just because of the rakyat’s anger over the 1MDB scandal and the abuses of Najib Razak.


That was a major factor, but it was not the only one. We would not have won if we campaigned on it alone.


Malaysian voters gave us a parliamentary majority because PH won them over to the promises outlined in our Buku Harapan manifesto.


No manifesto is perfect—but I strongly believe that had we implemented in substantively—it would have laid the seeds for a pro-rakyat and globally competitive Malaysian economy.


This is because the rakyat is our greatest asset and no plan for the future will succeed if it doesn’t stand up for them.


For my part, I certainly never shied away from making it the centrepiece whenever and wherever I campaigned in 2018.


Second, we were united. The rapprochement between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim was a watershed in Malaysian politics.


That too was one of the reasons why we won. 9 May 2018 couldn’t have happened if these two icons had not put aside their differences for the future of the country.


Our mistakes


But we must also be honest about the mistakes that were made.


The PH Cabinet that was set up after the elections did not reflect the realities of the Parliamentary strength of the different component parties.


I will be the first to admit that there were many excellent Ministers in the ranks—but others frankly let the people down in terms of their performance and their actions during the “Sheraton Move.”


Only the man who was Prime Minister at the time can say for certain why his Cabinet was formed the way it was and why he picked the people he did.


BERSATU’s decision to welcome UMNO crossovers virtually lock, stock and barrel also did not help things.


There certainly was a failure to communicate, to really talk in an honest and heartfelt manner between ourselves and the rakyat.


Moving ahead, we will likely see attempts to attribute the failure of PH on how the Mahathir-Anwar transition was handled, or rather, bungled.


But again, it was a failure to communicate that led to the breakdown.


Anwar consistently said that Dr Mahathir should be given time to implement the reforms he felt the country needed.


Communication and compromise are a two-way street.


The Buku Harapan should not have been abandoned


This leads me to my next point. Another grave disappointment was the way the Buku Harapan was also seemingly consigned to the rubbish bin.


It was treated as something of a joke, even by certain leaders of the government that was elected on its planks and to implement it.

Don’t they—and certainly we, the rakyat—after the “Sheraton Move”, now wish that they had taken it more seriously and worked more urgently to fulfil it?


Wouldn’t we have been better off, or at least a little bit better prepared to deal with the ‘new normal’ now facing us, had they done so?


If the “Shared Prosperity Vision” (SPV) that came later seemed hollow and unsubstantial, it was because it was missing the strengthened human capital and economic fundamentals implementing the manifesto would have brought.


People will say that the Buku Harapan is old news and that we should move on.


Still, how do we build for the future if our governments keep changing what they stand for?


There will ALWAYS be local, regional and global black swans that will throw administrations off guard.


Weak ones bend. Strong ones adapt but continue to pursue their goals.


What future will Malaysia have if all its governments can or want to do is react to events?


If we stand for everything, we stand for nothing.


There must be a plan for the country. The manifesto was it. But we failed to follow through.


What next for PH? For Malaysia?


Moving forward, PH cannot hope to win if all we are relying on is for Perikatan Nasional (PN) to implode.


Its disunity is a serious question that cannot be batted away. But that will not be enough for Malaysian voters to want to send PH back to Putrajaya.


Rather, we must regain and recommit to the reformist, rakyat-centric spirit that so animated us in 2018.


We must show Malaysians that we will protect and grow their livelihoods as well as rights.


And we must do so as one coalition with one voice.


We cannot be prisoners of history.


But again, if we fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, we will repeat them.


Let us be honest about the mistakes we made and avoid repeats as we regroup to face what lies ahead.


Malaysians desperately need hope. PH must be able to give it to them—but we must be honest to them and with ourselves.






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