Pakatan loses popularity for integrity

The euphoria of Pakatan Harapan’s popularity appears to have waned a year on with unfulfilled campaign promises and concerns on racial matters

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

The results of the historic election victory on May 9 last year sent a powerful message: Malaysians wanted a change that would put an end to low wages, a high cost of living and corruption in state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Against all odds, Pakatan Harapan was made the new federal government, promising reforms that will usher in a “New Malaysia” era.

The euphoria on the election feat appears to have waned a year on, with unfulfilled campaign promises and concerns on racial matters hurting Pakatan Harapan’s popularity.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has agreed that more could have been done over the past one year. However, his first 22-year experience in the government has allowed him to see beyond what is perceived and deal with the realities at hand — namely, corruption.

The coalition’s first year in governance has been swamped by efforts to clean up government inefficiencies after it was revealed that abuse of power had pushed the national debt to RM1 trillion.

Sweeping changes were made at ministries and state-owned entities such as the Federal Land Development Authority and Lembaga Tabung Haji, in which individuals with vested political interests were replaced by corporate leaders.

Changes were also made in the judiciary and legislature branches, with Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat making history as the country’s first ever appointed female chief justice.

Also in the list was retired Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, who was made Dewan Rakyat speaker in July last year.

Putrajaya has also initiated the trial against former PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, who is facing multiple counts of corruption and money laundering charges linked to 1MDB.

Efforts to recover billions siphoned from 1MDB funds look rather promising with the return of RM1.3 billion worth of assets thus far. This includes the sale of luxury superyacht Equanimity last month for US$126 million (RM514 million), and the recent recovery of millions of dollars from the US government.

More funds are expected to come in after the Singapore Courts ordered the repatriation of S$50 million (RM152.2 million) of funds traceable to 1MDB. The US Department of Justice is also expected to sell a luxury mansion in California that it has recouped.

In government offices, complaints of delayed applications in exchange for money under the table have been muted, Dr Mahathir claimed, on fears of being caught red handed.

The battle against corruption has also impelled the review of key infrastructure deals, particularly those linked to China, after contracts with Beijing were allegedly used to bail out 1MDB.

Chinese officials have since denied the “groundless” accusation, but agreed to shave nearly a third of the East Coast Rail Link cost to RM44 billion and bear some risks involved in the maintenance and operation of the rail line when it comes into operation in 2026.

As for the Bandar Malaysia project in Kuala Lumpur, the government had decided to reinstate the RM140 million development plan after changes were made to the terms to include the construction of affordable homes and local content.

While all these efforts can be held in high regard, Pakatan Harapan’s focus to lower public debt has come at a cost, with risks of a credit rating downgrade if Malaysia’s financial prospects weaken.

Moving ahead, the coalition is expected to channel its energy towards economic development, with promising signs seen in Bank Negara Malaysia’s recent decision to reduce its key interest rate to 3% — marking the first revision in more than a year.