Anwar’s immediate challenge is stabilising the loosely-cobbled federal coalition and naming an inclusive Cabinet
by S BIRRUNTHA & ANIS HAZIM / pic BERNAMA
AT LONG last, Malaysia has Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as its 10th prime minister (PM) and trusts the long-time Opposition leader to lead the new unity government.
For the first time in the country’s history, Malaysia’s government will be formed by a multi-ethnic coalition — namely Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional (BN) and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) — as advised by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong after none of the political parties won a majority 112 out of the 222 Parliamentary seats at the 15th General Election (GE15).
Analysts and economists are positive that a unity government led by PH will be able to bring Malaysia forward amid the anticipated recession, gaining the investors’ confidence and trust of the business community.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun believes that PH has more expertise and sincerity to tackle the countries’ myriad economic challenges among the ranks of its MPs and leaders.
He opined that if the likes of PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli and DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke Siew Fook are put in charge of the relevant ministries deal-
ing with economic and financial developments, they could provide enlightened leadership in steering this country hopefully out of the economic turmoil.
“There will have to be some form of amnesty for past corrupt deeds and strict enforcement of future corrupt behaviour.
“Even Umno nowadays would have to put up a veneer of integrity to woo its diminishing voter base,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) last Friday.
Unity is Key
Speaking on what the new government should do in terms of tackling social issues, Oh said education reform could be modelled after Australia and Germany with co-equal traditional and vocational routes
to education that would provide skilled human resources for the country’s economic transformation.
He hopes that Anwar’s charismatic personality could help heal the vast racial and religious divide that continues to plague the country.
On the other hand, economist Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi said that the new government has one job, similar to its name of “unity”, which is to unite the country follow- ing such a divisive election in which race and religion were more important to many voters.
“It has to communicate well with the people and address their fears honestly and give them hope,” Nungsari told TMR.
He said that all parties should stay away from playing the race or religious card, and enforce the laws on hate speech and incitement.
“We can disagree on anything, but do not use race and religion as a basis to disagree. We already have the Constitution for those matters,” he noted.
In 2018, the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led PH federal government collapsed after 22 months in power. During that time, many people were dissatisfied, especially the Malays, due to the campaign by the Opposition which characterised PH’s move to ratify Malay interests such as the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination and the Rome Statute.
The economist said that the new government will have a difficult main task of strengthening the country’s finances with inadequate revenues, high expenditures and tons of debt, amid the rising global inflation and uncertainty.
Meanwhile, Anwar also pledged to fight corruption during his first press conference (on Nov 24) since sworn in as PM.
However, Nungsari viewed that the corruption in Malaysia could not be fully eliminated, although it can certainly be done by focusing on thorough efforts.
“The thing about corruption is beyond enforcement. We want to have values that abhor corruption in all forms.
“That requires educating the people about it from school and this sort of abstract type reforms are essential but difficult to do, but they must be done,” Nungsari said.
According to him, some have proposed for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to report to a committee of the Dewan Rakyat, while some said that it should have its own prosecution powers.
Nonetheless, he said that the enforcement efforts must be seen to be fair, independent and not selective. Nungsari believes that the office of public prosecutors should be separate from the legal advisor to the government.
The economist also expects Anwar to address inequality as the issue has been his consistent focus from his younger days.
“A lot of social issues, including extremism, have their roots in the sense of not being part of growth and despair that should be addressed.
“In this regard, public institutions, especially schools which are means for upward mobility, must be truly made to be a means of competition.
“National schools should be places to develop citizenry and adequately prepare children for a competitive environment — all about reforms,” he added.
BowerGroupAsia deputy MD Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani expressed that becoming the 10th PM is a full circle moment for Anwar as his mentor turned political nemesis, Dr Mahathir, suffered his first electoral defeat in 53 years.
He added that Anwar’s immediate challenge is stabilising the loosely-cobbled federal coalition and naming an inclusive Cabinet that appeases all parties.
“His new federal coalition will face its first resolve in the Padang Serai election, where both PH and
BN have candidates contesting. “However, the bigger test will be the Umno elections in six months, which may see a change in party leadership and direction,” he told TMR.
Commenting further, Asrul Hadi said Anwar must thread delicately between progressive reforms and political pragmatism. He will want to gain the support of rural voters, but avoid alienating his urban supporters.
Asrul Hadi also stressed that Anwar’s supporters are expecting a guilty verdict against BN chairman Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in his ongoing court case, and anything less could impact Anwar’s reputation and credibility.
He noted that Anwar’s administration will also have to decide on the implementation of the much-needed fiscal reforms, such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and subsidy rationalisation.
“Anwar as PM must also re-establish Malaysia on the global stage as the political instability in the last term impacted investor confidence in the country’s economic resilience.
“His positive relationship with the US should sway more investments from US companies into the country.”
Meanwhile, Malaysia University of Science and Technology (MUST) professor and economist Dr Geoffrey Williams told TMR that there will be an economic slow- down but with the right policies, a recession can be avoided.
He said the new budget must focus on keeping inflation low and protecting people from the rising cost of living, and, at the same time, promote sustainable growth and investment.
“In the long term, the new government needs to focus on supply-side reforms to promote competition, agility and innovation, improve small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and help promote domestic and foreign investments.
“Social policies on pension reform, social protection, health and education are all priorities,” he said.
Williams noted that the coun- try’s education needs a full National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) reform, and both PH and BN are committed to that.
In terms of social protection, he suggested that the unity government can find a consensus between the PH Humane Economy approach and the BN Assistive Basic Income approach.
“Both were quiet on pension reform, but there is a consensus among pension experts on how to address that. Both were quiet on healthcare, too, but there is also a review panel on that.
“Overall, there must be policy review councils for pensions and social protection, higher education funding, economic development, health reform, SME and business development, investment competitiveness, tax reform and, of course the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO),” he said.
In terms of combating corruption, Williams pointed out that there is a consensus between PH and BN on splitting the attorney general (AG) and public prosecutor roles, and this will help.
“We are likely to see a new AG. As far as the MACC is concerned, there would normally be a change in the chief commissioner,” he noted.
Additionally, he said government changes in procurement processes can reduce corruption and the PBO can act as an over- sight in broad terms with the auditor general (A-G) looking in forensic terms on all spending proposals.
“Overall, it is clear that PH is committed to the anti-corruption agenda and if anyone will improve this situation, it will be them. It is also essential for investor confidence,” he added.
Centre for Market Education CEO Dr Carmelo Ferlito said that the new government’s first action should be the appointment of competent ministers.
“Rather than seeking a confidence vote on himself, Anwar should design a policy agenda and ask his ministers and supporting MPs to commit to it.
“This policy agenda should include a radical U-turn from the policies we have seen in the past three years,” Ferlito said to TMR.
He proposed for the government to withdraw the heavy hand on the economy, such as price controls, by tackling inflation with spending cuts rather than hiding it with price controls; give Malaysia back its vocation to open trade; reforming taxation to increase the tax base; cutting income tax; and reintroduce GST, as well as redesign investment schemes.
Noting Anwar’s ambition to fight corruption, he opined that the government should focus more on implementing and commit- ting to consistent and pro-market economic policies.
“As an open market, pushing domestic and international competition will also create an ecosystem that discourages corruption,” he said.
On reforming the country’s education, Ferlito said that the most important issue is to reintroduce a strong role for humanities.
“Properly learning humanities can develop critical spirits and eventually push for unity.
“But unity is something that can only emerge from the ground, and cannot be a process of social imposition,” he concluded.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition