A mixed appraisal after six months of Anwar’s administration

The PM still needs to address challenges in areas such as food security, national security and the digital economy 


THE unity government, cobbled together by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim following a hung Parliament in the 15th edition of the General Election (GE15) in November 2022, has completed its first six-month milestone in Putrajaya. 

While opinions vary on whether it is premature to assess his administration at this stage, the urgency for the 10th prime minister (PM) to revitalise and lead the country in navigating through the challenges of the ongoing global recession cannot be overstated. 

With the hopes and expectations of the public resting on Anwar’s shoulders, the evaluation of his performance thus far becomes a crucial exercise in determining the nation’s trajectory and prospects for recovery. 

The academia, intellectuals, political analysts and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are mostly being practical, taking an earnest longer-term view in cognisance of the shaky political background and increasingly divisive racial lines that is threatening societies and communities across the country. 

They acknowledged that political and economic reforms need a longer runway, but at the same time demand a more proactive approach in instituting changes to the “low-hanging fruits” such as repelling the AUKU (Universities and University Colleges Act) to encourage open speech and improve transparency.

Closer to the ground, the public is a bit more edgy, demanding a more direct approach to focus on bread-and-butter issues and development, especially in helping the working population overcome the ever-increasing high cost of living, exacerbated by the nation’s low-income trap. 

CME’s Ferlito struggles to see radical changes when compared to the previous administrations. Duration-wise, he sees a lot of uncertainties ahead

Economic Reform Needs More Beef

Centre for Market Education (CME) CEO Dr Carmelo Ferlito was divided about the PM’s economic reform, but lauded the government’s early intent to attract investments and revive the economic ecosystem. 

“On the positive side, I could see a good attempt to diversify relationships, particularly from an economic perspective. However, a clear agenda to revive the economic ecosystem and to attract investments have not moved yet beyond the wish list. 

“It is crucial for the government to realise how the environment on the ground has become more difficult for international businesses to enter the country, in particular with more complicated labour legislations and more red tape, especially on banking. 

“Furthermore, the government’s intervention in the economy is still too high with interference on prices. A bad thing has been the abandonment of the conversation on targeted subsidies,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

The economist also feels less optimistic on Anwar’s chances to keep the government’s support beyond the five-year term. 

“To be honest, I do not see any real or substantial reformation. I struggle to see radical changes when compared to the previous administrations. Duration-wise, I see a lot of uncertainties ahead,” added Ferlito. 

UUM’s Mohd Azizudin believes that with enough time, Anwar would be able to overcome unresolved problems in the political scene and socio-economic situation (pic: Utusan Malaysia)

Anwar to Overcome Unresolved Problems

However, Universiti Utara Malaysia’s politics and international relations Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Azizudin Mohd Sani insisted that the PM has performed very well in his six months in office. 

“He promptly moves to secure confidence in his government. He brings political stability with a stronger government and manages to attract international confidence to his leadership and administration of Malaysia’s economy, particularly dealing with the issues of combating graft, bringing FDIs (foreign direct investments), eradicating extreme poverty and reducing the cost of living,” he told TMR. 

He claimed that Anwar’s policy, including the agenda of Malaysia Madani, has made it clear as to where Malaysia is heading. Hence, with enough time, he believes that Anwar would be able to overcome many of the unresolved problems in the local political scene and socio-economic situation. 

On what agenda he would like the PM to tackle next, he said although Anwar has stressed that his priorities are to eradicate extreme poverty, combat corruption, and bring political stability and economic prosperity to Malaysia, he would also like the PM to focus on dealing with the issues of food security, national security and digital economy. 

“After dealing with those issues, he can focus back to transform Malaysia into a developed state. Malaysia has the potential and the government should bring together all Malaysians to be part of the national agenda of development. I think the Malaysia Madani agenda has covered all those aspects,” he added. 

The political observer also commented that Anwar could defend his government for the full five-year term and even beyond with the people’s support and current political situation. 

“Looking at current situation and with the people’s support, he has a good prospect to lead his full five-year term. And there is a good prospect for him to continue another five years if he performs well for the country in these five years,” he said. 

SIIA’s Oh stresses that Anwar must tackle the rampant corruption and rising extremism most urgently, as well as boost up the flagging economy

Meanwhile, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun said that the PM has brought above all a sense of decency and propriety to the country after a series of anti-democratic coups over the last few years. 

“He (Anwar) is also progressive and reform-minded. But he is constrained on the one hand by the rising green wave which look out for his liberal tendencies, and on the other hand by the government’s lack of funds and revenues to roll out fresh measures,” he said. 

Oh stressed that Anwar must tackle the rampant corruption and rising extremism most urgently, as well as boost up the flagging economy. 

“With the creeping green wave, his administration would count itself lucky if it can last longer than the upcoming state elections,” he added. 

More Proactive Solutions Needed on Systemic Corruption

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) information and communications officer Amanda Shweeta Louis said it is too soon to expect changes from Anwar after years of living with corruption and mismanagement of the country. 

“We understand that change will take time. However, there are concerns regarding the amendment of AUKU that was initially established to suppress the rights of students,” she said. 

Amanda went on to say that the people have long requested its repeal, but Anwar responded that it will be amended rather than repealed. Despite the concerns, she stated that the unity government had carefully adhered to the 30% female representation in this Cabinet. 

“Therefore, we would expect more proactive initiatives by the state for the interest and empowerment of Malaysian women as recommended by Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the Malaysian government ratified in 1995. 

“With Malaysia Madani in place, we aspire to see how the government will work towards rebuilding Malaysia from a polarised nation to a trusted and harmonious nation,” she said. 

Amanda said the government should take holistic approaches towards the needs of women in the informal workforce who are mainly from the bottom 40% income group (B40) through strict enforcement of the minimum wage and the formalisation of the cottage industry to make women entrepreneurs in this field compatible with a larger market. 

She added that AWAM supports Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s goal of eradicating period poverty in Malaysia and hopes to see more initiatives that encourage women and men to discuss and manage women’s health by providing more awareness and facilities encompassing breast cancer, cervical cancer as well as menstruation, in order to provide better access to the healthcare needs of women in East Malaysia. 

For members of the public, the govt’s grand announcement of policies does not matter much if the bread and butter issue is not addressed (pic: Muhd Amin Naharul/TMR)

Public Wants Bread and Butter Issue Addressed

For the members of the public, the government’s grand announcement of policies does not matter much, if the bread-and-butter issue is not addressed. 

Writer Hurun Yazid, 24, said the overall movement in governing policies seemed to be on the standard surface-level alterations. 

“A government is a ship with multiple crews and compartments, we should let those who lead their section do their jobs in a more focused manner. 

“I would like to see more concrete actions taken in the finance sector, things such as expenditure plans to invigorate market growth,” she said. 

Hurun went on to say that a long-term plan should include the acceleration of existing or new transport plans, market controls, and the quelling and moderation of the country’s rampant ethnocentric/theocratic political games — which lay out the pathway to improve the socio-economic status of the country relative to its neighbours and the global stage. 

“A lot of the uncertainty today comes from the lack of a concrete vision for the country. Keeping a witch hunt for past grudges can only be cathartic for so long before the public begins to lose interest,” she said. 

Meanwhile, journalist Athira Aminuddin said she would love to see Anwar tackle the wage issue as it is a crucial concern that will gradually become worse if there is no action taken to secure the well-being of the people. 

Concurrently, she said, the low wage has caused many Malaysians to migrate overseas for better job opportunities. 

“We are facing a brain drain in Malaysia. A few of my friends have migrated overseas for better opportunities and some stayed over- seas after graduation due to the ridiculously low pay in Malaysia. 

“Even as Malaysians, they don’t see any future for themselves to own assets and have financial stability. We have a lot of talented, intelligent Malaysians but, unfortunately, it is not appreciated by the country and they have taken their skills elsewhere,” she said, while adding that it is a disappointing scene in Malaysia. 

The 26-year-old opined that the current unity government is not functioning at its best, given that there are politicians with court cases that still retain positions of power in Malaysia. She further added that the fact that the current government is a coalition of several parties with different ideals and beliefs is bound to cause internal strife. 

“I just don’t think it’s a great stable government at the moment. Everyone is concerned about their personal interest instead of worrying about the people. 

“They always said it is about the people, but there are too many hands in the pot that will spoil the sauce,” she added. 

As time progresses, the long-term impact of Anwar’s policies and initiatives will become clearer, determining the support and prospects for his governance (pic: Hussien Shaharuddin/TMR)

Meanwhile, social media executive Haziq Halimy, 25, said it is hard to judge the current progress of Anwar’s administration given the short time frame as Anwar has only become the PM for less than a year. 

As an individual who is affected by the economy, he said among the changes from the government today that made splashes is “Menu Rahmah”, which has helped him a few times. “However, the overall impact needs to be judged after a year, at least.” 

Haziq believes that the current government should pay more attention to and take action on the rising cost of living. “Of course, there have been some initiatives made, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. 

However, he believes that Anwar will stand another chance to govern the country for another five years as the overall perception of the PM is positive. 

In conclusion, despite praises for Anwar’s efforts in combating corruption, attracting investments and reducing extreme poverty, challenges in areas such as food security, national security and the digital economy still need to be addressed. 

Furthermore, more efforts are needed in addressing systemic corruption, as well as solving the bread-and-butter issue faced by the people. The unity government still faces scrutiny over the presence of politicians with court cases and internal strife arising from differing beliefs. 

As time progresses, the long-term impact of Anwar’s policies and initiatives will become clearer in determining the support and prospects for his administration. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition