Friday Jottings: Overstaying a half-hearted welcome

NO matter how much the Madani Government attempts to justify and rationalise the withdrawal or rather, styled as a targeted subsidy for diesel, the public poured odium on the 56 percent hike.

Widely scorned and cursed, it is something Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (picture) seemed aware of, prompting him to say that no matter how much the disdain directed at him for the unpopular move, he had the mandate to do it and it was for the well-being of the people.

A member of his cabinet, Nga Kor Ming declared that Anwar was the only PM who dared to take such an unpopular move unlike previous PMs who knew it needed to be done but without the courage to do so.

Simply put, Nga and several other like-minded supporters of Anwar wanted the general public to view the PM not as a villain, but rather as a hero if not a saviour.

But for the less sycophantic and obvious critics of the PM over the diesel subsidy withdrawal, they saw flaws in every angle of the justifications.

Even the part in which the PM said he had the mandate, is disputed; neither he nor Pakatan Harapan did not win the majority to form the Government and had only managed to when they reneged on their election promise of “No Zahid, No Umno”.

So, declaring that he had the mandate comes across to his critics as being a tad arrogant.

From then on, it was downhill for the PM and his sycophants in their attempt to justify the diesel subsidy.

Actually, it is not surprising, even though critics were fully aware that fuel subsidies had been stretching the nation’s purse to the limits.

The reasons why Anwar’s justification does not resonate at all with the general populace is simply because when he was in the Opposition when then PMs and Governments were struggling with the fuel subsidy, he and his henchmen were extremely vocal in opposing any move to cut, let alone withdraw, fuel subsidies.

To make matters worse, Anwar, when reminded of his promise that within 24 hours if and after he became PM, the price of fuel would be brought down, argued that he made the promise in 2008 when the dynamics of fuel prices were different.

His attempt to deflect the promise actually led him into a deeper hole as the critics started plastering social media with video clips of Anwar’s remarks in July 2022 at his party convention.

In the clip, while addressing the crowd, Anwar did an FAQ on himself, in which he said that he was asked why the price of fuel was not brought down when Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over the Government in 2018.

His answer to his own question was: “It is because I was not the PM,” alluding to the fact that it was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was the PM then.

In as many words, until the eve of the 15th general election, Anwar was still promising to bring the price of fuel down if he became the PM.

As such, Anwar’s attempt to wriggle out of what he had promised by claiming that it was a promise made in 2008 was not bought by anyone other than his supporters and it only led to him being accused of committing an outright lie.

Indeed, it is tough for Anwar and his backers to justify the increase in diesel price and the withdrawal of subsidy because the promise of bringing down the price of fuel was a mantra in the political campaigns since the 2008 polls.

And those promises relating to the fuel price and its reduction were accompanied by formulae of how it could be done.

Added to that, any attempts by previous Governments to reduce subsidies which in effect led to an increase in fuel prices were met with extreme outrage and accusations of being a cruel Government which did not care about its people.

When previous Governments argued that hiking fuel prices would curtail the smuggling of fuel into neighbouring nations, the PH, then in the Opposition, counter-argued that surely the majority of the people should not be punished over the few smugglers.

In fact, some had then further argued, that if smuggling is the reason for the hike, then the Government should intensify their efforts to curtail the activities.

And for burdening the people, demonstrations and protests were held, demonising the Governments and PMs who dared to reduce the subsidies and allowed the hike in fuel prices.

It is against this backdrop that Anwar and his backers attempt to paint him as a hero for having the courage to withdraw diesel subsidy and allow the over 50 percent hike in its price.

While such an attempt defies any logic, does Anwar or any of his ilk expect anything less than to be accused of being hypocritical, of lying and reneging on their promises?

And should it be any surprise that even other issues such as bringing in Singapore teachers to teach Malaysian students English are met with incredulity and dismissed contemptuously?

A cynical comment on the issue suggested that “instead of hiring Singaporean teachers, why not hire Singapore’s Ministers to run the country” This probably best sums up public sentiments towards Anwar and his Government.

Dismiss the cynicism and scepticism, if Anwar and his Cabinet held even a shallow soul-searching session, they would discover something very obvious.

They were best when they were the opposition and a PM-in-waiting.

  • Shamsul Akmar is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve.


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