Archive for August, 2018

IT has been just over two months since the general election of May 9. The new government looks promising with the appointment of a diverse cabinet of ministers and deputy ministers based on age, race, religion, gender and political parties. Lots of fresh ideas and a sense of positive energy from most of the elected representatives to serve the rakyat much better in an inclusive and down-to-earth manner.

The message that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is sending out is clear. No more frills and thrills at the expense of the rakyat and cut the crap on governance by doing away with wastage, over the top pomp and ceremony, excesses, corruption and abuse of power. To demonstrate that he is serious, Mahathir is proposing a new law to hold ministers to account. He is also proposing other measures to check and balance those who are holding positions of power and to make the government more transparent and accountable on how it is run, especially in awarding contracts and in implementing policies and projects.

This sense of purpose, perhaps, has never been experienced before in the aftermath of previous general elections.

The single greatest feeling that the majority of the ordinary people must have felt, including many people who might have voted for the old regime but could see clearer now with both the printed and online media much freer to report and write about, is a sense of freedom.

Freedom from fear of speaking out honestly and without malice, freedom to demand that their basic rights be respected and freedom to expect the best services from the new government. Freedom from fear of being discriminated as a minority who pose no threat or do no harm to others.

It must be emphasised the single most important virtue or quality required of the new leaders and ministers must be the nine-letter word – integrity. Knowledge, skills, smartness and experience should only come after that.

Without integrity, the smartest leader in the world would eventually fail in serving the people.

True integrity is more than just being honest. It is imbued with wisdom and a sense of responsibility, justice, humility and selflessness.

Integrity does not mean that the new government should be nice or soft on those who are found to be corrupt and those who have abused their power, sometimes using minor technicalities, to serve their own self-interest.

A leader with integrity is expected, while respecting the rule of law, to purge (as opposed to a witch-hunt) the political parties, civil service, GLCs and the private sector of bad apples, especially those who are found to have willingly aided and abetted the alleged corruption and abuse of power, such as the 1MDB scandal, or those, as a result of their actions, have caused untold suffering to innocent people and/or went against the public interest.

A leader with integrity would fight hard to overhaul the public delivery system in the interest of the rakyat in mind. There should be no half-way measures.

Of course, no leader is perfect. A leader with integrity can still make mistakes but would be willing to acknowledge mistakes, learn from them and share with others.

At the healthy age of 93, Mahathir is not only the oldest prime minister of this country, or any other country in the world, he is also the most popular.

Above all, he is seen as a leader with integrity and seems to have learnt from the harsh lessons of politics of his earlier period of premiership, from 1981 to 2003.

If a presidential style election were to take place tomorrow, Mahathir would win hands down.

The challenge is, finding a suitable successor as prime minister who is also acceptable to the majority of the members of Parliament.

A timeline of about two years appears to have been agreed by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, with an agreed successor-in-waiting; Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Whether it is about two years or five years, there seems to be some differences in the interpretation of the understanding within PH.

But even if it is for about two years, it is still a very long time in politics and many unexpected things may happen. For a start, Anwar Ibrahim would need to be elected as an MP and it may not be as easy as it seems.

However, as a first step forward, he has decided to contest for the presidency of his party PKR, which is currently held by his wife, deputy prime minister and minister of women and family development, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah.

The power equation (with other players who are not committed to the succession) may also change. There could also be a realignment with many MPs leaving their parties to be independents or to join other parties. It may not be entirely up to Mahathir to hand over the premiership by that time.

Politics is like a game of chess where nothing can be ruled out. If Anwar Ibrahim becomes the prime minister in about two years’ time, well and good for him.
In the meantime, there are seven main internal challenges for the government to focus on:

» Bringing to justice those involved in high corruption and abuse of power which would keep the law enforcement, investigating and prosecuting agencies and the courts busy.
» Revamping and improving the efficiency of public delivery system to serve the rakyat better.
» Reviewing old laws and policies and proposing new ones.
» Reviewing and renegotiating mega projects.
» Proposing and implementing new projects to promote socio-economic development.
» Promoting and instilling business confidence and assuring investors.
» Ensuring that race and religious issues are pro-actively managed and are not exploited by unscrupulous quarters.

Then, there are the external challenges such as on economic and knowledge workers’ competition, trade issues and potential conflicts in the region, which are equally daunting.

In order to undertake the above tasks, the country needs a strong, united and democratic government; one that respects the rule of law and enforces the checks and balances of the system. The country also needs a constructive, responsible and mature opposition to question or guide the government whenever it is necessary.

Mahathir is the undisputed leader of the country. But he would need an ally in another statesman who is also an MP and who has integrity and be able to hold the country together should the unthinkable were to happen before the handover. There are very few such leaders who would be able to meet the high criteria needed or who can come close to the prime minister.

If there is such a statesman-like MP around, can they start working together for the sake of the greater good – to make Malaysia more progressive, prosperous, equitable, united and developed and be much more respected internationally?

The writer is an analyst and strategist based in Kuala Lumpur. Comments: