Pakatan must map course to a new Malaysia

TO pass the test of time and ensure its longevity in power, Pakatan Harapan has to fulfil the expectations that swept it to victory against all odds on May 9.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad put together a Cabinet with a mix of race, gender and age that has never been seen in the political governance of our country.

However, except for a handful of ministers, the Cabinet falls short on experience.

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, can seek advice and deploy advisers.

This happens all the time, formally or informally, as long as the ministers take responsibility for the decisions they make.

Thus the furore over the Prime Minister having a council of advisers or Tun Daim Zainuddin to assist him and the Cabinet, including as special envoy on a mission abroad, is just a bit of opposition mischief which should not be allowed, as it is intended to get everyone riled up.

The previous government had tens of advisers, some with ministerial rank but not responsibility, many others with handsome salaries – which is not the case at all with the Pakatan government.

However, Pakatan ministers need to get out of “Opposition mode”, to function and deliver with all the advice and support they wish and can get.

They would need to get the go­vernment machinery – the civil service – to implement their decisions effectively.

Here, there is another problem. The largely Malay civil service is not used to having political masters committed to a multi-racial Malaysia and a no-nonsense regime.

Numbers at the Treasury, for instance, cannot continue to have to be validated, especially as the full fiscal picture must be clear by the time of the Budget on Nov 2.

Those who are recalcitrant or have partisan political loyalties – and there have been attempts to sabotage the elected government – have to be weeded out. No small task in a civil service of 1.6 million, 78.8% of whom are Malays.

This brings us to the second major challenge Pakatan faces – the base of its political support.

About 75% of the Malay electorate in GE14 voted for Umno or PAS.

There is still some ways to go to arrive at a New Malaysia in terms of multi-racialism. After two generations of “Malay First” and subsequently “Malay and Muslim First” political ethic, there is a mountain to climb to make it to New Malaysia.

A top-down approach to remove the culture of racial and religious thinking (so evident in the Sungai Kandis Selangor by-election campaign) has to be worked out.

The institutions (including political parties) and persons playing the race-and-religion game have to be marginalised.

Again, not easy as every change or argument for change towards multi-racialism is greeted as a threat to race and religion and met with emotionally-charged menace.

Dr Mahathir succeeded in assua­ging Malay fears in this year’s election campaign, but what is the strategy before the next?

PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is best placed to take on this – the task of winning over the Malay majority.

Politics of race and religion to entrench suspicion, hostility and dependence has to be replaced by a narrative of openness, engagement and success.

Of course, the cynical approach is to play the electoral roll and consti­tuency delineation game, like the previous government did, on top of racial politics.

Pakatan, however, should not get involved in this kind of gerrymandering but to win again fairly and squarely.

The third challenge is the laws, institutions and attitudes that violate rights and freedom guaranteed in the Constitution have to be torn up and rewritten.

Selective enforcement, discriminatory practices – particularly racial, religious and gender-based – the culture of impunity, arrogant sense of entitlement of being above the law, they all have to go.

The Pakatan government must deliver legal and institutional reforms as soon as possible.

We all need to rediscover our Constitution on which our life in our country must be based.

All this needs to be undertaken by Pakatan, even as it manages the economy, addresses the serious grievances of Sabah and Sarawak, and conducts foreign policy. Indeed, Pakatan must also show greater clarity on succession as the failure of good succession planning could cause Pakatan’s downfall.

On Pakatan now rests the hope and opportunity for a New Malaysia that may never come again.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

This article was first published in The Star Online.

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