PH’s greatest achievement

The full headline said “PH’s greatest achievement, one year on.” Of course I was intrigued. It was an opinion piece by A Kathirasen, the executive editor of FMT.

He wrote of meeting two neighbours who felt PH had lost credibility because it had failed to keep many of its major election promises. Once again, no details. (Every this is mentioned, no details follow. My conclusion is that it is an impression that has sunk deep into people’s psyche so that it is now fact).

In the meantime one of them said that Najib is innocent until proven guilty. Once again, despite ECRL, FELDA, 1MDb, Tabung Haji, this is mentioned. Except we don’t make a distinction between proven and declared guilty in a court of law.

How quickly we forget how close we were to having Najib continue to be our PM. How quickly we forget what a miracle it was that PH is now the government of the day.

OK. What was “PH’s greatest achievement, one year on?”

For Kathirasen, it is that there is greater freedom today than in the past 35 years.

He did not elaborate, but as I thought about it, the presence of PKR and DAP must have had a real influence.

I felt that the commitment early on to institutional reform was the key. Perhaps there were other motivations but the appointment of Tommy Thomas as AG was crucial as all legal matters must flow through him. Art Harun as EC chair bolsters its independence and Richard Malanjum as CJ signals that the government is willing to allow justice free rein. He has just retired and who replaces him is a matter for urgent prayer.

The IGP remains unchanged but he will also retire soon and thus have no motivation to endanger his remaining time as IGP. Who replaces him will be another crucial matter for prayer.

What many fail to understand and appreciate is how much political capital among the Malays PH had expended to do all these. And when they gripe and scorn and belittle PH’s efforts, even more political capital is depleted wastefully. And in a state of depleting political capital it is much harder to achieve reforms that are necessary but unpopular.

It must have been tempting for Mahathir to come down hard on Najib and manipulate the establishment to crucify him early on. But he has shown remarkable restraint this time round. But the price is time and space for Najib and UMNO to regroup and spin their way into the minds of the masses. They can say anything and lie shamelessly (and they do) and the media, social or otherwise, amplify their messages uncritically, because, of course, Najib is innocent until proven guilty, and PH is using 1MDb to excuse their incompetence, and the trillion ringgit debt to justify their inaction while in truth they have lost credibility because they have failed to keep their promises.

For me though, PH’s greatest achievement has to be defeating BN and successfully forming the government. That creates the possibility of a viable two-party political system for the country. I say “possibility” because PH has to win a second term, as the incumbent, to be truly legitimate, or be dismissed as an aberration.

That this achievement was the result of many different groups coming together and working together is the icing on the cake. It was not just a single race, or a single group of people with an agenda. It was not won solely on the back of urban Malaysia. It was not a victory wrought by civil society or society’s elite. It even took Mahathir and Anwar to set aside their differences and suspicion.

Truly this government is our government. It is my government. I voted for it, I prayed for it and I rejoiced when it came into being.

And this is why I believe we should not treat it as if it is our adversary. Or begin to abandon it. And yet we do. We are critical and demanding of PH and nice and understanding towards Najib, even when he is lying through his teeth. And now we too are repeating the mantra of the opposition, that PH has lost credibility because they have failed to keep their promises (the two neighbours Kathirasen spoke of were clearly those who had voted for PH in the last election).

The UMNO-PAS axis to consolidate the Malay vote is a powerful possibility. And we should fear it. MIC and MCA’s continued association with UMNO in this context is puzzling. Do they seriously think they can influence them to abandon their propensity to do whatever they please?

This by the way is not an anti-umno-pas sentiment. If they stand on clear ideals and objectives for the betterment of the country and its people, sure. But they are standing on Malay-Muslim grounds. And that is destructive.

The more we suggest that the present government is no better than the last, the more we make it easier for the Malay voter to return to UMNO’s fold. And once the UMNO-PAS marriage succeeds in gaining power, we will have to seek God for another miracle.

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