Echoes of defeat: Five things Anwar must do to win back Malaysia’s trust

The masses have spoken in Sungai Bakap


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By Anil Netto

The most telling moment for the “unity government” came on Sunday night, when a crowd of a few thousand at a dinner banquet applauded DAP MP Lim Lip Eng’s announcement that Pakatan Harapan had lost the Sungai Bakap by-election.

Imagine that. If that is not writing on the wall for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, I don’t know what is.

Two years have flown and if Anwar does not buck up, he will lose the next general election. Look what just happened to Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron in the UK and France.

Alarm bells at Sungai Bakap

Clearly, many among the ethnic minorities are no longer willing to give PH their undivided support. But because many of them feel they do not have a political alternative they are comfortable with, they stayed out of the Sungai Bakap by-election.

Some of the ethnic majority, the Malays, have no such qualms about voting for the opposition, so they switched their support from Umno or PH to Perikatan Nasional.

It was not so much a PN triumph at Sungai Bakap. Even PN leaders themselves were surprised at their larger majority. Ahead of polling, Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim had even sounded concerned when he rated his party’s chances at only 50:50.

It was a PH collapse. The lame response from PH leaders shows they are mystified about the reasons for the drubbing they suffered.

So here are some suggestions for Anwar if he wants to recapture lost support.

First, don’t take reforms for granted

Speed up the pace of institutional reforms. Remove non-performing ministers, especially those who are compromised in the public eye.

Are candidates for key positions reviewed by a parliamentary committee before they are appointed?

Look at the Bersih chair’s F score and do something about those institutional and electoral reforms. Pronto.

Work with civil society instead of treating them like the ‘enemy’.

But institutional and electoral reforms alone are not enough.

Second, focus on civil society’s People’s Agenda

Check out the People’s Agenda, endorsed by over 50 civil society groups.

Raise the people’s quality of life, especially the lower-income group of all ethnic backgrounds. Revamp the education curriculum, hire the best teachers and increase public confidence in government schools.

Reduce the long waits in government hospitals. In private conversations, many complain bitterly about long waiting times in general hospitals, even for patients with serious conditions and sometimes even those requiring emergency procedures. These things matter in shaping public opinion. So review the salaries of specialists and doctors to stem the brain drain. Boost the number of specialists and put in place all the equipment and operating theatres they need.

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To further ease the pressure on public hospitals, pay attention to long-neglected preventive healthcare. Get manufacturers to cut down on excessive sugar and salt in processed food and drinks. Educate the public about boosting natural immunity with a balanced diet (fibre, fruit and vegetables) and exercise. Consider the role of traditional medicine and remedies.

The removal of blanket subsidies in favour of targeted subsidies looks set to raise inflation. A sharp hike in fuel prices will surely increase the cost of living and hurt the people. So, go easy on this. Take a more gradual approach. Why not remove subsidies only for those with luxury cars or cars with engines above, say, 1,800cc for now? That should be easier to implement.

Meanwhile, improve public transport and “first mile, last mile” connectivity.

But where is the government to get money if it does not slash fuel subsidies? Introduce wealth taxes and progressive taxes. Cut back on financially unviable mega-projects.

For instance, the elevated Penang LRT project could cost RM25bn with extended lines to Tanjung Bungah in northern Penang Island and to Penang Sentral on the mainland. But with low ridership expected, the LRT is likely to incur hefty operational deficits.

So scrap this project. What’s the point of saving several billions in subsidies when billions more are splurged on such projects? Similarly, reduce the budget for highway construction that will mostly benefit contractors and developers. In particular, scrap the PJD Link highway for good.

Use the money saved to improve public transport across the nation. In Penang, go for more sustainable street-level rail and bus rapid transit, introduce a water taxi network and put in more ferries.

Raise the minimum wage for workers. RM1,500 is simply not enough. Work towards a minimum living wage. Look into the struggles of the working class, including the plight of delivery personnel.

Focus on boosting food security for the nation. Stop the forced evictions of farmers from their farmlands.

And tackle the problem of youth unemployment by providing skills training to make them more independent.

Third, stop kowtowing to the bigots

Anwar used to say: “Anak Melayu anak saya, anak Cina anak saya, anak India anak saya, anak Kadazan anak saya dan anak Iban anak saya.”

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But can he say that with a straight face now? And if he can, will the people accept what he says now?

The PM needs to become more inclusive and grow a spine – based on his own Madani (civil and compassionate) principles.

In a string of recent controversies (KK Super Mart, cardiothoracic specialists, student quotas), the government’s stand (or lack of it) disappointed many among the minorities

By the time ‘solutions’ were found, it was too late and the damage had been done.

As for the ethnic Malays who may still be feeling insecure, empower them through education by revamping the quality of education and the curriculum and providing them more skills training. Improve the conditions in rural schools and schools in depressed areas.

It is time for Anwar to try out new, more inclusive strategies. Don’t meekly give in to the loudest or shrillest voices. Cut the rhetoric and walk the talk.

Imagine an enlightened, progressive Malaysia and work towards that vision.

Fourth, fight corruption from the top down

Yes, we have seen the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission being more active of late.

But has it captured the public imagination or is the public still cynical or sceptical?

Perhaps that cynicism is due to the lack of big fish hauled up or a perception of selective action.

The rots start from the top. Make the MACC truly independent so that it can rein in the sharks – the corrupt politicians and business leaders who are dragging Malaysia down. Cleanse the government and civil service – especially at the highest levels – of the corrupt.

And fifth, stop relying so heavily on foreign investments

Yes, the country needs investments. But consider domestic investments and especially small and medium businesses as well.

Encourage and support local entrepreneurship instead of relying too much on foreign investment.

Think again about allowing a BlackRock-controlled entity to take up a stake in Malaysia Airports, a strategic sector.

I was taken aback to learn that BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink had backed Labour party leader Keir Starmer ahead of the recent UK general election. Fink said he was very pleased with how Starmer had moved Labour to the centre from an “extremist” left party (under the more progressive Jeremy Corbyn). He has also given money to the US Democrats. This should make us wonder who else Fink is endorsing, either openly or otherwise.

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BlackRock manages global assets worth $10.5tn, and its largest shareholder is Vanguard Group, which manages $8tn in assets. In contrast, Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) is just $0.4tn.

US senator Bernie Sanders calls the big three US fund giants a threat to democracy. “These three firms are major shareholders in 95% of S&P 500 companies. Democracy will not survive with this concentration of economic and political power.”

So Anwar should explain why he thinks the collaboration between Malaysia Airports and a foreign joint venture (where one of the parties is Global Infrastructure Partners, which BlackRock plans to acquire) is “critical” when the former is making large profits.

If Malaysia is to have a vibrant people-powered democracy, it needs to shake off the influence and grip of Big Tech, Big Pharma and Big Capital. These are global firms driven by huge profits and shareholder returns with tentacles around the world.

Finally, form a broad-based consultative council – that includes all levels and sectors of the economy as well as unions – to chart a new, more sustainable and inclusive path forward for the economy.

Wisdom of the masses

Many political leaders and MPs may have lost touch with the masses. After all, with their high salaries and allowances (and fat – perhaps multiple – pensions!), they can afford comfortable lifestyles. Many are chauffeur driven in fancy cars, so they don’t see what ails our public transport system. They can afford prompt specialist attention at private hospitals, so they don’t see the long queues in government hospitals. They send their children to private or international schools. Rising food and fuel prices won’t dent their budgets. They hobnob in high society.

When politicians lose touch with the masses and don’t appear to support the People’s Agenda, the masses can sense it. That is why the privileged Sunak and his well-heeled colleagues were booted out. While the working class in Britain were struggling, the number of billionaires in the UK soared. No surprise then that voters dumped the Tories.

Long before he won power, Anwar would tell the crowds at mass rallies that it was his firm conviction that “you cannot underestimate the wisdom of the masses”.

Well, the masses have spoken in Sungai Bakap and elsewhere. It is up to Anwar and his colleagues in government to respond to the people’s collective wisdom if they want to avoid defeat in the next general election.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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Retired Orang Ulu
Retired Orang Ulu
13 Jul 2024 11.18pm

Just throw this hipocrite out of PMs Office . He has obviously replaced PAS to exploit religion, little disregard for the laws for personal political gain. . He has had 2 years to do the right thing for the country and it’s citizen. Free him to gallivant the globe to give useless speeches that he cherish not at taxpayers expenses.

Phua Kai Lit
Phua Kai Lit
11 Jul 2024 5.35am

I am a retired public health professor. Check out my writings on health policy at my public service website (totally free to use):

10 Jul 2024 7.47am

Try tol learn from Singapore, housing, education, transportation. Do what Lee Kuan Yew did in the past for those who love rasuah..Not always priotize the political party.

Noor Azam
Noor Azam
9 Jul 2024 1.17pm

Some are useless suggestions. Above 1.8 cc have to pay more?

Benedict Lopez
9 Jul 2024 1.01pm

Besides the above, PM needs to tackle the escalating cost of living which is adversely affecting ordinary people especially the B40 and unemployment among those fresh out of schools and university graduates.