Message to Pakatan Harapan Politicians–Stop the Blame Game
“It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”
– Calvin Coolidge, former US President
COMMENT | Now-retired Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) chairperson Daim Zainuddin’s rejoinder to the Pakatan Harapan government to stop playing the blame game is one of the more honest moments the establishment has had since gaining power on May 9.
“It has got to a point where every time the new government is waffling, demurring or flat-out reneging on their campaign promises or proposing unpopular policies, they blame the former UMNO regime.”
The minority (voters) who voted the previous government out do indeed know why they are happy to see the fall of UMNO, but for the majority Malays who voted for UMNO and PAS, all they see is the new administration blaming those whom they voted for.
They read about partisans who mock the UMNO base, even though the Malay power structures in Harapan are desperate to shore up Malay support with the elected reps from the disgraced Najib regime.
Part of this is because of the platform that Harapan ran on. Before joining Harapan, Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, in various interviews, claimed that the primary goal was to remove a kleptocrat and that there were other “issues” that he could work with the coalition on, but which were secondary.
When he formally joined Harapan, he had to sublimate his own baggage of autocratic tendencies to work out a compromise with brokers in the coalition, that included a host of issues that were related to reforming the system.
He had to do this because his Bersatu was literally a newborn, while the other partners in the coalition, excluding Amanah, already had an established base with ideas of institutional reforms which would truly save Malaysia. The formation of Bersatu itself was one of racial necessity, or at least this was the coalition’s party line.
Remember, it was not as if systemic corruption was unheard of in Malaysia. It is pointless dragging up the polemics of the then opposition when it came to the corruption and abuse of power during Mahathir’s regime.
The fact is that Najib’s regime corruption was so blatant, the regime’s attempt to stifle dissent so heavy-handed and its attempts to shore up Malay-Muslim support so detrimental to non-Malay interests, that a sufficiently diverse minority was moved to replace UMNO-BN.
When Daim says that Harapan needs to fulfil its election manifesto, the reality is that the current Prime Minister has admitted that the campaign manifesto is a fiction based on the belief that the coalition could not win this election. In other words, it was a “say anything” manifesto.
This, of course, was met with blowback from other Harapan coalition members, but the cynicism of the old maverick’s statement is the kind of realpolitik that he and his kind of politicians have trafficked for decades.
Blaming a kleptocrat is easy. The real problem starts when the Harapan regime has to differentiate itself from the UMNO regime. This is where the trouble starts. It started when Harapan began waffling about removing certain laws.
Indeed, anecdotally speaking, there are more Harapan political operatives, Malay and non-Malay, who want election promises kept – or so they tell me – than the politburo of Harapan, which has never failed to find an opportunity to blame the former regime for Harapan’s lack of political will to carry out eforms
This is not that straw man argument about giving the coalition more time. There are already apologists who claim that the 100-day promises are a burden too heavy to carry. This is about outright not fulfilling promises and cynically expecting the base to support such decisions.
The shackles of reforms
And this is the problem right here. We are dealing with politicians whose currency is autocracy and a supplicating base, which was the norm for decades. These so-called reforms in the Harapan manifesto are in reality shackles for politicians who are used to dealing with the public, not as servants of the state, but rather as potentates to be followed.
Part of this is partisan politics, of course. These days, Mahathir has a loyal following in the Harapan political elite and amongst a certain segment of the Harapan base.
He gets to accept someone like Mustapa Mohamed – better known as Tok Pa – into Bersatu, claiming that the criteria for such entry was that Tok Pa had been cowed when it came to standing up to Najib. One assumes, I suppose, that his cowardice evaporates before the majesty of Mahathir and he will suddenly discover the strength to fight for his constituents now that he is in Bersatu.
When Cynthia Gabriel of the Governance, Integrity, Accountability and Transparency (Giat) coalition threatens to name and shame establishment politicians who do not declare their full assets and not just their incomes, she is vilified on social media.
Gabriel is just doing her job like she was when she was speaking truth to UMNO power, but now, she is vilified. One Harapan political operative even emailed me asking where “she gets her funding from.”
Before May 9, when Gabriel had said the same when she was raging against UMNO hegemony, Harapan partisans were ready to canonise her. This same political operative was worrying about her safety.
As for what she thinks of her job, Gabriel said it all here, when she accepted the US-based National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) 2017 Democracy Award: “This is not something (in which) we can just say ‘enough’, or it’s time to shirk away and do nothing about it. It is important to stay the course, fight the good fight, it is important to seek the truth.”
You see, what is important is not just removing the kleptocrat. What differentiated Harapan from UMNO-BN was those promises in the manifesto which curtailed executive power, restored individual freedoms, reformed public institutions, and, most importantly, curtailed the power of the state security apparatus to hamper all of the above.
I mean, for a time there was talk of hate speech laws. This from a coalition which was targeted by the Umno state using instruments of the state for speaking truth to power. At a time when the Harapan government were waffling on repealing laws which limited our freedoms, there was actually talk of creating new laws which did the same.
Then, of course, Mahathir says this for justifying the retention of the Official Secrets Act 1972: “The law is not perfect. It is open to abuse, but you hope to find people who will not break the law, who will obey the rule of law. That is what is important.
“The last government did not follow the rule of law. They did what they liked with the law. The main thing is to find a government that will not break the laws.”
Does anyone really think that we have found a government which does not break laws?
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.