Assessing Pakatan Rakyat in Selangor

By Ding Jo-Ann, The Nut Graph

WHAT has the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) Selangor government achieved after two and a half years in power? If one relied on traditional media reports or Umno’s “Save Selangor” roadshow, the answer may well be, “Not very much”.

But the reality is much more nuanced, as demonstrated in the book The Road to Reform: Pakatan Rakyat in Selangor, a compilation of articles by academics, activists and politicians on Selangor’s performance.

Selangor’s achievements and struggles since taking power in March 2008 are summarised fairly comprehensively in The Road to Reform, published by Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD). Edited by Selangor Menteri Besar’s research officer Tricia Yeoh, it provides a broad overview of how Malaysia’s “richest and most developed state” has fared under a non-Barisan Nasional (BN) government for the first time in over 50 years.

The Good

Generally, authors were encouraged by the new government’s efforts at governing in a more open and democratic manner thus far. One oft-cited example was the setting up of the Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat).

Other measures also received approval. Amongst them: The drafting of a Freedom of Information Act, declassifying documents under the Official Secrets Act and the exposure of Biro Tata Negara‘s controversial courses.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers past president Yong Poh Kon wrote of the state government’s greater willingness to engage stakeholders in discussions.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas gave a glowing review of the Selangor government’s concrete steps and greater openness in addressing Orang Asli concerns in the state. “The PR-led Selangor government had from the beginning clearly stated its good intentions for the Orang Asli in the state — and it has followed through by walking the talk,” wrote Nicholas.

For political scientist Wong Chin Huat, the real significance of the 8 March 2008 election results was the opportunity to reaffirm federalism, which has been eroded since Malaysia’s formation. As Wong has stated before in his column Uncommon Sense, federalism allows for regional variation and competition. Selangor’s institutional reforms thus puts pressure not just on BN federal and state governments, but also on other PR states.

“It especially pressures Penang,” said Wong, “which is equally urbanised, developed and claiming to be reformist, and Kelantan, which has failed to even form a task force on FOI or local elections after 20 years in power.”

Academician Dr Mavis Puthucheary also noted that having chief ministers from different parties in the PR states has allowed for greater flexibility in government decision-making. This has allowed each state to develop policies that the local leaders believe are in the state’s best interests.

“As the richest state in Malaysia, the Selangor government is in a unique position to show that the only way to counter the challenges of globalisation — rise of job insecurity, financial volatility and corruption — is by good governance,” says Puthucheary. “In this way, states like Selangor may be able to influence decision-making at the national level.”