Manifesto pledge comes back to haunt Anwar in 2022

A rather innocuous manifesto pledge in the 2018 general election by Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan coalition has come back to haunt the newly minted prime minister in 2022.

(FMT) – Then, PH pledged that the prime minister would not hold another ministerial portfolio simultaneously.

Anwar must have hoped against hope that nobody would remember this pledge as he anointed himself as the finance minister last Friday when unveiling the Cabinet of his unity government.

However, there was no such luck. His appointment quickly unleashed a barrage of criticism from his political opponents as well as non-governmental organisations.

The critics cautioned against Anwar holding the finance portfolio so as to maintain a check-and-balance to prevent multi-billion-ringgit corruption such as the IMDB scandal that plagued former prime minister Najib Razak, who also held the reins of finance minister.

Perikatan Nasional chairman and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quick to criticise Anwar for taking on the finance portfolio. He said this will erode the people’s as well as investors’ trust in his leadership.

Bersih, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, said it was “disappointed” that Anwar had taken on the post of finance minister.

Its chairman, Thomas Fann, said Anwar had reverted to a “bad practice” started by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, continued by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and “grossly abused” by Najib, in holding the two important posts.

To be fair, when Mahathir returned as the prime minister in the former PH government, he adhered to the manifesto by not taking another portfolio. Likewise, his successors Muhyiddin and Ismail Sabri Yaakob maintained the policy of not holding any other portfolio.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has called for the separation of the two roles “as there is no oversight to arguably the most significant portfolio in the Cabinet”.

Its CEO, Tricia Yeoh, said the appointment of the prime minister as finance minister is not consistent with principles of good governance which Anwar has declared as a core agenda for the unity government.

“The commitment to separate the portfolios was also made clearly in the previous PH election manifesto,” said Yeoh, adding that the separation is necessary for check and balance.

“The 1MDB corruption scandal was partly facilitated by allowing one person to hold these two important Cabinet positions. The past three administrations have tried to reverse this tradition by allowing a separation of power between the posts,” she said in a statement.

Alluding that Anwar should eventually vacate the post, Yeoh said IDEAS was proposing that the prime minister commit to finding a suitable finance minister, one who can deliver on a transparent and accountable government.

“The finance minister also needs to oversee fiscal reforms such as putting in place the Fiscal Responsibility Act that has been stalled for some time,” she added.

In an apparent bid at damage control, PKR deputy president and economic affairs minister Rafizi Ramli said Anwar’s decision to hold the finance minister’s post was due to “extraordinary circumstances”.

“This is a suitable decision at this point – that the prime minister be finance minister so the appointment doesn’t become an issue for the different coalitions (in the unity government),” Rafizi told his first press conference as economics affairs minister on Monday.

However, even Rafizi seemed uncomfortable trying to justify Anwar’s move. He reiterated his position that the two posts should be kept separate, and expressed hope that the government would do this only as “a temporary arrangement”.

For Anwar, there appears to be a pertinent lesson from this imbroglio – political foes never forget your campaign promises, especially if you break them as soon as you assume power.