To reform or to stay in power?

How can we think that our current prime minister or the leader of DAP, his closest and strongest ally can actually move the reform agenda, and in the process, perchance annoy their frenemies, when they both sit so precariously in their positions?

(FMT) – To reform Malaysia, this government must go on the offensive.

It has to take on “sacred cows” and transform some of the outlandish methods of governing the country. The administration needs to set in motion progressive governance with vision, inclusiveness, and a readiness to make tough decisions.

This also means taking on our bloated civil service. And before you start hurling abuse at me, like many did to Penang Deputy Chief Minister II, P Ramasamy earlier in the week, here are the official numbers about our civil service.

In Malaysia, we have one civil servant for every 27 citizens. In comparison, the ratio in South Korea is one to 50 citizens, in Singapore it is one civil servant to 71.4 Singaporeans, and in Indonesia, which is fast emerging as a high performing neighbour, the ratio is one to 110 citizens. Ergo, technically, Malaysia should have the most effective civil service in the region. You decide if this is the case.

And, official figures presented by the then minister to parliament in July 2022, was that 90% of our civil servants are Bumiputeras. But the minister also informed parliament that recruitment by the Public Services Commission for the civil service is based solely on merit and competency. Apparently, the commission ensures that only the best and the brightest candidates are chosen as civil servants.

He confirmed that there is no quota, based on race and ethnicity, for the intake or promotion of civil servants. So ostensibly, all Malaysians are given equal opportunity, on the basis of open and fair competition. This is the official narrative.

You figure this one out for yourself. I don’t want to comment because I don’t have the wherewithal or the capacity to handle the brickbats from the ultras, like Ramasamy has.

Alternatively, staying in power requires appeasement and pandering to political chicanery.

It means the boat cannot be rocked too hard lest the government becomes a casualty. Deep seated “sacred cows” cannot be unduly disturbed and feathers ruffled willy-nilly. Attempts must be made on a “slowly-slowly” basis to make changes. This government needs buy-in from their frenemies and the all-powerful civil service mandarins to even suggest any change.

Therefore, the administration only makes serious efforts on the “low-hanging” fruits, like repeatedly declaring at all forums that this government has resolved to use all efforts to avoid and prevent corruption from being widespread, with no real specifics given. This way no can be upset.

Easy pickings like ensuring the LRT stations have working escalators, road tax discs are digitised, making sure public toilets are clean, reducing allocations to members of parliament, getting eateries to come up with a RM5 menu for the B40s, and other populist non-controversial schemes will be the priority.

It is quite clear that our current “reformist” prime minister doesn’t really have reform at the top of his agenda. And to be frank, we really cannot expect him to dive into reforms, right?

Why? His own house is in a mess. We, the voting citizens, made sure that he ended up in this predicament. His coalition only secured 82 seats in parliament, so our man had to go into some bizarre arrangements.

So why does everyone think that this version of Anwar Ibrahim will deliver on all his pre-election promises?

Why does everyone think that this version of Anthony Loke, who represents the second largest party in parliament, which was also the flag bearer for justice and reform in Malaysia for decades, will deliver on all his party’s pre-election promises?

How can we think that our current prime minister or the leader of DAP, his closest and strongest ally can actually move the reform agenda, and in the process, perchance annoy their frenemies, when they both sit so precariously in their positions?

I mean, yes, we all want reforms, not appeasement. We don’t want allegedly corrupt politicians or incompetent ones becoming ministers, and we certainly don’t need incorrigible former politicians to become ambassadors representing our country abroad.

But which government has truly kept its pre-election promises in Malaysia in the past six decades?

Even though we are fully cognisant that almost all politicians will do whatever it takes to remain in power for as long as they can, the burden of expectation on our tenth prime minister seems much heavier than our expectations for previous prime ministers.

And this hefty expectancy comes at the oddest of times. when no coalition could muster up the numbers to form a government, and it took a plea from the palace to form a unity government.

Why are the expectations so lofty amongst progressive Malaysians?

Perhaps, at the end of the day, we all just live in hope. The largest component of this unity government is the aptly named Pakatan Harapan coalition. It says it all, in its name itself. The “pact of hope”.

And, with hope, comes great expectations.

Presently, 12 weeks into the job, while the expectations remain, many Malaysians are sobering up to the realisation that reform is not top of the agenda for this government. It is rather a simple case of remaining in power.

Just how long Malaysians will accept that we have to just live in “hope” is anyone’s guess.