Since Budget 2021 was presented for approval in Parliament, the opposition parties have shown all signs of disarray.
In trying to halt its passage, they have seen defeat after defeat starting at policy stage all the way to the third reading of the bill.
Prior to this, the credibility of Pakatan Harapan had been eroded by the claim articulated by the opposition leader that he had the so-called numbers on his side to form the new government.
Since then PH leaders have sought new hope to bring about change in Malaysia. The question that needs to be put forward is whether PH is a distinctive alternative to Perikatan National.
What will make it distinct from PN is if it was to cater not only to ideology and personality-centred supporters but also the diverse younger generation of tomorrow from the peninsular and Sabah and Sarawak.
When PH came to power after the general election, the government was headed by Dr Mahathir Mahathir from Bersatu, which though a small party led the coalition. PKR was split, and the DAP was helpless in the context of Malay politics, in which Bersatu was trying to outplay Umno as the true champion of the Malays. The DAP was perceived as subservient and silent on various issues that were critical to its core supporters.
While changes were made such as lowering the voting age, rooting out corruption, and labour reforms, they were not enough for the impatient supporters, who wanted the government to address issues of ethnicity, human rights and the environment.
Instead, there were backtracking and detentions without trial. The government finally lost to the conservative politics of race and religion. The traitors colluded with the other side to form PN, for all intents and purposes an ethno-religious coalition, notwithstanding its token Chinese and Indian members, the MCA and the MIC.
PH’s blunder of handing over the reins to an ethno-centric party such as Bersatu and its questionable characters, who envisioned a mono racial Malaysia, was why true reform, which could have opened a new chapter for Malaysia, was elusive.
What is the way forward for PH?
There are five critical areas that PH should work on to distinguish itself as the alternative to PN or Muafakat Nasional.
It is vital that in working towards the political, social and economic success that it envisages for the people, it should make the people’s wellbeing the primary consideration in all its decisions. Here are the key areas of focus.
1. Politics and ideals of Rukun Negara
Belief in God should translate into a governing vision where human dignity and rights are upheld. This should lead to a Malaysian context where there should be reciprocal empathy between all ethnic communities.
PH has to be bold enough reject ideologies that are inherently ethnic in its negotiation with its partners. This would make it a distinctive entity from PN. Politics should serve the people and should not be about party interests. Local issues should be resolved by local authorities, by elected local government that should be rooted in multi-ethnic solidarity.
There should be an emphasis on human rights over ethnic rights. Bipartisanship for the spiritual common good of all should be encouraged and cemented to demonstrate belief in God.
2. New economic paradigm
There is a need for more focus on inclusive human capital development, labour rights and environmentally friendly industries. Technology and finance, which is part of the economy, should serve human dignity and rights and not the other way around.
Taxes should be progressive. Algorithms of so-called artificial intelligence should serve to enhance the collective good of firms and not the interests of the capitalists.
At present, Malaysia is highly dependent on low-cost labour and foreign investment. In this new economic paradigm, consumers should be protected from giant technological companies that use private data for their own ends.
Education should be centred on creating thinking adults who are not only able to master their chosen fields but who are not beholden to the ideological pinnings of race and religion.
Science should be given its rightful prominent position, and non-dualistic thinking should be encouraged for progress.
4. Social security and healthcare
The Covid crisis, which has resulted in job losses, has revealed the importance of government investment in social security. Social security in its current form is built upon formal employers’ and employees’ contributions to the Employees Provident Fund for retirement savings and to Socso for protection against accidents and death.
It is not comprehensive enough to cover complex welfare issues of housing, education and healthcare, especially for those in the informal sector. The government should get some ideas from the Nordic countries that recognise the basic aspect of social security such as free education and healthcare to boost human development. This would require government investment in the long term.
While life expectancy in Malaysia has increased, efforts for a carbon-neutral environment have not. Even though the government is making some effort, the agenda has never been part of mainstream politics.
The government has not yet studied the link between environmental pollution to health.
Malaysia’s carbon dioxide emission per capita stands at 8.1 tonnes, in contrast to Sweden’s 4.1 tonnes and Sri Lanka’s 1.1 tonnes. The country’s material footprint per capita is about 24.2 tonnes, in comparison to the Philippines’s 4.4 tonnes.
We are still very much dependent on fossil fuel. We have not yet introduced a carbon tax. There is a need for strong leadership to decarbonise the economy and protect biodiversity.
By integrating the above elements, PH will show itself to be an alternative to PN. It is about wholly embracing the 17 sustainable development goals. While practical realities of governing would make reform difficult, it is possible to bring changes if there is consistency in vision and mission. That would attract more Malaysians to the cause.
Source: The Malaysian Insight