It is time PH reinvents itself as a distinctive and radical alternative and embraces a framework rooted in sustainable development goals and the greening of the economy, Ronald Benjamin writes.
After Pakatan Harapan, made up of Bersatu, PKR, the DAP and Amanah, won the 2018 general election, many had hoped the coalition would provide a distinct political and economic alternative based on its manifesto.
Many discerning Malaysian, however, realised that its manifesto was formulated without a vision of a real and distinctive alternative to the prior Barisan Nasional-led government. It was more concerned with civil liberties, symptoms of corruption and tweaking of the economy rather than challenging the entire system of governance built on patronage, ethnic dominance and a materialistic worldview.
There was no underlying framework in the coalition’s manifesto that would be a real alternative to the authoritarian neoliberal economic behaviour of the BN politicians.
Promises were made, and the people hoped that Dr Mahathir Mohamad was a changed man, unlike his first stint as prime minister. He was trusted to usher in change with the so-called “New Malaysia” slogan. He failed because he was not the kind of leader qualified to lead on real reforms since his worldview was rooted in conservatism and nationalism, which was narrowed down to ethnic competition.
What was never understood by PH coalition leaders from the beginning was that Bersatu was not a party that could be trusted for reforms as the only basis for its existence was to get rid of Najib Razak’s kleptocratic government.
Bersatu’s governing ideology was incompatible with the reforms that could have emerged from multi-ethnic solidarity. For its survival, the party had to show that it cared more for Malay rights. This is the reason that Mahathir attended the reductionist stereotyping “Malay Dignity Congress” when his priority should have been to bring about substantial reforms to the country.
The only reforms initiated by Harapan with some degree of success was in curbing corruption – the independence of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission was felt to a certain extent, bringing down the minimum the voting age for youths from 21 to 18, reducing broadband prices by 49%, and trying to bring reforms to labour laws. As for health reforms, it was merely executed within the framework of the current healthcare system.
These efforts can be construed as functional reforms rather than reforms that would liberate the economy from neoliberalism to a sustainable economy.
While the functional reforms that were executed were commendable, what was missing from the PH government was a political and economic framework that would be clearly differentiated from the BN government. For example, having all ministries integrated with sustainable development goals and green vision would have been a clear contrast to the BN alternative.
The reason for the shortcoming was obvious. While parties that would desire some reform would be PKR and the DAP, they were not part of the main decision-making process in critical ministries like the agriculture, education and home ministries. The environment ministry, which is critical in the era of the green economy, was just regarded as a functional ministry rather than a reform ministry.
The Ministry of Human Resources was not given a prominent and strategic role in human capital development. There was also a contradiction where the DAP as the state government in Penang was busy with a reclamation project that was against the principles of sustainable development.
It is now obvious that critical ministries were helmed by Bersatu, a party that was caught up more with trying to compete with Umno on Malay rights in every situation. The very reason for PH’s collapse was that it had Bersatu as its partner.
While the PH coalition was electorally successful in the 2018 general election, it was not sustainable in terms of governance due to the lack of a compelling coordinated vision to be a real alternative to the corrupt BN. The defections and betrayals that resulted in the formation of the Perikatan Nasional government are an example of the type of unscrupulous people PH had in its government.
For a nation to move forward, it requires radical alternatives that distinguish itself from opponents rather than having similarities in forms and functions or having people that are unprincipled.
Therefore, it is time PH reinvents itself as a distinctive and radical alternative. Such an alternative should embrace a framework rooted in sustainable development goals and the greening of the economy.
Taking the thoughts of Hegel, the 19th-Century German philosopher who wrote on the concept of zeitgeist, the Covid-19 crisis has shown us we are in the spirit of an age characterised by its own distinctive ideas, conventions and institutions. Can PH rise and meet this challenge by breaking away from its current thinking on politics and administration?
If it is not capable of changing, then it is time for Malaysians to work towards credible and progressive alternatives such as a strong labour and green movement to challenge the neoliberal economic ideology of both PH and BN.
It is time for Malaysians to work for real alternatives.