This article has been updated.
It has been 100 days since the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition took over the reins of government in Malaysia after its surprise election victory in May.
Barisan Nasional was swept out of power by an electorate that had had enough of massive government corruption and a constantly rising cost of living.
It was the first time since Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957 that the ruling coalition lost an election.
After an initial period of post-election euphoria, Malaysians have witnessed the high drama of the former prime minister Najib Razak being arrested and charged with breach of trust, abuse of power, and money laundering.
They have heard the director of the federal commercial crime investigation department, Amar Singh, reveal that the total value of items seized in raids on residences linked to Najib has been estimated at between 900 million and 1.1 billion ringgit.
Malaysians have also observed the swearing in of the world’s oldest prime minister, 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, and the release of the jailed opposition icon and prime minister in waiting, Anwar Ibrahim.
The seven charges brought against Najib centre on alleged corruption in relation to SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former subsidiary of the sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). In its investigations into allegations about 1MDB, the MACC has initially focused on the alleged siphoning of funds from SRC International to Najib’s account.
Najib denies all financial wrongdoing.
After the new finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, revealed the shocking scale of Malaysia’s debt, citizens launched a fund – Tabung Harapan (the Hope Fund) – to assist in debt repayment.
As of August 6, more than 172 million ringgit (about $US42 million) had been donated to the fund.
In May, Lim Guan Eng said the government’s debt and liabilities exceeded 1 trillion ringgit (about US$251 billion).
In a pre-recorded message aired on television channels yesterday (Friday) evening, Mahathir (pictured below) said that 21 (35 percent) of Pakatan Harapan’s sixty manifesto promises had been met in its first 100 days in government.
He said that the government’s commitment was to ensure that Malaysia was known for integrity, not corruption.
Mahathir said in his address to the nation that the government had established a Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption and a Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre.
“To combat money politics, a Political Funding Bill is being drafted. A special team led by the GIACC has been set up to submit a draft of the Political Funding Bill to the Cabinet,” he said.
A policy on the giving of gifts and donations to members of the civil service was being drafted, Mahathir added.
“At the moment, this policy only focuses on civil servants. The government has decided that members of the administration (ministers and deputy ministers) should no longer issue support letters in relation to any project or application.”
Mahathir said that, after Pakatan Harapan took over, they discovered that the damage done by Barisan Nasional was far worse than they had anticipated.
While there are those who are impatient, and say the new government is moving too slowly, other Malaysians point out that 100 days is not very long and only a fraction of the damage wreaked on the country by the Barisan Nasional regime can be remedied in such a short period of time.
Commentators on social media point out that it has taken 61 years for regime change to happen, so it will take much longer than 100 days for the country to recover from the effects of BN rule.
The independent pollster the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research¹ reported that 67 percent of Malaysian voters surveyed gave the federal government positive ratings and 71 per cent said they were satisfied with Mahathir’s performance as prime minister.
Fifty-five percent of those questioned were dissatisfied with measures to address cost of living pressures and 48 percent said they were satisfied with the government’s efforts to boost the economy.
A total 72 percent of those polled said they were satisfied with the efforts made to reform government institutions and 65 percent were satisfied with measures taken to fight corruption.
Pakatan Harapan had said that it would deliver on ten pledges within its first 100 days, but it has fulfilled just two of them. It has abolished the hugely unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST) and stabilised the price of petrol.
A Sales and Service Tax (SST) will be reintroduced on September 1. It is expected to be less onerous on consumers than the GST.
Mahathir said in his televised message that the process had begun to standardise the minimum wage across the country and to raise the minimum wage in stages over five years.
Observers note the impact on Malaysia’s economy of the political transition in the country. The ringgit is under heavy pressure.
Bloomberg reports that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in the second quarter of this year, and the current-account surplus narrowed sharply.
Public sector investment is reported to have contracted by 9.8 percent as compared with the second quarter last year.
Private consumption is reported to have risen by 8 percent, however, and there was a reported increase of 6.1 percent in private investment.
Mahathir has suspended expensive infrastructure projects contracted out to Chinese companies by the previous government.
He said that the implementation of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) was postponed on June 3 and two other projects, the Multi-Product Pipeline and the Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline, were deferred on July 5.
The contractor for the ECRL is the China Communications Construction Company. The pipeline projects were awarded to China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau in November 2016 by Suria Strategic Energy Resources Sdn Bhd, owned by the Ministry of Finance.
Mahathir also said that that the implementation of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project was deferred on May 30 and implementation of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Phase 3 was cancelled on the same day.
New policies introduced by Pakatan Harapan include the provision of additional income for women working in the home. If they do not have a fixed income, they will receive two percent of their husband’s 11 percent contribution to the Employees Provident Fund.
The National Higher Education Fund Corporation will meanwhile allow graduates earning less than 4,000 ringgit per month to defer repaying their study loans.
On Thursday, parliament repealed the Anti-Fake News Act, which was passed by the previous government.
In his winding-up speech, the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, said there were sufficient laws in place to deal with fake news.
SUARAM’s report card
The human rights organisation SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia) has released a detailed “100-Day Report Card” in which it analyses developments in human rights policies and lists numerous examples of what it considers to be failings in the new government’s performance so far.
SUARAM adviser Kua Kia Soong said in a statement: “In the first 100 days of the new PH government, we find that their report card scores around 20 percent based on their own promises alone.
“The flip flopping over the abolition of BTN [The National Civics Bureau] and National Service shows the importance of civil society to voice our opposition to such bitterly toxic and noxious institutions in the country.”
Kua Kia Soong said there had been “a disturbing trend of autocratic decision-making and policies symptomatic of the old Mahathir 1.0 era”.
He said the way in which the Tabung Harapan fund would be used was unclear and pointed out that there was dispute among economists about the size of Malaysia’s national debt.
“This mythical ‘trillion-ringgit debt mountain’ has become an altar on which promises made by PH in the GE14 manifesto are sacrificed – local government elections, new approved Chinese schools, minimum wage, abolishing highway tolls …,” Kua Kia Soong said.
“This is definitely not acceptable as an excuse for putting off these urgent election promises since PH had assured us that they could manage the economy once they had ousted BN.”
Kua Kia Soong said the “much-trumpeted” review of all mega projects so as to reprioritise and reduce the debt mountain was not consistent with the approval of the Penang Transport Master Plan or the recently announced Proton 2.0 car manufacturing project.
“After the fiasco of Proton 1.0 and the huge cost to Malaysian taxpayers, our public transport system and Malaysian consumers, it is unbelievable that such a failed enterprise could be supported by a PH leadership full of former critics of the first Proton project,” he said.
“Another national car project will surely fail with further losses to the national coffers and we will have to underwrite the losses.”
Kua Kia Soong added that the Infrastructure Development Minister, Peter Anthony, had also announced that a dam costing two billion ringgit will be built at Kampung Bisuang in Papar, Sabah, when the Sabah Heritage Party (Parti Warisan Sabah) had promised to scrap the project
He was also critical of the planned privatisation of the Khazanah sovereign wealth fund.
“The appointment of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali to the board of Khazanah Nasional Berhad also goes against the PH manifesto promise of keeping politicians out of publicly funded investments since it leads to poor accountability,” he said.
Kua Kia Soong said the new government had disappointed the people of Malaysia, and especially Sarawakians, “who have seen the wealth of their state sucked dry by the rapacious greed of the kleptocrats there”.
He said the PH government had not yet acted to make the former chief minister of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud (pictured left), who is governor of the state, declare all his assets and those of his relatives.
“By letting off his long-time ally in Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, arguably the richest man in Malaysia, the prime minister makes his campaign against the former PM Najib look like a personal vendetta,” Kua Kia Soong said.
“Using the excuse of the government debt to delay local government elections, which have been suspended in our country since 1965 is not acceptable,” he added.
“It is equally absurd to tell Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary School graduates that their UEC certificate can only be recognised in five years’ time.”
SUARAM is also calling for the repeal of the 2012 Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, the 1959 Prevention of Crime Act 1959, and the 2015 Prevention of Terrorism Act.
It also wants the 1948 Sedition Act, the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act, the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act, and the 2016 National Security Council Act abolished, along with the death penalty.
“Meanwhile, there ought to have been an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition and commuting the sentences of all persons currently on death row,” Kua Kia Soong said.
“During the 100 days under the PH government, we have witnessed the Sedition Act and the CMA [Communications and Multimedia Act] still being used against activists and prevarication on the issue of child marriages.”
SUARAM also says the rule of law was flouted when a minister in the prime minister’s department ordered the removal of the portraits of two lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists from a public photography exhibition in Penang because they promoted LGBT activities.
“Just as alarming is the statement by another minister that cyanide used by gold miners in Bukit Koman is perfectly safe and non-hazardous to people or the environment.”
Mahathir’s “second act”
Mahathir may be accused of being autocratic, but, unlike Najib, he is not also finance minister. In addition, the election and anti-corruption commissions, which used to be supervised by the prime minister, are now overseen by parliament.
In an article in the Economist entitled “Malaysia’s new leaders have found their first 100 days tough”, the writer talks of the prime minister’s second act.
“Most members of the cabinet are still struggling to get the hang of what being in power entails,” the author wrote. “Malaysia’s nonagenarian new prime minister … is an exception. He already has plenty of form as a national leader.”
Mahathir, who is steering the PH ship with aplomb, humour, and the wealth of experience he has gained over his decades of political life, is currently in China.
“Beijing will certainly find in Mahathir a pragmatic Asianist who appreciates China’s aspirations and its desire to play a leading role in world affairs,” former ambassador Dennis Ignatius (pictured left) wrote in his blog on Thursday.
“His goal is not to disrupt long-established and mutually beneficial ties or to embarrass China but to save his country from ruin.”
The key issue going forward, Ignatius wrote, “is whether both countries can find a way to amicably resolve the toxic legacy of Najib’s many dodgy and disastrous infrastructure deals that now threaten to sink us”.
Mahathir said in his address yesterday that the auditor-general’s report on 1MDB is no longer classified under the Official Secrets Act as it was under the previous government.
The anti-corruption and integrity institutions of the country had been strengthened, he said. “All members of the government and elected representatives have to declare their assets.”
The government would not conceal any report on crimes committed by anyone, including members of the Cabinet, Mahathir said.
“We have also set up a committee to reform institutions that make up the pillars of the country and I am pleased to report that almost 300 proposals put forth by the committee have been accepted.”
Mahathir said that the guidelines relating to the declaration of assets were being amended to expand the definition of “members of the administration” so that the prime minister and deputy prime minister would also have to declare their assets. They will also have to report the acceptance of gifts, entertainment, and payment.
An amendment would be made to the code of ethics for members of the administration and members of parliament, Mahathir said. “From now on, the assets will be declared to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission so that there is openness and transparency in this practice.”
- The Merdeka Centre questioned 1,160 registered voters between Aug 7 and 14.
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