17 Aug 100 Days Later: An Initial Assessment of Malaysia’s New Government
100 days have elapsed since Pakatan Harapan (PH) defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition during Malaysia’s 14th General Election, and set out to fulfil its electoral promises. But what remains to be done, and how have domestic audiences reacted to their policies? We had a talk on Thursday 16 August with Dr Oh Ei Sun, Senior Advisor on International Affairs at the Asia Strategy and Leadership Institute of Malaysia, and Ms Khor Yu Leng, Research Director (Southeast Asia), Segi-Enam Advisors Pte Ltd and Director, Khor Reports Data and Maps. The session was moderated by Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs. Here’s a look at what came up during the discussion.
An Economic Blueprint: Still in the Works
Having won on an anti-corruption platform, the PH government was given two main tasks: resuscitating Malaysia’s economy and restoring both the rule of law and a healthy political environment. The former task has been complicated by the incidence of trade tensions between regional powers, given Malaysia’s prominent role in regional supply chains. However, PH has yet to articulate a comprehensive plan to stimulate and stabilise the economy. There are also numerous questions regarding the impacts of abolishing the Goods and Services tax (GST) in favour of a Sales and Service tax (SST). Observers are therefore hoping the release of the 2019 budget will clarify some of these doubts.
Politics: Short Term Reforms, but Long Term Uncertainty
Politically, PH has undertaken numerous political reforms, including transferring the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) from under the Prime Minister’s Office to the Malaysian Parliament. Yet, the long term trajectory of the Malaysian political system remains uncertain. Of particular note is the question of Dr Mahathir ceding the Prime Ministership to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) President Anwar Ibrahim, which may not occur at all due to personal differences. This transition will be the main political game in Malaysia for the foreseeable future.
Domestic Reactions: Still Positive, but with Growing Divisions
Amidst heightened scrutiny online, post-election euphoria in Malaysia appears to be wearing off. The Merdeka centre reported that Dr Mahathir’s approval was recorded at 83 per cent in May, 73 per cent in June, 79 per cent in July and 71 per cent this month. Still, the poll also found that the proportion of voters polled who believed that Malaysia is heading in the right direction increased from 38 per cent in April to 55 per cent in August, with satisfaction in government management of the economy increasing from 34 per cent to 56 per cent. While verging towards a more realistic outlook, Malaysia’s perception of the PH government is still positive.
A concerning trend, however, is the deepening of ethnic and rural-urban divisions in Malaysian society. The ethnic divide, for instance, was highlighted during the appointments of Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister and Tommy Thomas as Attorney General; satisfaction rates for the former stood at 84 per cent satisfied and 9 per cent dissatisfied for non-Malay voters, but 44 per cent satisfied and 42 per cent dissatisfied for Malay voters. Recalling that PH only won 30 per cent of the Malay vote during the election, and was aided by the remainder being split between BN and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), PH will need to work to better engage Malay voters – or risk electoral challenges in the next election.
Featured Photo Credit: Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad, US Department of State