Last week marked a year since the unprecedented victory of Pakatan Harapan (PH) coaliton in the 14th General Elections, where it effectively seized power from the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. Here is what we think of PH’s progress so far.

Arveent Karthirtchelvan:
“A year on from the momentous 14th General Elections, looking back is bittersweet. Last year, I was on edge, having written a petition to make the 9th of May a public holiday which gained over 120,000 signatures in 2 days. Though I wanted to provide more Malaysians the possibility of voting in the elections, as a JPA scholar, I feared what would happen to me should Barisan Nasional win.

They didn’t, as I was on the edge of my seat watching the live stream of the vote counting online whilst writing my dissertation in Manchester. I was thankful. The oppressive regime of Barisan Nasional was over and even as my heart broke due to Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)’s unfortunate performance, I took it in stride as the people of Malaysia finally voted for change.
What followed was a mixed year of some progress and equally some regression. To name a few — the attempt to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, better appointments in the judiciary and Elections Commission, introducing the public transportation passes and reduced broadband prices are encouraging.

But the numerous U-turns on policies, the lack of public engagement for the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and MySalam initiatives, the antagonism of workers when it came to raising minimum wage, the bullying of Lynas and incomprehensible backtracking for nuclear power all make me feel very worried for Malaysia.

Some Pakatan Harapan leaders even continued to make racial and religious statements and didn’t seem committed to their own reform agenda.

Malaysia needs revolutionary reform. We need to seriously reduce coal and natural gas usage to be replaced with a clean energy source capable of replacing it (nuclear power) not play around with marginal increases in solar power that would not lead to much.

We need to restructure our economy from the ground-up, changing our taxation system to be more progressive, recognising workers unions to ensure their share in the wealth produced in the country is fairer and more sustainable. We need to fundamentally shift from a racial/religious perspective to class-based policies such that those who really need help are lifted to a fairer stratum in society.
Pakatan Harapan, unfortunately, seem too timid to restructure society in a significant enough manner. Maybe they might change as they get used to their roles but after a year of glacial action, I must say that, to me, PH get by more on the fact that Barisan Nasional were dismal rather than their own merit. I agree with Tun Mahathir, this government gets a 5 out of 10, and I shan’t be as lenient moving forward.”

Michelle Liu:

I recall the anxious wait for my ballot paper to arrive in Colchester, United Kingdom around the same time last year. The 14th General Election was the first election where I’m eligible to vote and I thought it was quite unique to do so overseas. The few weeks leading up to election day had been eventful for postal voters. There were already news circulating among the Malaysian community in the UK that the ballot papers will not arrive in time. In spite of this, the Election Commission (EC) had, defying all sense of logic and time, assured us that they will.

When it became evident that a large majority of postal voters have been effectively denied from their right to vote due to the late delivery of postal ballots, Malaysians at home and abroad banded together in a race against time to send marked ballots back to Malaysia. Some have decided to take it to the streets as the last resort to express their dissatisfaction – I personally took part in protest held in front of the Tourism Malaysia office at Trafalgar Square, London.

I thought the irregularities of the postal voting process encapsulated the state of our country’s politics at that time perfectly: the very institutions and leaders who were supposed to serve the interests of the people have instead failed us tremendously. Yet, the Malaysian people have managed to overcome the odds that were stacked against them.

It’s been a year since the change of government. A lot has been mentioned about institutional reforms, but I personally think that our political culture also needs to be reformed. One of the reasons why we are facing such a hard time pushing through institutional reforms over the past one year owes to our own unchanged attitudes and mentality. We have failed to accede to the ICERD and Rome Statute because we could not even have a proper discussion to clear the air, what more on how to proceed with them, without a dose of hatred and personal attacks. As a result, biases, prejudices and misconceptions remain unaddressed.

Racial and religious sentiments continue to linger in our political sphere, with most apparent being Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA)’s claims about the ‘undermining of Islam’s sovereignty’ and Muslims being sidelined by the current administration.

Freedom of speech applies to all. However, this does not mean that we should sit around and disagree in silence. In fact, ISMA’s claims should be countered with facts and reason. It is only through this that we may — firstly, learn to have constructive discussions; two, counter mistruths and rhetoric; and thirdly, encourage others to think critically of the matter at hand rather than forcing our views through coercion.

I agree that this is a sensitive matter that should be trodded on with care. Racial and religious sentiments must be done away with, but only in a manner that aligns with the change that we aim to attain. Indeed, it is an uphill task but the spirit which inspired the historical events of GE14 is a testament that the we, the people, are capable of producing change. And we must continue in our efforts of rebuilding Malaysia by reforming our institutions and our culture.”

What do you think? Leave your comments down below.

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One thought on “One year under PH: Reform institutions, political culture

  1. I had similar idealistic expectations as you when what was then Pakatan Rakyat won five states (including Selangor and Penang) in the March 2008 general elections (GE12) and denied the BN a two-thirds in parliament.

    Whilst you are celebrating one year of Pakatan federal government rule, I and many of my fellow Selangor residents are less than impreseed with Pakatan rule of Selangor for over 11 years now.

    At the time, the thought crossed my mind: “Pakatan state governments must prove themselves to be better than the BN in the states in order to gain the confidence of voters in other parts of the country that they would be a better federal government”.

    Amongst several issues, I had expected the Selangor state government to ammend the Petaling Jaya masterplan made under the previous BN state government to reverse plans which allowed for massive and dense high-rise developments in Petaling Jaya and to deny approvals for further high-rise construction in Petaling Jaya. Land matters is a state jurisdiction in Malaysia so state governments have a say.

    However, fast forward 11 years later and additional massive high rise construction in Section 52 Petaling Jaya bordered by Jalan Selangor, Jalan Barat, the Federal Highway and Jalan Timur, along the Section 52 side of Jalan Utara, in Section 13, in Section 8, in Section 17 and other places have been approved and allowed to continue despite residents’ concerns over traffic congestion and objections (official and unofficial) to Petaling Jaya being turned into a high-rise concrete jungle similar to Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong or New York.

    On top of that, some years back we had to suffer months of two day on, two day off water cuts in the early part of the year to conserve water due to a prolonged dry spell, whilst the Selangor government had delayed in its deal to acquire water treatment plants from water consessionnaires from under the BN and had delayed in agreeing to the building of water supply and treatment facilities which would bring water from Pahang. Of course back then, they could blame the BN federal government for part of this.

    I had expected that a Pakatan state government would improve the condition of our roads, ease parking woes in commercial areas in Petaling Jaya where there was double or even tripple parking and so forth but the roads in Petaling Jaya are still uneven with potholes which had caused greater wear and tear on the suspension of my car, resulting in more frequent need for repair and expense.

    Sure, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) which has been under the Pakatan state government of Selangor since 2008, allows residents the opportunity to file objections to proposed construction projects and will call those who file objections in for a dialogue session with MBPJ councillors and Selangor state government elected representatives but try filing such an objection and see the amount of knowledge you need to have of the Petaling Jaya masterplan, by-laws, etc, including details such as plot rations and so forth to make a strong case for your objection. Then you will have to be able to make the time to attend the meeting with the MBPJ when called.

    Take a look at what former three term MBPJ councillor and Petaling Jaya resident’s activist Mak Khuin Weng has to say about such issues over a year ago:-

    And my recent Selangor Scheiss post on the talk Mak Khuin Weng gave to my fellow residents:-


    And across the border in the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, residents are fighting to prevent a massive gigh rise development which will take up a considerable part of Taman Rimba Kiara, a beautiful recreational park.

    And, in this Free Malaysia Today report of 4 May 2019, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has appealed the court’s decision requiring that residents be given access to documents required in order to file credible objections to proposed projects and so forth.

    “Nothing’s changed, says expert after DBKL appeals court decision favouring residents”

    Back on the 20th of March 2016, residents of Damansara Perdana and Mutiara Damansara held a protest against the proposed Damansara-Shah Alam Highway (DASH), an elevated highway being routed right past their apartment blocks and businesses. Representatives of residents in Ampang and Ulu Kelang opposed to the SUKE highway through their area were there in solidarity and so was I and another opponent of the proposed KiDEX and later PJD Linj elevated highwaysthrough our area. PSM secretary general Sivarajan was there, I understand in his personal capacity opposed to SUKE.

    Then Selangor chief minister Azmin Ali and Bukit Lanjan state assemblywoman Elizabeth Wong were invited to join the protest but didn’t turn up, whilst residents’ rights activists spoke about their frustation with not getting replies to their several letters sent to the Selangor state government.

    The residents of Damansara Perdana and Mutiara Damansara only demanded that DASH be routed away from their area through a more sparsely populated area and not that DASH be cancelled.

    Here are four parts of a video and video slide show which I recorded of the protest that day:-

    Say No to DASH protest Damansara Perdana 2016-03-20 Part 1

    Say No to DASH protest Damansara Perdana 2016-03-20 Part 2

    Say No to DASH protest Damansara Perdana 2016-03-20 Part 3

    Say No to DASH protest Damansara Perdana 2016-03-20 Part 4

    In Part 4, we send SMS to Azmin Ali and Elizabeth Wong, demanding that DASH be re-routed away from Damansara Perdana and Mutiara Damansara.

    I send SMSes too but did not receive a reply.

    They did not listen, construction of DASH has begun and as I was in the area in September or October 2018 and made this You Tube video posted on 3 October 2018 The later part of the video at night is in Bandar Utama.

    Construction of DASH begins and construction in Bandar Utama

    And, of course Penang. I had expected that Pakatan’s capture of Penang in 2008 would see the state government rein in construction, especially on hillslopes in order to protect Penang’s environment and ecology but instead, environmentalists such as Anil Netto and civil society groups such as the Penang Forum have been battling the Penang state goverment over continued “development”, rape of hillslopes by property developers, building of highways. of three artificial islands off the southern coast of Penang island and so forth. I’ll leave you with Anil’s website/blog for the gory details of Penang under Pakatan Harapan.

    On the sidelines of the 10th PSM Annual Congress in Port Dickson in 2009, where I was an invited observer, we discussed continuing high-rise developments in Penang under the new Pakatan state government and someone said that the state government there would have to allow projects already approved or under construction to continue but after about two years.

    So OK, I could excuse the new Pakatan state government of Penang for not being able to save Kampung Buah Pala due to legal factors which were already in place, though if I were in then chief minister Lim Guan Eng’s shoes, I would have offered the residents of Kg. Buah Pala another location where they could re-establish their community and their “High Chapparal”, since I believe, and I’m pretty sure some others would agree with me, that social problems amongst Indians, especially Tamils today are largely due to the breaking up of thier respective tightly-knit communities in the plantations/estates, and with community members having to make a new life in various parts of cities and towns.

    Back in the 1970s, the daughter of a working class Irish friend (now deceased) in Salford, England told me how, despite working class families living in run down redbrick terraced houses along cobblestoned streets, however they had street parties and a sense of community, which was lost when they were moved into high-rise council flats, which fractured the community bonds, and which she said is the cause of social problems amongst flat dwellers and I believe that a similar problem affects Indian communities displaced from their plantation/estate communities. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Anyway, a PSM member for Penang described the Pakatan’s victory celebration in Penang in 2008, where Lim Guan Eng introduced their key supporters on stage and most of them were property developers, whom I believe had contrubuted funds to Pakatan parties’ election campaign. Well, is it no wonder why some in Peanag have dubbed the DAP as the “Developers’ Action Party”.

    As for the Pakatan federal government’s U-turns on the ratification of ICERD and the Rome Statute, under pressure of pro-UMNO and PAS forces, I’m pretty sure that Pakatan realises that their win was significantly thanks to the presence of Mahathir and Pribumi in Pakatan, which had drawn Mahathir loyalists, who otherwise would have voted be UMNO or BN, over to Pribumi/Pakatan in GE14; that thanks to the current delineation of Malaysia’s which tends to favour small, mostly rural and mostly ethnic Malay constituencies; and that Pakatan candidates won a number of marginal parliamentary and state seats by a whisker of a majority of votes, that a slight shift in voter sentiment away from Pakatan in the next elections or a by-election could see them lose to a BN-PAS alliance.

    For instance, Amanah won the Lumut parliamentary seat by less than one percentage point of the votes – i.e. Amanah 40.93%, BN/UMNO – 40.18% and PAS 18.89%. The next time with UMNO and PAS collaboration, PAS will quite probably step side and leave the field to UMNO to go one-on-one against Amanah or PKR and it does not need rocket science to see who would most likely win Lumut.

    We have already see two major victories or gains for BN in the Cameron Highlands and Semenyih by-elections, whilst BN’s win in Rantau was expected since besides 1959 to 1964 when Barian Sosialis (Socialist Front) had Rantau, however since then Rantau has alternated between MIC and UMNO.

    As for Sandakan, DAP won Sandakan in 2013 and DAP’s Wong Tien Fatt held the seat with and even bigger proportion of votes – i.e. 67.97% in 2018 and it is not surprising that his daughter, Vivian Wong would retain the seat in the by-election following Wong’s demise in office.

    Thus I’m pretty sure that seasoned Pakatan politicians know that their continued rule is not all that secure and that only about 25% of Malays voted Pakatan, so it would be wise not to provoke a backlash against them from the Malay voters, whether for real or imagined reasons.

    I believe that instead of announcing that Malaysia will go ahead and ratify ICERD and Malaysia ratifying the Rome Statute and then withdrawing from it; the question of ratification of these two agreements should have first been put before the public, which would have allowed the government time to explain and clarify them and answer any questions before their ratification are put before parliment for debate and vote.

    To me, ratification of ICERD, the Rome Statute, Malaysia’s adoption of nuclear power are minor issues right now, compared to more immediate issues directly impacting me, such as the continued high cost of living, traffic congestion in the streets of Petaling Jaya and the rest of the Klang Valley, continued construction of high-rise monstrosities being approved and allowed in Petaling Jaya, more rights and freedoms for workers and labour unions to fight for a advance workers’ rights and interests and so forth, and as several surveys have found, the continued high cost of living is the leading reason for people’s dissatisfaction with the Pakatan government.


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