Malaysia Dateline

Stench of Perikatan Nasional’s failure cling to new government

It’s been less than a month since Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri was sworn in as prime minister and already his new cabinet is being criticized for being a close replica of the failed Perikatan Nasional cabinet.

The latest appointment of former prime minister Tan Sri Mahiaddin Yassin as National Recovery Council (NRC) chairperson squashed any hope that this government will bring fresh new energy and ideas to combat the pandemic.

It almost seems that the new PM is not motivated to carve a separate path that will distinguish him from his predecessor and has opted to play musical chairs with the previous coalition instead.

With the reappointment of familiar faces, it is clear that this isn’t a new government but rather a reshuffled one filled with leaders who by all accounts failed to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of Perikatan Nasional’s most unpopular ministers such as Datuk Seri Rina Harun, Dato’ Dr Noraini, and Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali retained their respective portfolios, while ‘King of Gaffes’ Dr. Adham Baba was appointed as the new Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation.

This begs the question as to why PM Ismail would knowingly tarnish his new government with ministers who are disliked and do not have the trust of the Malaysian people?

The new PM will be wise to recall that the change of government came at a time when Malaysians were brought to their knees under severe economic constraints due to the ongoing lockdowns.

Covid-19 cases in the country was reaching record breaking numbers, alongside unemployment and loss of income. The #benderaputih campaign took off and citizens waved white flags to notify their neighbors that they are no longer able to even feed themselves.

With Umno being vocal about Perikatan Nasional’s failings, there was a glimmer of hope that the new prime minister would hit the ground running, working furiously to appoint a fresh cabinet that will reverse much of the failed policies of the previous government.

Clearly, this isn’t the case. The reshuffle sees Umno getting a bigger slice of the pie and take over crucial portfolios like the Ministry of Communications and Ministry of Rural Development.

These portfolios essentially set Umno up for better exposure and the ability to reach and energize their grassroots before the next general election.

Are we to conclude that ousting Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was done purely for political power, or will this new government actually commit to institutional reforms that Perikatan Nasional was unable to achieve? The evidence to the latter has yet to be seen.

There has been a slow start to the Ismail Sabri government, it is close to three weeks in and the coalition doesn’t even have a name yet. But most importantly, they don’t seem to have an actual plan.

The PM who must be aware of how Malaysians view the performance of the previous cabinet has asked for 100 days for his cabinet to prove their worth.

It’s a big ask of the Malaysian people, considering the majority of these ministers were already given a chance and quite frankly, blew it.

But more so than that, the prime minister has yet to tell us what the cabinet intends to do in that time frame of 100 days. What is the plan? What have they learned from the previous government and what are they going to change?

One defining issue that PM Ismail made apparent was his determination to collaborate with the Opposition and call a truce with its leaders.

In his first speech as prime minister, he appealed to the Opposition to put political differences aside and help the country bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was even buzz that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Pakatan Harapan might be given an important role in the cabinet to symbolize a government that is working together for the sake of the pandemic.

While nothing of the sort materialized, the Opposition however was invited to become part of the Special Committee on Pandemic Management.

While the committee invite looks to be an olive branch to make nice with his political opponents, historically committees actually have very little power to influence policy making.

For now, Malaysia seems to be stuck in limbo with no real plan on how to move forward from the pandemic and sadly, a valuable opportunity to reset the political landscape was lost before it even had the chance to take off.