Pakatan Harapan stalwart pens letter to Malaysia's ruling coalition

Mr Rafizi Ramli, a former vice-president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, one of the four parties of Pakatan Harapan (PH), wrote an open letter urging Malaysia's ruling coalition to buckle down on its mission to improve people's lives instead of politicking amid "plunging" approval ratings.

He suggested that the coalition get back on track to carry out tasks on its economic platform, rather than remain fixated on boosting its appeal to Malay voters alone.

Here is an edited excerpt of the letter, which was published on The Star Online on Wednesday.

"After 61 years, Malaysia finally managed a successful democratic change. Whether or not the democratic change meets our expectation, no one should take the credit away from the Malaysian people.

The dust takes a bit longer to settle. In the early months of the PH (Pakatan Harapan) administration, whenever I raised an issue that seemed to puncture the euphoria, I got attacked viciously. I thought it was only natural because of the euphoria; sooner or later, the dust would eventually settle, and we could get on with bringing change to the country.

Unfortunately, the euphoria seems to derail the focus of the PH administration a bit. The deflation - from the euphoria to disillusionment - can be severe, if not appropriately managed. There are signs that the euphoria has gone somewhat sour.

I continue to follow the pulse on the ground through surveys and analytical profiling, a discipline I maintain from the campaign towards GE14 (Malaysia's 14th General Election).

Judging from online comments on major news portals, it is obvious that the country is highly polarised. Each community lives in our own bubble. We are not aware of the undercurrent that is fast developing in the other community, because we hardly interact with each other.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone must bell the cat.

The approval rating of the federal government since PH took over in May 2018 has been plunging...

Out of the 97 seats that PH won in Semenanjung (Peninsular Malaysia), only 42 are in the states where PH's share of Malay votes exceeded 40 per cent. Fifty-five seats are in danger of going to other parties in the next general election if there is a significant shift among Malay voters.

 
 

You may ask me by now - what's with these numbers? What's the relevance of approval ratings and the share of Malay votes in GE14?

It is true that we did not win enough Malay votes in GE14.

But we still won the majority in Parliament because enough swing Malay voters in the marginal seats across the country voted for PH. They voted for PH primarily due to our economic promises to make their lives better, not because PH has somewhat convinced them that we are more "Malay" than Umno or PAS (Parti Islam SeMalaysia)...

As political parties, what we can do is to articulate middle grounds and focus on policies, so that the public discourse revolves around voters' livelihood. I repeated during GE14 that PH could win only if we convinced enough Malays that a change of government could lower prices, create more jobs and increase wages.

We can never become more Malay than Umno or more politically Islamic than PAS. Race and religion are Umno's and PAS' strength; the economic platform is our platform...

Our key constituents are economic voters across the races. From the first post-GE14 survey until this month's poll, reducing the higher cost of living and fulfilling election promises top the key concern of the voters across the board.

After a while, the public is losing patience with what is seen as mere excuses on the part of the PH administration. We can't fulfil all the promises immediately within the 100 days (trust me, the public does not even expect that), yet at the very least the PH administration must be seen to be solely focused on laying the groundwork to fulfil them (election promises) at some point in the future.

It is understandably a work in progress, but we do need to see some progress. After a while, it is no longer enough to charge former government leaders with cases of corruption because so long as there is no marked improvement (concerning economic livelihood) on the ground, the restlessness will continue.

In some areas, things did get worse after we took over.

Late payment of living allowances to Felda settlers is a regular feature of our administration. Not only are we not able to write off their debts that were questionably piled on them by the previous administration, we could not help make things better for them when the commodity prices plunged.

While reducing prices will take a while, any sudden removal of aids previously provided by the government, when implemented without a more effective substitute programme, helps the opposition build a negative narrative against the federal government.

We will take some time to restructure PTPTN (editor's note: PTPTN is a government body that provides study loans to Malaysian university students), but why resort to the opposite of our election pledge, when we have not heard anything about any efforts to refinance PTPTN bonds to lower the financing cost? Can we not use the Prime Minister's good standing with the Japanese to re-finance these bonds? The annual saving of 2 per cent to 3 per cent of interest on bonds worth RM40 billion (S$13 billion) easily translates to RM1 billion.

The public does not expect a miracle; they expect efforts. They need to see our focus is fixated on making their lives better.

Instead, more often than not, we give excuses for why we could not deliver.

Unfortunately, we also have been serving the public with one political drama after another. We are all guilty of that, but the public looks to the Cabinet for a steady direction in this turbulent time.

We can't afford too much distraction because we need to deliver economically. We were elected mainly because of our economic promises.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2018, with the headline 'PH stalwart pens letter to Malaysia's ruling coalition'. Print Edition | Subscribe