Wed, May 15, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Malaysians jaded with Mahathir after year of unmet promises

By Philip J Heijmans and Anisah Shukry  /  Bloomberg

When hundreds of women gathered in Kuala Lumpur to call for equal rights in Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s self-proclaimed “new Malaysia,” they were met with an unexpected response: a police investigation.

Officials were ordered to see if the women were in violation of the nation’s draconian Sedition Act — a law the ruling Pakatan Harapan party pledged to eliminate ahead of Mahathir’s election win one year ago.

It is just one of several campaign promises that have not been fulfilled, leaving those once elated by the 93-year-old’s return to power underwhelmed by his performance.

“A lot of people feel cheated by Pakatan Harapan,” said Siti Kasim, a 56-year-old criminal lawyer and political commentator who was among the 5.78 million Malaysians who voted for Mahathir in May last year and one of the protesters who took to the streets in March.

“And if Pakatan Harapan don’t see who their supporters are, they will lose the next election,” Siti added.

Siti is not alone. The majority of the pledges made in Pakatan Harapan’s 200-page manifesto remain unfulfilled, leaving many to doubt whether the “Alliance of Hope” will be able to lift Malaysia into an era of unity, equality and prosperity.

Mahathir said that his government was working toward fulfilling the campaign promises.

“Manifesto is for five years, it’s not for one year,” Mahathir told a news conference on Thursday last week. “There are some promises which must be delayed because of legal problems — for instance certain changes we need to make require some changes in the constitution. For that we need a two-thirds majority, not just the government, we need the support of the opposition.”

“Within one year, the government has tried its best to fulfill many responsibilities,” he said later in a national address. “Indeed there are shortcomings and mistakes, and so the government will continue to work on improving.”

According to a survey by Malaysia’s Merdeka Center, approval for Mahathir has plummeted from 71 percent in August last year to just 46 percent in March, while support for the coalition government fell from 79 percent to 39 percent.

“Citizens have a right to feel disappointed as progress has been minimal,” said Lee Morgenbesser, lecturer and Southeast Asia expert at Griffith University in Australia. “The last year of the Pakatan Harapan government seems to have been filled by disappointment and this is reflected in the polls.”

While the new government had pledged to end decades of corruption in the top rungs of power, it last year abandoned a pledge to adopt a UN treaty against racial discrimination.

It was also criticized for withdrawing from a treaty to accede to the International Criminal Court, bowing to fears that it might lead to the persecution of the nation’s Malay rulers and threaten the privileges of the majority Malays.

“The people are unhappy with the government because they are deviating from their original promises,” opposition lawmaker and Malaysian Chinese Association president Wee Ka Siong (魏家祥) said.

The government has also fallen short on a promise to fill 30 percent of government seats with women, while a pledge to end the practice of child marriage — which is legal under Shariah law — has fallen by the wayside for fear of religious backlash.

“Every issue that can be made into a racial one to prove that Malay rights have been infringed will be blown up that way and perpetuated through social media to the rural outskirts,” said Serina Abdul Rahman, an academic fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

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