News & Views


Posted on 15th July 2018

Malaysia is experiencing a national euphoria that can best be likened to the feeling associated with winning the World Cup. Its new government headed by the coalition known as Pakatan Harapan or the Hope Alliance, came to power on 9 May 2018 with an overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament and professing a bold and inspiring political manifesto for social, political and institutional reform that any nation could be proud of. The fact that Malaysia’s ancien regime was ignominiously toppled peaceably through the ballot box without violence, in a part of the world where changes in government are often accompanied by social unrest, is a huge testimony to the political maturity of the Malaysian people and augurs well for the stability of its economy.

If the new government is true to its election manifesto, Malaysia will be well positioned to become one of the most progressive economies in the world. Saifuddin Abdullah, now Malaysia’s Foreign Minister said that the manifesto was aimed at creating a better Malaysia in terms of the economy, race relations, strengthening of government institutions, foreign affairs and good governance, among others.

Whilst the full PH manifesto runs into many pages some of the notable highlights of this document are laudable and include the following (in synopsis):

Social Reforms

  • Eliminating discrimination and building a nation that is inclusive, moderate and internationally respected
  • Promoting civil society and encouraging diversity amongst the young
  • Attaining a stellar human rights record
  • Media Freedom
  • Academic freedom, greater accessibility to education and autonomy for universities
  • Addressing the cost of living, public healthcare and social welfare

Political Reforms

  • Reforming political and administrative institutions and restoring the dignity of Parliament
  • Ensuring transparency and robustness of the electoral system (including reducing the voting age to 18 and implementing automatic voter registration)
  • Limiting the post of Prime Minister to two terms
  • Separating the office of Prime Minister from the position of Finance Minister
  • Separating the office of Attorney General from the Public Prosecutor

Law Reforms

  • Abolishing draconian laws and laws harmful to democracy
  • Abolishing the mandatory death penalty
  • Removing ouster clauses from legislation to enable courts to review all government actions

Economic Reforms

  • Spurring investment and simplifying business processes
  • Breaking monopolies and promoting competition
  • Making Malaysia known for its integrity and aiming to be the top 10 least corrupt countries ranked by Transparency International

As far as political manifestos go, there will always be scepticism over the commitment of governments to their election promises. And yet public support for the government has not diminished despite apparent feet dragging on some of its professed aims. The public magnanimity seems to suggest that the electorate are prepared to give this newly formed government some space for trial and error.


Commitment to reform

On balance, the commitment of the government to its reform agenda seems clear. Within days of coming to power the government appointed a Council of Eminent Persons (nicknamed “The Jedi Council”) comprising renowned and highly regarded individuals that in turn appointed an Institutional Reform Committee comprising senior lawyers, academics, judges and a retired army general. The fact that the Council is made up of highly regarded business leaders such as the billionaire Robert Kuok, an award winning central banker, a developmental economist with degrees from Yale and Harvard, speaks volumes for the government’s commitment to reform and its desire for sustainable economic development.


An impressive cabinet

The new racially diverse cabinet has 5 women one of whom is the Deputy Prime Minister, the first time a woman has been appointed to that post. She together with the Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir, are both medical doctors by training. The youngest Minister (charged with the Youth and Sport Portfolio) is 26. The Finance Minister is the former Chief Minister of Penang with a track record for revamping Penang’s economy and making it one of the wealthiest states in Malaysia. The government has also shown its resolve towards addressing climate change and environmental issues by appointing a brilliant Cambridge-trained chemical engineer to be Minister of Climate Change and Environment.


Commitment to business and transparency

At a lunch organised by the American Chamber in Malaysia on 28 June 2018 in conjunction with its Annual General Meeting, Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir was received with thunderous applause from the audience. He thanked US companies for their investments in Malaysia saying that these companies had created some 250,000 jobs for Malaysians. He went on to say that his government would like to see more jobs created and would provide a pro-business environment. He reasoned that by making companies successful the country would benefit through taxation of their profits. At 24% Malaysia’s corporate tax rate is one of the lowest in the region. Mahathir offered to receive all manner of complaints and feedback from the private sector and said that the government wanted to know the issues and problems being faced by businesses in Malaysia, particularly those of foreign investors. He said that his government was committed in being transparent and telling the truth about the national debt which had become dangerously inflated by the previous government. He wanted the public to know the real situation rather than avoid the criticism of analysts who were only concerned about falling stock prices. Mahathir said his government preferred to rely on fundamentals and believed that investors would appreciate his government’s transparency.


Commitment to human rights

Saifuddin Abdullah on his appointment as Foreign Minister reaffirmed Malaysia’s commitment to international conventions. He is quoted as saying:

We aspire to sign the remaining human rights conventions. There are nine and we have only ratified three, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)… The six others include the International Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment.


Loong Caesar

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