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Monday, September 30, 2019

On Syed Husin's broadside



PKR founder Syed Husin Ali yesterday raised an angry query over the seeming unwillingness of senior leaders of Pakatan Harapan component parties to hold coalition supremo Dr Mahathir Mohamad to the letter, if not the spirit, of the ruling alliance's GE14 promises.
The query is legitimate if, for no other reason than that in the lead-up to GE14, Mahathir had aired on occasion before his confreres in the Harapan presidential leadership council his surprise at their feistiness over issues of national import.
According to participants at these council meetings, Mahathir had contrasted the feistiness of his Harapan compatriots with the docility of their Barisan Nasional (BN) counterparts.
Apparently, meetings of the BN, which Mahathir headed during the 22 years of his premiership (1981-2003), used to be a breeze, whereas he said he was finding the Harapan ones a test of his powers of concentration because attendees were willing to speak up when impelled.
Word about the Mahathir asides gained credibility when no less than Amanah president Mohamad Sabu (below), in an attempt to placate misgivings about the wisdom of having as the Harapan supremo a leader of Mahathir's authoritarian tendencies – much reviled by the leadership cohort of DAP and PKR during Mahathir's premiership – assured doubters that his colleagues on the Harapan council were not the rubber-stamping variety.
Mohamad revealed that his compatriots were unapologetic in Harapan council meetings when presenting forthright views before a former adversary. And, he disclosed, Mahathir paid his interlocutors the compliment of close listening.
Now, nearly 17 months after the Harapan takeover from BN, it is difficult to recall these stories of the Harapan cohort's feistiness in the pre-GE14 days.
This is because of a widespread perception among Harapan supporters that the coalition has hit a frustrating stall in the drive to implement the reform package it had long pledged itself to bring to fruition should it win federal power.
These days the stall in the reform drive is increasingly attributed to the discovery that Prime Minister Mahathir is only a tepid reformer, a situation that is made worse by the loss of trenchancy on the part of the Harapan cohort.
Syed Husin's castigation of this state of affairs, aired with a truculence characteristic of the Harapan cohort's pre-GE14 form, cannot be easily dismissed.
The disappointment with Harapan governance is widespread and palpable. Syed Husin has merely given vent to it.
True, Harapan had promised much more than it is feasible to deliver. Delivery of its promises on the economy is enfeebled by the stringencies compelled by colossal losses incurred by the former regime's insane kleptocracy. Faced with the magnitude of the losses, a new government would be reckless to prioritise spending over stringency.
Still, lesser promises like getting to the bottom of enforced disappearances of citizens like Pastor Raymond Koh (above, left) and Syiah Muslim Amri Che Mat (above, right), and unravelling the mystery behind Teoh Beng Hock's death are matters of vital importance.
The health of civil society is a question that is at the nub of a reformed polity. Its importance cannot be scanted.
In the face of gaping shortfalls on manifesto delivery and depletion of our finances, the decision to go for a third Malaysian car, even a flying prototype, is indulgent and unreal.
Furthermore, the country is newly awakened to the probability that the incidence of poverty may be closer to 15 percent of the population rather than just 0.4 percent.
The discrepancy is symptomatic of a sleepwalker's insulation from reality, a picture that is underscored by public furore over the teaching of Islamic calligraphy in primary schools and the confusion over what to do with the fugitive Zakir Naik, a polarising figure whom wise handlers should have kept on a tight leash, if not proscribed.
One gets an overall sense of a lack of clarity and of moral confusion about the purposes and aims of a Harapan government.
In this light, Syed Husin's diatribe invites consideration, rather than dismissal.
Harapan's governance is in a dispiriting stall. Their leaders must rediscover their feistiness.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. - Mkini

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