M'sia's Pakatan Harapan government has promised much. But changing people's minds takes time.

Implementing significant reforms can't be done overnight.

Jack Lau | Sulaiman Daud | July 18, 2018, 06:54 PM

Malaysia's new Pakatan Harapan government has made several promises in the run-up to the general election.

But now that they are in power, they might find that keeping some of these promises will require more time.

Campaign promises

PH's manifesto, released during the election season, contains 60 promises.

The first 10 promises that take priority for the government's first 100 days in power are mostly related to economic matters.

These include abolishing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and providing petrol subsidies.

But beyond that, there is a second "pillar" related to Institutional and Political reform. These include:

  • Limiting the PM's term of office to two terms
  • Separating the office of the Attorney-General from the Public Prosecutor
  • Ratifying certain international human rights conventions
  • Enhancing the transparency and integrity of the budget
  • Abolishing oppressive laws

More time needed

During a seminar hosted by the Yusof Ishak Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS) on July 17, activist Cynthia Gabriel said that with Pakatan Harapan's victory, they now have to live up to what they promised while campaigning. She said:

"The new party put everything in their manifesto. Now they need to implement those promises."

Gabriel, who previously served as a City Councillor in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, said that certain Ministers have been engaging with local society and civil groups to discuss these proposed changes.

Another speaker on the panel, Azmi Sharom, suggested that some of the changes proposed in the Manifesto may need more time to implement.


Azmi, an Associate Professor at the University of Malaya's Faculty of Law, cited the promise to separate the role of the public prosecutor from the Attorney General's office as an example.

According to Azmi, while Malaysia's Constitution clearly spells out the role and appointment of the Attorney General, it doesn't do the same for the public prosecutor.

Azmi said in order to fulfil this promise and others, a Constitutional Amendment might be required:

"It's not going to be easy. They will require some serious legal thinking."

However, Azmi pointed out other changes that could be done quickly and easily.

For instance, he felt that the controversial bill that changed Malaysia's electoral boundaries before the election should have been given more time for Parliament debate.

However, according to some Malaysian MPs, they were given just three hours to debate it in total.

But if it so chose, Parliament could now allocate more time for debate, without having to go through a complicated legal process.

Mindset needs to change

Gabriel feels that while the government works to reform itself, ordinary Malaysians need to change as well. She said:

"The Malaysian mindset needs to change along with the intended reform policies."

She cited the strong opposition to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's choice of a Christian Indian lawyer to serve as Attorney General, Tommy Thomas.

However, Gabriel views the recent moves by the PH government to appoint individuals of various races and ethnicities to certain top positions as a "constructive change". She said:

"We have a Chinese Finance Minister, an Indian Attorney General, a Kadazandusun Chief Justice, and a Parliamentary speaker who is Malay. A very nice multi-ethnic make-up of Malaysia."

She added that Mahathir's authority, and the respect he commands from the majority Malay population might have helped these appointments.

However in her view, such moves need to be institutionalised and entrenched in better regulations to ensure that it's not about race, but who has the credentials and can do the job.

Azmi agreed, and stated that he felt the opposition to Thomas was racist. He said:

"The mindset is still very much race-based. We need a bit of time. We need people like Tommy to do their work well, to show that it doesn't matter what the colour of a person's skin is, as long as the job gets done."

Top image from @pakatanharapan_'s Twitter page.