18 August 2018
A response to The Economist on Dr M and PH
The Economist, as influential as it is, must surely understand the nature of change, particularly involving changes in government.
By Tariq Ismail
I refer to the article by FMT and NST referencing an editorial in The Economist entitled “Malaysia’s New Leaders Have Found Their First 100 Days Tough”.
The Economist editorial board opined that although Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has made headway in fulfilling key election pledges, in effect Mahathir is hindered by a “novice” Cabinet.
The article further contends that this has resulted in Mahathir having to become the “chief of everything”, thus reverting to his old autocratic ways. The piece also claims this is why Mahathir is retaining “cronies” such as those in the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) and Daim Zainuddin.
Worse still, The Economist is mischievously insinuating that Mahathir has no intention of dismantling racial policies seen as favouring the majority Malays despite his unexpected move in appointing Lim Guan Eng as finance minister.
The Economist further, and I have to say very subtly, insinuates that this state of governance is hindering Malaysia’s economic growth, by comparing Malaysia’s expected growth rate of 5% for 2018 against 6% in 2017.
I have to say, this is a very mischievous and almost maligning piece by The Economist. I thus feel compelled to enlighten the public, both local and foreign, of the state of matters as it stands.
The Economist, as influential as it is, must surely understand the nature of change, particularly involving changes in government. Who can forget the case of the Missing W’s when president George W Bush took over from president Bill Clinton? Or even the debacle of the US Cabinet appointments under the leadership of President Donald Trump? Yet, The Economist expects immediate and absolute perfection in the new Malaysian Cabinet line-up despite a game-changing opposition win after 60 years of single-party rule.
The Economist apparently fails to understand that in situations of change, there will be learning curves and gaps in knowledge and experience. That is only to be expected.
As for becoming the “chief of everything”, I am surprised The Economist says this. After all, isn’t a CEO a chief of everything? Yes, under normal circumstances, a CEO approves by exception only. However, these are exceptional times for new Malaysia. A new ruling alliance and fresh-faced ministers are faced with a corruption and money-laundering scandal which has inspired a new field of study in international money-laundering, and these same fresh-faced ministers have to contend with the fall-out of that scandal domestically for the next generation at least.
I ask the CEO at The Economist, had you been the incoming CEO in such a situation, would you freely delegate as you would in more normal circumstances? Or would you keep tighter control of the reins of power?
I have to say that despite all this, Mahathir has been admirably receptive and flexible to the suggestions and objections of the coalition ministers in his crafting of policies and handling of issues.
The reality is that Malaysia’s voting demographics, whether by economic standing or ethnicity, is fractious at best. This extends to political party support as well. PKR would never have made it on its own without the other coalition partners who are more modest in comparison but who still commanded crucial support from the section of society that could push PH over the 50% mark to win the election.
As such, The Economist’s pathetic attempts at stoking the fire of dissent and racial enmity topped by a prediction of poorer economic performance will not work in the new Malaysia. The people of the new Malaysia have always been the drivers of our own economic and political fortunes, good or bad. We know this for certain. And we know that as we did before, we can do so again if need be. The power is in our hands.
Tariq Ismail is a member of the PPBM Supreme Council.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
Novice Cabinet forces ‘old Mahathir’ to do ‘everything’, says Economist
The influential financial journal says it’s back to vintage Mahathir again despite cosmetic changes since the May election.
PETALING JAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad may have his plate full with his decision to personally deal with major issues in Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) first 100 days of power, causing him to revert to his old “autocratic” ways backed by his “cronies” in the form of an advisory council of elders, The Economist wrote in its editorial today.
The influential London-based magazine said this was due to an “inexperienced Cabinet”, which was forcing the 93-year-old prime minister to become “chief of everything”.
“This creates a bureaucratic bottleneck as he ponders investigations into 1MDB, diplomacy (he has already taken two trips to Japan and is due to visit China on Aug 17) and ways of boosting economic growth (expected to be about 5% this year, down from nearly 6% in 2017),” it wrote.
It said this was also why fulfilling the pledges made by PH during the general election was difficult.
“PH made bold pledges about what it would achieve in office. But the disparity of experience between the fledgling ministers and their grizzled leader is hindering its efforts.”
The Economist said despite PH partners long championing issues such as greater transparency and human rights, Mahathir had been ruling “in the way he knows”.
“He favours the advice of cronies, as well as of an unelected council of bigwigs selected by himself. His autocratic style can make people jump,” it said, in apparent reference to the five-member Council of Eminent Persons led by Mahathir’s closest associate, Daim Zainuddin.
It said while Mahathir often joked about his excesses during his first tenure as prime minister some two decades ago, it was clear that he was not willing to share power with other members of the coalition.
His decision not to assume the finance portfolio as he did during his previous term in the late 1990s was also a smokescreen, the magazine suggested, adding that it had only “superficially” reduced his responsibilities.