Intentions noble but Anwar Ibrahim gets C- for govt’s lack of direction in setting agenda, says analyst

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim celebrates one year as Malaysia’s 10th prime minister tomorrow. While he has earned some goodwill in cobbling together a so-called ‘unity government’, his administration has only received a C- rating from a prominent analyst.

Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk said the reason for Anwar’s low rating was because the government has yet to find its footing, as it is a coalition formed after the 15th General Election. Azeem added that while he believes Anwar is guided by noble intentions, executing them has been problematic, mainly due to the baggage that is Umno.

He added that Anwar’s Achilles heel was that his party, PKR, only has 31 Parliamentary seats.

“Many people want to give the government an A+ rating as they are happy that Anwar is finally the prime minister. But you cannot rate someone that highly just because you like him,” said Azeem, who is the director of the Centre for Policy Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

“I do not think PMX (Anwar’s moniker) can set his agenda, even though he made it clear that his focus was on eradicating poverty and restructuring the economy.

“To do that, he needs to break away from the old regime, but Umno is part of that regime. At best, I would rate him a C- because he had no choice but to work with Umno.”

While Azeem is confident the PKR leader will be able to turn things around before his five-year term ends in 2027, he tempered his optimism by saying that Anwar had so far, failed to live up to expectations of pushing for institutional reforms.

“There has been nothing of significance so far. Despite Anwar’s reputation as a reformist, he has not shown it,” said Azeem.

“When he was in Umno from 1983 to 1998, did he attempt to change or restructure the party?”

Azeem said the same was true of Anwar’s reputation as a ‘liberal’, which is false, as he has always been an Islamist, although “he can be a bit of a chameleon”.

“He can be many things to many people, but he is an Islamist at heart,” said Azeem of Anwar, a former leader of ABIM (the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement).

“That is why I am not surprised by his strong support of Palestine and the people of Gaza.”

Azeem said Anwar, who is also the country’s finance minister, has to work hard, as his budget, unveiled on Oct 13, showed that Malaysia was expected to spend RM81 billion on subsidies and financial aid, partly due to the rise in the cost of importing food and a soaring inflation.

Anwar also has to deal with a depreciating ringgit, which fell to a 25-year low last month (RM4.72 to the US dollar).

While the current administration has said that it was working hard to bring in foreign direct investment, Azeem suggested that Anwar empower and uplift small, and medium enterprises (SMEs), instead.

“Look at the East Asian nations like Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. They managed their economies by having strong home-grown industries,” said Azeem.

“By investing in the local economy, they have strengthened their position in trade.

“Malaysia should uplift and invest in its SMEs, as we will only see the returns on foreign investments in four to five years.”

Developing robust Malaysian SMEs, Azeem said, would also create more job opportunities for Malaysians.

A precarious balancing act

Azeem said that due to the harsh economic realities in which the government finds itself in, it needs to reduce subsidies. However, making that call would prove unpopular with voters.

“Making sound and prudent economic decisions may not be good politically. He needs to look for ways to improve revenue. One way is to cut subsidies,” said Azeem.

“The problem is, most people do not earn enough, and when you cut subsidies, it will hit the voters’ pockets.

“The government will cut diesel subsidies next year. That is only the beginning … the people must be ready for more.”

He added that the prices of food and basic necessities such as eggs, chicken, sugar, flour, and rice were increasing partly because of the numerous cartels in the country.

The problem, asserts Azeem, is that the supply of eggs, chickens, and other meats are controlled by a select few who are allegedly “well connected”.

What does the future hold?

After Malaysia’s 15th General Election, Anwar’s coalition, Pakatan Harapan, only garnered 82 seats, falling short of the simple 112-seat majority needed to form a government.

Perikatan Nasional (PN) won 73 seats, and Umno and Barisan Nasional had 30 seats.

In East Malaysia, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah won 22, and six seats, respectively.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, then asked the leaders of the main political parties and coalitions to work together to form a new government.

PH, Barisan Nasional, GPS, GRS, and Muda’s Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, formed the government. PN opted to be the opposition.

“If Anwar wants to start anew and have a clean slate, he has to cut off the tumour, but the tumour, Umno, is still there. He will find it difficult until they are no longer in the picture,” said Azeem.

“However, Anwar’s sincerity has won over some opposition Members of Parliament. If he can garner enough support, perhaps he can start asserting himself more.”

Recently, four PN Members of Parliament – Datuk Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid (Kuala Kangsar), Datuk Suhaili Abdul Rahman (Labuan), Mohd Azizi Abu Naim (Gua Musang), and Zahari Kechik (Jeli) – declared their support for Anwar.

Syed Saddiq, has, however, withdrawn his support and is fighting for his political career after being found guilty of criminal breach of trust and money laundering.

Nonetheless, it is not all doom and gloom, as Azeem credited Anwar with introducing leading-edge initiatives such as the National Energy Transition Facility (NETF) and the New Industrial Master Plan (NIMP) 2030.

NETF offers impact initiatives and 10 flagship catalyst projects centred around six energy transition levers – renewable energy, energy efficiency, hydrogen, bioenergy, green mobility, and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage – that will result in a high-value, green economy.

NIMP 2030 aims to increase manufacturing value and outlines Malaysia’s industrial development strategy, focusing on increasing economic complexity, fortifying industrial clusters, promoting sustainable development, achieving net zero, and preparing for a digitally dynamic society.

The appointment of Sarawakian Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof as deputy prime minister, and Anwar’s commitment to review the Malaysian Agreement 1963 (MA63), has also earned him brownie points with East Malaysians.

Anwar also introduced his Madani Framework to restructure the economy to position Malaysia as a leader among Asian economies and guarantee that the people have a share in the increased wealth.

A one-year Madani Government programme will be held at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, on Dec 8-10 to disseminate and promote new policies and initiatives for the people, increase public awareness and understanding of the government’s direction and goals, and build trust and confidence between the government and the people through periodic achievement reporting.

“Anwar’s strength is that he has united most Malaysians. He can help the country bounce back, but it looks like we need to give him more time,” said Azeem.

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