SINCE Budget 2021 was presented for approval in parliament, the opposition parties have shown all signs of disarray. In trying to halt its passage, they have seen defeat after defeat starting at policy stage all the way to the third reading of the bill.Prior to this, the credibility of Pakatan Harapan had been eroded by the claim articulated by the opposition leader that he had the so-called numbers on his side to form the new government.Since then the leaders of Pakatan Harapan have sought seeking new hope to bring about change in Malaysia. The question that needs to be put forward is whether Pakatan Harapan is a distinctive alternative to Perikatan National.What will make it distinct from Perikatan Nasional is if it to were to cater not only to ideology- and personality-centred supporters but also the diverse younger generation of tomorrow from the Peninsular and Sabah, Sarawak.When Pakatan Harapan came to power after the general election, the government was headed by Dr Mahathir Mahathir from Bersatu which was a small party yet it led the coalition. PKR was split and DA was basically helpless in the context of Malay politics in which Bersatu was trying to outplay Umno as a true champion of the Malays. DAP was perceived as subservient and silent on various issues that were critical to its core supporters. While changes were made such as lowering the voting age, rooting out corruption, and labour reforms, they were not enough for the impatient supporters, who wanted the government to address issues of ethnicity, human rights and the environment. Instead there were backtracking and detentions without trial. The government finally lost to the conservative politics of race and religion – and the traitors who colluded with the other side to form Perikatan National, for all intents and purposes an ethno-religious coalition, notwithstanding its token Chinese and Indian members MCA and MIC.Pakatan Harapan’s blunder of handing over the reins to an ethnic-centric party such as Bersatu and its questionable characters, who envisioned a mono-racial Malaysia, was why true reform that could have opened a new chapter for Malaysia was elusive.The question now is, what is the way forward for Pakatan Harapan?There are five critical areas that PH should work on to distinguish itself as the alternative to Perikatan National or Muafakat Nasional.It is vital that in working towards the political, social and economic success that it envisages for the rakyat, it should make the people’s wellbeing the primary consideration in all its decisions. Here are the key areas of focus.Politics and ideals of Rukun Negara Belief in God should translate into a governing vision where human dignity and rights are upheld. This should lead to a Malaysian context where there should be reciprocal empathy between all ethnic communities. Pakatan Harapan has to be bold enough reject to ideologies that are inherently ethnic in its negotiation with its partners. This would make it distinctive entity from Perikatan Nasional. Politics should serve the people and not about party interest. Local issues should be resolved by local authorities by elected local government that should be rooted in multi-ethnic solidarity. There should be emphasis on human rights over ethnic rights. Bipartisanship for the spiritual common good of all should be encouraged and cemented to demonstrate the belief in God.New economic paradigmThere is a need for more focus on inclusive human capital development, Labour rights and environmentally friendly industries. Technology, finance which is part of the economy should serve human dignity and rights and not the other way around. Taxes should be progressive. Algorithms of so-called artificial intelligence should serve to enhance the collective good of firms and not the interest of the capitalist per se. Currently Malaysia is very much dependent on low-cost labour and foreign investment. In this new economic paradigm consumers should be protected from giant technological companies that use private data for their own ends.EducationEducation should be centred on creating thinking adults who are not only able to master their chosen fields but who are not beholden to ideological pinnings of race and religion. Science should be given its rightful prominent position and non-dualistic thinking should be encouraged for progress.Social security/healthcareThe Covid-19 crisis which has resulted in job loss has clearly revealed the importance of government investment in social security. Social security in its current form is built upon formal employers and employees’ contributions to EPF for retirement savings and to Socso for protection against accidents and death. It is not comprehensive enough to cover complex welfare issues of housing, education and healthcare especially for those in the informal sector. The government should get some ideas from the Nordic countries that recognise the basic aspect of social security such as free education and healthcare to boost human development. This would require government investment in the long term.EnvironmentWhile life expectancy in Malaysia has increased, efforts for a carbon-neutral environment have not. Even though the government is making some effort, the agenda has never been part of mainstream politics. The government has yet to study the link between environmental pollution to health. Malaysia’s carbon dioxide emission per capita stands at 8.1 tonnes, in contrast to Sweden’s 4.1 tonnes and Sri Lanka’s 1.1 tonnes. The country’s material footprint per capita is about 24.2 tonnes, in comparison to the Philippines’s 4.4 tonnes. We are still very much dependent on fossil fuel. We have yet to introduce a carbon tax. There is a need for a strong leadership to decarbonise the economy and protect biodiversity.By integrating the above elements, Pakatan Harapan will show itself to be an alternative to Perikatan Nasional. It is about wholly embracing the 17 sustainable development goals. While practical realities of governing would make reform difficult, it is possible to bring changes if there is consistency in vision and mission. That would attract more Malaysians to the cause. – December 17, 2020.* Ronald Benjamin is the Association for Community and Dialogue secretary. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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