• Office of YB Wong Chen

Tanjung Piai. What Needs To Be Done?

17 November 2019

When the news broke last night on Tanjung Piai, I was driving in heavy rain around Kinrara from one event to another. I have publicly stated a tight race to keep up campaign morale, but had privately shared with my friends that PH will lose by 3,000 to 5,000 votes.

So when the 15,000 majority was officially declared, it caught me by complete surprise too! We, the politicians who are suppose to be very sensitive to public views, just completely underestimated the anger of the public.

This is not an insignificant by-election and this is not a slim sympathy win for BN. This kind of landslide victory is a very strong message from the rakyat. It is important for us to acknowledge this and not downplay or dismiss it as a freak anomaly.

Tanjong Piai’s demographics, being semi urban/semi rural, with Malay voters at 58%, and a very sizeable Chinese voter population of 41%, makes this election an extremely useful overall political barometer. Indian voters were only 1% in Tanjung Piai, but had there been more, with the LTTE issue still hot in mind, the loss yesterday would have been even bigger.

Many political commentators view Tanjung Piai as some sort of a referendum on Dr. Mahathir’s leadership. I tend to agree with this point of view.

Some analysts see this as a referendum on the entire PH leadership. My friends regularly remind me that they voted for reformists, and now all they see are enablers of a style of government from a bygone era. I don’t believe this to be entirely true.

Some ministers have offered apologies, taking the blame in lieu of the prime minister. These honourable acts, affirm my belief that many PH leaders, deep down, are still committed to some principles and reforms.

To be fair to the majority of the PH ministers, the cabinet was chosen by the prime minister himself when he exercised his prime ministerial prerogative. Since that is the case, it is clear that his cabinet ministers have to be loyal to his vision and are tasked to diligently implement his policies. If a minister disagrees strongly to any of Mahathir’s view, he or she can always opt to honorably resign.

So while you can blame the performance of some ministers, you can also blame some non-cooperative civil servants but as in all organisations, the CEO is mostly responsible. So the big chunk of the blame has to still land on Dr. Mahathir’s lap.

In my humble opinion, the prime minister must realise that he has to have a new game plan soon. On that front, he should consider fully embracing reforms or risk leading us to more defeats.

Besides leadership, what are the other problems that contributed and accumulated to yesterday’s massive defeat? After 18 months of PH government, it is frustrating to note that there has been no systemic reforms of Parliament. There is also no reduction of the prime minister’s excessive powers. Fundamentally, we have yet to implement proper separation of powers, which is the basis of any genuine democracy.

The economy is in a rut, humming along on consumer spending. Investors have money and intentions to invest but is holding back since there is no clear succession timeline. There has also been no concrete steps to address the relatively high cost of living; monopolies, oligarchs and APs for 5,000 consumer items continue to exist.

Minimum wages are moving, but very slowly. Mega projects are ironically moving fast. Negotiated tenders still exist and are blatantly practiced. Policies also seem contradictory; are we selling toll concessions (PLUS) or are we buying them (Gamuda tolls)? Lately, Prof. Terence Gomez has been fuming about large scale political appointments, which are continuing, business as usual. Hence the general perception is that business now, risk returning to business like in the old crony days.

More worrying is the fact that of late, Malaysia has been gripped and distracted by racial issues and tensions. There seems to be very little middle ground for moderation and common sense. Every day we get more political headaches, with no real plans about how to solve economic problems.

In the final analysis, Tanjung Piai is a rude and big wake up call to PH. Nobody predicted such a big loss. In the coming days and week, PH leaders and MPs will have to do a lot of soul searching on what to do next.

As the data trickle in and number crunchers set to work in the next few days, we will start to re-draw a map on the new lay of the political landscape that has seismically shifted from Tanjung Piai. Every politician will be interested to see what are the new odds for GE15. Then hopefully, in face of the new data, PH can be rational, unite, consolidate and chart a new path and return to our Reformasi roots.