Faizal’s Challenges Ahead

The excitement over Pakatan Harapan’s victory in the hotly-contested 14th General Elections has died down. For the victors, trumpeting their success was never easy as they had never expected to come out on top. For the vanquished, coming to terms with their defeat was never easy either. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak was dumbfounded with the results and wondered what made Malaysians hate him so much.

A post-election study conducted by Selangor think-tank, Institut Darul Ehsan showed that Pakatan Harapan (PH) did not win the 14th General Elections (GE 14) because of its strength or the charisma of its leaders. It won because of the overwhelming hatred of Malaysian voters towards Najib Razak. The report also found that the “total support” of non-Malays for PH was what led the coalition to Putrajaya while a majority of Malay voters still had their sights trained on Umno/BN and, surprisingly, Pas. That was why Kelantan and Terengganu went the Islamist party’s way.

Hatred towards Najib by the Chinese community hurt BN’s component parties MCA and Gerakan badly. Gerakan has since left Barisan Nasional leaving Umno, MCA and MIC to carry on the fight.

Pakatan Harapan’s victory in Perak was also driven by massive support for the predominantly Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP) among Perakeans. And this leads to this rather numbing conclusion. For PH to safely retain its place in Putrajaya in the next elections, the coalition must do more to enhance its Malay support base.

Over in Perak Perakeans had not forgotten Najib’s role in ousting Menteri Besar Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin on February 9, 2009. The “political coup” was cunningly executed with the connivance of those with vested interests – financially and politically. The three “frogs” were amply rewarded for crossing the floor when it mattered and the resultant change of government left many disenchanted (angry is a better word) with Zambry and his cohorts.

Zambry remained in power for nine years before he too was eased out in GE14. His delayed departure from the MB’s official residence was highlighted by political commentator and Ipoh Echo’s columnist, Mariam Mokhtar. Mariam’s video went viral.

Although denied vehemently by the Perak Umno division deputy chief, the truth behind Zambry’s reluctance was his belief that the PH government would fall should the three Pas assemblymen tip-toe across the state assembly floor. But this did not happen. Instead two of Zambry’s henchmen did the inevitable by crossing over to the PH’s bench. A repeat of the February 9, 2009 fiasco was thus averted and Ahmad Faizal Azumu was left to consolidate his position as the 12th Menteri Besar of Perak.

Being a newbie, Faizal had his share of uncertainty. The loyalty of the two who crossed over was questioned at length by members of PH. Their fear was not unfounded. Being Umno stalwarts the duo might end up being a torn in the coalition’s flesh. Moreover, one of them, a former state executive councillor in Zambry’s government, was made Faizal’s advisor with similar perks he had enjoyed previously. However, Faizal’s insistence that he remained his advisor was for a good reason – the integrity of the PH government. It will not bode well for him if the two were summarily rejected as it would subject PH to a “wheeling-dealing” by Umno and Pas. The possibilities are there despite the fact that Najib is now reduced to a mere spectator.

Finance is a major issue with any state government and Perak is no exception. Many have questioned the manner state-linked companies are managed by the previous government. Money spent by agencies such as Menteri Besar Incorporated (MB Inc), State Secretary Incorporated (SSI), Yayasan Bina Upaya (YBU), Perak Corporation and to an extent, the onerous State Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), are never properly controlled. Their accounts have been in the red for most of the time.

Perak Corporation Berhad incurred a net loss of RM340.6 million in a single year (2017). According to auditor Ernst and Young, the group’s liabilities exceeded its current assets of RM158.5 million. The loss is the biggest in the group’s history with debts outstripping assets. While this happened, the chairman and members of the directorial board were being paid handsomely for their “services”. Something no sane people would condone.

The chairman has since resigned while the directors had their services terminated. This is the most decisive action Faizal has taken thus far to put his house in order. Obviously, the previous government had not been too strict in its dealings.

It is a fallacy for a state government to be directly involved in business. They should not dabble in business in the first place. Leave commerce to the privateers as they are more suited for it. A government’s function is to govern, not to compete in the open market for commercial benefits.

When MB Inc decided to venture into the housing business it clashed with the private sector. But being part of the government it had the upper hand. It is unfair competition. The business model MB Inc employs is always lopsided. It is an Ali-Baba venture, short and simple. Ali’s investment is very minimal while Baba’s contributions are huge. This unfair advantage has exposed the agency to corruption and cronyism – appendages of the decadent Umno/BN.

I hope Faizal will not repeat the mistakes made by Zambry by being overly confident of himself. The temptations are great but in this era of openness there ought to be accountability and transparency in the manner the state is being administered. The inherent qualities of good governance should be upheld no matter what.

What is uppermost in Perakeans’ minds is the functionality and sustainability of the current state government. Whether PH will weather the raging storm is for the MB and his team to figure out. The vulnerabilities and challenges are immense. But with fortitude and a never-say-die attitude the state’s chief executive officer will survive and, perhaps, make a name for himself. Nonetheless, these unanswered questions may impact his credibility. Foremost, is his academic credentials and secondly, his holding of the state Hari Raya open house at MAPS, the financially-troubled theme park.

A sizeable number of Perkeans, incidentally, prefer Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin to be the MB, as the state assemblyman for Sungai Rapat is not only articulate but is charismatic and also charming. Faizal is relatively unknown in Perak. Being the underdog he is at a disadvantage but he is young, time is surely on his side. However, if he falters or succumbs to greed and human weaknesses, it will spell the end of the coalition.

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