After 100 days, Anwar admin injects hope but some still wary of giving ‘unity govt’ two thumbs up
KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — After 100 days in office, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition government has been seen by many as bringing racial harmony and political stability back to the forefront along with taking serious actions to curb the ailing economy.
However, those polled by Malay Mail said they were still sceptical if the administration dubbed “unity government” can implement the changes it has promised, while others have questioned some of the actions taken thus far.
Kader, a freelance designer from Penang said initiatives such as Menu Rahmah and the Unity Package mobile plans were a huge boon for the hardcore poor and also created opportunities for the small farmers by formalising the local supply chain.
However, he questioned the actions such as allocating RM10 million to distribute free Qurans worldwide, as he felt this was pandering towards religious extremists at a time when many Malaysians want to move away towards a more accepting society.
“While I do understand the need to get voters, however, the government should not pander to extremist or puritan demands. The recent announcement of RM10 million for printing and distribution of the Quran is not needed by the government. The private sector is already fulfilling this market,” he said.
Kader did feel that Anwar’s government’s policies were much stronger compared to the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government under Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and credited the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for calling for this unity government to be formed making sure the people’s mandate was fulfilled.
Over in Johor, Manivanan Balasingam felt that the government led by Anwar has managed to highlight several weaknesses in the previous administration.
The 43-year-old food outlet proprietor expressed his support for the government, but cautioned that any changes needed time and cannot be made within a short period.
“Seriously, as Malaysians we have to be realistic. How can the first 100 days of the unity government’s administration have an immediate impact on our lives?
“Change needs time and Anwar should be given more time to make the changes that will benefit all Malaysians,” he said when met by Malay Mail in Taman Universiti in Skudai.
He was responding to the government’s efforts to look into the alleged leakages as well as removing weaknesses such as direct tenders that may benefit certain parties.
Manivanan said as someone who subscribes to reform politics, more thought must come to any change. He said he believes that most of the unity government’s objectives are good.
“I believe that any problems need to be addressed and assessed first before any action can be taken. We all need to be fair as not any changes can be made overnight,” he said.
Manivaran gave an example of Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa who is currently making efforts to look into dissatisfaction with the country’s healthcare system.
Manivanan Balasingam, 43, sees a lot of effort being taken by Anwar's ministers in his Cabinet like health minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa's hands on approach to tackling overcrowding and lack of doctors in government hospitals. — Picture by Ben Tan
He said Dr Zaliha, who is herself a doctor, should be able to understand the health workers’ problems in an attempt to resolve the issue.
“At least she made an effort to look into the matter despite not giving any promises yet. To me that is a good start,” he said.
Meanwhile, satay and mee rebus stall operator Mustafa Noor, 32, said he was satisfied with what the unity government had to offer.
For the time being, he said the new federal government had managed to introduce several immediate policies such as the additional RM150 financial aid for each school-going child in January and also the affordable RM30 mobile internet package.
In addition, Mustafa said the announcement that the government will put in an additional RM500 for those saving below RM10,000 in their Employee Provident Fund (EPF) was a good move.
“This improvement may not be major changes, but it helps people like me who are from the lower to middle-income group,” he said when met by Malay Mail in Taman Perling here.
Mustafa, who also concurred with Manivanan, said the public should not look too much into the first 100 days of the unity government’s administration. He believes that Anwar and his Cabinet are doing their best to look into many of the public’s grouses that may take some time to address.
“To be fair, even for us in 100 days, we can’t guarantee that a fat person can become slim,” he said.
Weary Sabah, Sarawak voters feeling blasé
In East Malaysia, feelings are divided as the citizens of Sabah and Sarawak have long lamented being neglected and despite having 67 years of independence the states still lack proper roads, street lights, clean water supply, bridges and basic internet and electricity, especially in the rural areas.
People interviewed by Malay Mail seemed nonplussed by the new federal government — having gone through political fatigue during the last few years. Many said they did not care who was leading the country, only that they paid attention to the needs on the ground.
Those in urban areas seemed more politically invested and interested to see what Anwar’s government would bring to the table, but are so far “still waiting”.
“Is there anything to see?” asked one businessman when met at a coffee shop. Only wanting to be known as Wong, he said that his business in the hospitality supply line had taken a major pivot in the last three years during the pandemic.
“People were suffering while politicians were power playing amongst themselves. We were made to fend for ourselves and we did it without the government’s help then. I don’t know what they can do for us at this point,” said the 45-year-old.
Wong said that he took to selling all kinds of other products and services to make ends meet. But now when tourists were coming back to Sabah, his clients were more cautious and had tight budgets while his costs were increasing.
When asked what he wanted the government to do for him, the father of three laughed sarcastically. When further pressed, he said if they were sincere, he said that policy changes need to be made with the industry players, and not just for their government’s benefit.
He also said that the cost of living was out of control and there were many businesses that were “controlled” by those in power.
“Ordinary people like us feel at the mercy of those in power. If we have no connections, we can’t do business,” he lamented.
Ken, a restaurant owner in Penampang, said he was at odds with the new government. Although he had voted for Pakatan Harapan, he said that he was not expecting the outcome of a “unity government” and felt that it would not have long-term stability.
“So far they have been ok,” he said, and shrugged when Malay Mail asked for some of the “positive” things the government had announced. “Those are little things,” he said when given examples of Menu Rahmah and the digital road tax.
“I don’t know that those are things people care about. Sabah is so far behind in so many ways and every time we feel like we are making progress, something happens that puts us back again,” he said.
He was referring to infrastructure like roads, lights, water, electricity supply and internet in rural areas as well as urban infrastructure and town planning, which is said was often fragmented and stunted.
“I haven’t seen anything substantial from this government, but at least there is no fighting yet. But it is still too early to say,” he added.
Lorna Kasihin, a Rungus handicraft seller based in the northern district of Kudat, was more optimistic that this government would do what it set out to do.
“Anwar has wanted to be PM for so long. I’m sure he has thought about all the things he wants to achieve. I hope that it will for once, be carried out and his intentions reach the people,” said the 39-year-old mother of four.
“Here in the kampung, we are in need of the basics — roads, water, electricity. With those, we can help ourselves do business properly. We have been promised paved roads, but so far, we have dirt roads. We have been promised water, but only empty tanks have arrived. We barely have handphone communication, so let’s not talk about the internet,” she said.
Obot Juakim, a local hawker from Tuaran, also said he was excited about a “Pakatan Harapan” government but has yet to feel any seismic shifts in his life.
Obot Juakim, a local hawker from Tuaran, is quietly confident but won't keep his hopes up until he feels the changes for himself. — Picture by Julia Chan
“I was excited for Anwar to be prime minister but I think he needs more time. Honestly, I don’t see any difference yet. I hope he does live up to the people’s aspirations. For now, the roads are still in bad shape. Holes everywhere. And the Pan Borneo highway is taking forever,” he said.
Anwar was appointed as Malaysia’s 10th prime minister, after taking his oaths of office and secrecy before the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on November 24, 2022.
His PH coalition won the most seats in the 15th general elections (GE15) at 82, but this was short of the 112 needed for the simplest of majorities in the 222-seat Parliament.
He then formed a coalition government on December 16, 2022 when they signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to support Anwar’s administration in all matters of confidence and supply, effectively guaranteeing its stability.
Dubbed the “unity government”, it is made up of PH, Barisan Nasional (BN), Gabungan Parti Sarawak, and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, while Parti Warisan also signed on as an individual party.
Will the voters stay patient until the end of term?
In the Klang Valley people were split as to the performance of the government but not many were worried about his appointing Zahid; they were more concerned about the rising cost of goods that still hasn’t dissipated despite things moving to normalcy.
Janice Ng Jia Ping, 28, a marketing specialist shared that it’s very early to tell if the unity government is doing its job although things have improved compared to the pandemic period.
“It’s still too early to tell because we never had this before, it’s a very new thing,” she said, referring to a government led by a former opposition coalition which aims to stay for the full term.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about bread-and-butter issues, as long as we have income, we have a job, we have a roof over our heads, and our government, at least they do their job, that’s all we care.”
Lee Chui Yung, 60, a noodle stall owner at Bandar Baru Bangi said that her business costs, especially the price of pork, have gone up but she said she does not blame it on the government because this is due to the African Swine Fever.
For her, it is also still too early to judge whether the unity govt is a good administration because it’s not easy to change the old system and these kinds of things take time.
“The unity government has just started, how is it possible to take care of the country in such a short amount of time? In the past, there was so much corruption, so how can it be possible to improve everything so fast?
“Since we already selected them, we need to trust that they will improve over time, and make it easier for the next generation to earn a living,” she said.
Mohamed Hanif Mohamed, 50, a barber at the University of Malaya also said everything about them is still positive. He praises the govt for implementing a lot of small initiatives to help society and referred to Menu Rahmah.
“It’s helping, even though it’s small, it’s helping. They are actually moving slowly so that’s good, which means you know when to put in the real work. If you move very fast at the beginning to show people this and that, you will collapse,” said Hanif.
Noor Ain, 37, who is five months pregnant, thinks this government will stay in place because they hold a super-majority in Parliament but also felt comfortable with a sizeable Opposition which she said will keep the checks and balances of the current government.
“Last year, the kindergarten fee for my eldest child was RM450 per month, and this year they have raised it to RM550, they raised RM100 this year,” said Noor.
Apart from that Mohd Shafiq, 33, and Azman Azzohari, 36, operate a food stall together as a side gig while juggling their full-time job as restaurant workers in Bangi.
They felt corruption was low since the unity government took over and many unnecessary committees and councils were abolished to save costs, and lauded the feeling of more racial and religious harmony compared to previous governments.
“Now, when the Indians see the Malays they can talk, and like Chinese seeing Indians they will help if they are in need. This is a good thing I have noticed this year,” said Shafiq, adding that people will only stick and hang out with their own racial groups in past years but now things have changed for the better.
Azman, however, complained that the unity government hasn’t helped with lowering the costs of living.
They hoped that the basic salary would start at RM1,800 instead of RM1,500 so they could afford to buy a house.
Mohd said he needs at least a monthly income of RM2,500 to buy a single-storey house in Bangi.
Anwar recently announced Malaysia’s largest budget is RM386.14 billion as part of efforts to sustain growth and raise social protection against economic headwinds.
The amount is over RM1 billion more than the one tabled by his predecessor Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob but was not passed. The sum earmarked for development is also larger by about a billion ringgit, totalling RM96.5 billion or a quarter of the total budget. This will be the country’s biggest development expenditure so far.
Anwar had already tabled a partial budget to cover up to RM107 billion in operating expenditure for this year during a special sitting held in December 2022, when he secured a vote of confidence to remove lingering suspicion about the support he has in Parliament.