With political stability assured, Malaysia’s PM Anwar Ibrahim must deliver the goods

The new King has said in no uncertain terms that Anwar Ibrahim’s government should be allowed to govern until the next general election.

A photo of Malaysia's new Agong, and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
With a new no-nonsense king at the helm, Anwar’s government can concentrate on governing the country and building the economy. (Photo: Getty Images)

Since the time Anwar Ibrahim cobbled together several parties and coalitions to form what is known as the unity government in November 2022, he has been constantly under threat of being toppled.

While trying to plan and govern the nation, he has had to implement strategies to outmanoeuvre the opposition which has made no bones about wanting to unseat him.

The parties and coalitions that now form the government include former foes of both Anwar and his partners in the Pakatan Harappan (PH) coalition, and that makes the situation all the more volatile.

The opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance, which includes Bersatu and PAS, made several attempts to entice some of the unity government partners – especially the Gabungan Parti Sarawak - to abandon PH and join it in forming a new government.

No one has confirmed this but there was speculation last year that the position of prime minister would be given to GPS – which has 23 seats in Parliament - if it were to join PN to form a new government.

Even until January, there was talk of plots to topple Anwar’s administration, with a viral statement claiming that 118 MPs would be meeting the Yang di-Pertuan Agong with sworn declarations of support for PN and that a new government could be formed soon.

All this happened even though Anwar had the backing of 152 of the 222 Members of Parliament, including several opposition Bersatu MPs who had publicly declared their support for him.

And because Anwar and his coalition partners expended time and energy trying to secure their position, the public felt that some affairs of government did not receive the full attention they should have.

Malaysia’s new King wants political stability

But all that is over.

With a new no-nonsense king at the helm, Anwar’s government can concentrate on governing the country and building the economy.

In opening the first meeting of the third session of the 15th Parliament, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ibrahim ibni Sultan Iskandar (Agong) was blunt about the need for political stability.

He said: “I would also like to emphasise that I will not entertain any request from any party that may compromise the political stability of the country.

“All parties must accept the prevailing order and respect the unity government that has been formed. Anyone seeking to play politics should wait for the next general election.”

It is obvious that the Agong does not want a repeat of what happened during the five-year reign of the previous king, which saw four different governments in power due to politicians shifting allegiances at their whims and fancies and frustrating the people who voted them in.

The king is needed in any power transition because the Federal Constitution empowers him to appoint as prime minister whoever he believes has the support of the majority of MPs.

And everyone knows that Sultan Ibrahim is not averse to giving a public scolding to civil servants and politicians.

Therefore, the Anwar administration can now breathe easier because the Agong has categorically declared that the unity government – which has majority support – be allowed to continue unheeded until the next general election.

If the opposition chooses to rock the boat, it will do so at its peril. Unless, of course, it actually has the numbers to do so, which, right now, seems a distant dream.

An indication that the opposition has accepted the reality came when PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said, after the Agong’s speech, that PN would continue to play its role as the opposition in the Dewan Rakyat to ensure check and balance.

Declining ringgit cause for concern

Most Malaysians will welcome this assurance of political stability because it means that Anwar and his Cabinet can now focus on the economy and other areas that need prompt attention instead of wasting time and energy on trying to keep their seats.

The ringgit is taking a huge beating. Last week, it fell past 4.8 against the US dollar, the lowest level since the Asian financial crisis of 1998.

The same day as the Agong was calling for stability and strengthening of the economy, Bloomberg reported that Malaysian businesses were paying a high price for the weak ringgit as it was making the import of materials and servicing of foreign debt more costly.

It added that according to S&P Global Ratings, industries from airlines to raw material-intensive sectors were particularly at risk because of the ringgit which fell to a 26-year low.

The report also quoted Chin Chee Seong, the secretary general of the SME Association of Malaysia as saying: “We have already been feeling the impact as the ringgit has been falling. Now it will be even more severe. Those of us in the services sector that import materials and products will lose even more.”

The government has come under attack from the opposition for the ringgit’s decline, with Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin and his deputy Ahmad Faizal Azumu leading the charge.

Local media quoted Faizal as pointing out that Anwar was also finance minister in 1998 when the ringgit suffered a record drop in value.

“Today, the ringgit has once again fallen to its lowest in more than two decades. And our finance minister is Anwar. Coincidence?”

National debt piling up

There is much that needs to be done to strengthen the economy and reduce the national debt which is touching RM 1.4 trillion.

According to the auditor-general’s report which was tabled in Parliament in October 2023: "Federal liabilities, consisting of federal debt and financial liabilities, amounted to RM1.399 trillion, which increased by RM94.116 billion or 7.2 per cent compared with 2021's RM1.305 trillion. The federal liabilities-to-GDP ratio is 78.1 per cent, down from 84.3 per cent in 2021."

That is certainly one huge headache, as a good portion of the country’s revenue goes towards interest payments. The same report said “expenditure linked to federal liabilities” had reached RM208.117 billion, accounting for 11.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

This included repayment of RM131.528 billion in matured loan principals, RM41.269 billion for national debt expenses, RM32.827 billion for guarantee of commitment settlements and RM2.493 billion for private finance initiative liability settlements.

The Agong, in fact, touched on this when he said: “I am disheartened upon learning that due to the fiscal deficits incurred since 1998, the government today is bearing an increasingly large debt burden. Is this the kind of financial burden that we wish our future generations to inherit?”

Certainly not.

Economy must be Anwar’s priority

But now that political stability is assured, Anwar and his men can and must work on improving the economic situation and the nation’s finances.

The government expects Malaysia's economy, which grew by 3.7 per cent in 2023, to grow between 4 per cent and 5 per cent this year. Total investments approved in 2023 reached RM329.5 billion and the country's exports in 2023 stood at RM1.426 trillion.

This may look good, but ordinary Malaysians are groaning under the weight of steep price hikes of goods and services. Unless the government successfully handles this, people will not be impressed by figures rolled out about economic growth and imports.

Anwar’s administration must also work to deliver on promised institutional reforms, now that his government’s tenure until the next general election is assured.

He must also address the yearning of minorities to be given equal opportunities and for greater meritocracy and accountability at all levels.

In addition, race relations need to be improved.

All said and done, Anwar’s administration now has no excuse not to deliver over the next three plus years before the 16th general election comes. And while he does not have to worry too much about the opposition anymore, he certainly has to worry about the electorate.

A.Kathirasen is a veteran Malaysian journalist/editor who has been writing columns, with breaks, in newspapers and online since 1981. All views expressed are the writer's own.

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