Malaysia in the event of regime change

Ong Kian Ming
Jun 17, 2012


What happens in the unlikely event that Pakatan Rakyat wins control of the federal government after the 13th general election?

This is a question which few people have tried to address systematically. In this article, I want to highlight what I think will be the five main challenges facing a Pakatan federal government as a way to contextualise the policy options which such a government will have to address.

I have summarised these five main challenges into five ‘P’s:

*Dealing with the ‘Past’.

*Distributing ‘Power’ between the federal and state governments.

*Coming up with a new set of ‘Plans’ in the economic, political and social arenas.

*Focusing on a smaller number of ‘Priorities’ which can be delivered within 100 days and one year.

*Finding a set of ‘Procedures’ to deal with disagreements within the Pakatan coalition.

1. Dealing with the past

Having been in power for 55 years, there are bound to be a whole list of ‘legacy’ issues which a new government has to figure out how to deal with.

It would not be practical for a new federal government to conduct a massive witch-hunt to weed out all those who have paid bribes to the previous government to obtain contracts, to find evidence to convict all BN politicians who have received bribes or have amassed wealth beyond their means or to sack all civil servants who have been complicit in corrupt deals involving the previous government.

But at the same time, it makes sense for a Pakatan government to outline a clear set of rules with regard to how it will, for example, deal with dubious contracts which the government has signed with private companies.

This is important because there is a great temptation for Pakatan to blame the previous BN government for many of the problems that it will face when it is governing. Instead of blaming BN in an ad-hoc manner throughout its first term in government, it would be better for Pakatan to outline a place to clear out the skeletons in the cupboard early in its tenure in power.

Pakatan has already given some indication as to the contracts it will attempt to cancel or renegotiate when it comes to power, namely the contracts with toll operators and independent power producers.

There are bound to be many other smaller contracts which are potentially disadvantageous to the government which could be renegotiated or cancelled. The criteria for contract renegotiation or cancellation need to be spelled out as soon as possible as a way of assuring the markets and the many companies which have large contracts with the government.

Similarly, Pakatan needs to figure out the extent to which it wants to change the government procurement process.

It will be a tricky balancing act since many of the current contractors have well-established relationships with Umno, who are also Malay entrepreneurs who will question Pakatan’s commitment to protecting Malay entrepreneurship if they are cut off from these government contracts.

At the same time, this also presents an opportunity to introduce open-tender processes that could potentially save the government billions of ringgit in expenditure.

More important than mere contracts is the fate of those who wrongly benefitted from the awarding of these contracts and other government-related concessions and favours.

To what extent will a Pakatan government go after the likes of Tajudin Ramli (right), those involved in PKFZ (Port Klang Free Zone), NFC (National Feedlot Corporation) and the Scorpene submarine scandals? Will a Pakatan government try to recover as much revenue as possible and will it try to convict the individuals involved in these scandals as well?

Similar questions surround the fate of BN politicians who may have amassed ill-gotten gains through their government positions. Will Pakatan go after the ill-gotten gains of the individuals in question or will it also go after the individuals in question? Is there a cut-off mark under which some cases may not be investigated?

Here, it may be useful to establish an equivalent of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee established in South Africa after the abolishment of apartheid. In exchange for amnesty, politicians, civil servants and even businessmen who have amassed ill-gotten gains can use this platform to ‘confess’ their past wrongdoing and return a percentage of their wealth to the taxpayers.

Similar actions can be taken by individuals who want to blow the whistle on themselves and admit to past wrongdoing, not just in terms of financial gain but also in terms of other past abuses of power including granting citizenship to foreigners to allow them to vote, wrongfully jailing innocent victims, beating up protestors, just to name a few.

This may be a cathartic experience for the nation for past mistakes to be revealed and for the nation to move on and firmly establish itself as a democratic nation with regular alternations in power.

The question is, will a Pakatan government subject itself to the same levels of scrutiny, including admission of past mistakes among those in Pakatan who were formerly high-ranking politicians in the BN government?

2. Re-distributing power

The second major challenge to a Pakatan government is in the re-allocation of power between the federal government and the states.

Right now, the Pakatan state governments in Kelantan, Kedah, Penang and Selangor say that their hands are tied because of the lack of funding and cooperation from the federal government on key issues including the consolidation of water assets and pricing, the consolidation of wage management, the responsibility for public transportation and road maintenance and the proper allocation of federal funding including the oil royalties paid to Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak.

With a Pakatan government at the federal level, such excuses will no longer be valid. A Pakatan federal government will have to pick the low-hanging fruit in terms of distributing power and funds back to the states in areas which are clearly defined to be under state jurisdiction.

This may not be as easy as it sounds. Even increasing the oil royalty from 5 percent to 20 percent will entail a redistribution of as much as RM10 billion ringgit from the federal government to the states. Hard decisions will have to be made with regard to where some of these cuts have to be made at the federal level.

Other issues concerning decentralisation of power from the federal to the state governments, a cornerstone of Pakatan’s promises both in the Buku Jingga (Orange Book) and more recently in the Tawaran Jingga (Orange Offer), will require achieving an internal consensus within Pakatan.

DAP will want to push for the restoration of local council elections, something which PAS and PKR seem lukewarm about. PAS will want to push for the implementation of hudud, especially in the states which it controls, especially Kelantan. Needless to say, DAP will object to this vehemently.

A Pakatan federal government would also be under some pressure to apply some of these decentralisation measures consistently among the states, including those governed by the BN.

For example, it would be inconsistent for the BN to give an increased share of oil royalties to Kelantan but not to the BN-governed states of Terengganu, Sarawak and Sabah. Nor would it be consistent for Pakatan to promise to pass this money back to these states on the condition that voters in these states vote in Pakatan state governments.

It actually makes long-term sense for a Pakatan federal government to decentralise as much as is economically and politically plausible as an insurance policy in the likelihood that it loses control of the federal government in the future.

Having greater democracy and decentralised power means that the states and local authorities which Pakatan still controls can have more independence and hopefully, be more effective as well.

3. New set of plans

While one can question their effectiveness, there is less doubt that Prime Minister Najib Razak has put in place a comprehensive transformation plans to address various shortcomings in the political, economic and social arenas.

Most politically aware Malaysians are already familiar with the alphabet soup which is associated with Najib’s transformation programmes – 1Malaysia, ETP, GTP, NEM, PTP – even if they are unsure about the achievements of these programmes.

Pakatan is not likely to follow in Najib’s footsteps in designing a similar ‘transformation’ programme but it will still need to come up with concrete and well-thought-out plans of its own in order to shape the country’s political, economic and social agenda according to the vision and philosophy of Pakatan and its leaders.

Pakatan is better placed in some areas to deliver substantive positive change compared to the BN.

It would be relatively easy for Pakatan to deliver on promises of reform in terms of political rights and civil liberties by abolishing any laws which allow for detention without trial such as the Security Offences Special Measures Act (Sosma), abolish the need to have a permit to print a newspaper and to allow political parties to have a presence in university campuses, just to name a few.

But Pakatan would also have to resist the temptation of using their power in order to intimidate and threaten the mainstream media newspapers and television which are owned or closely associated with BN parties. Similarly, it also needs to resist the temptation of using RTM1 and 2 as a government mouthpiece.

Pakatan can also deliver significant institutional reform such as making the Election Commission (EC) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) independent and allowing them to carry out their jobs without political interference.

It would also have to tackle the tricky task of reforming the police force including finding new roles for existing Special Branch officers, assuming that their services will no longer be needed or needed less often. It is also needs to strengthen the civil service’s resolve to be professional and accountable rather than to force it to change its political allegiance from BN to Pakatan.

In terms of the economy, Pakatan will have to find new sources of economic growth as well as enhancing current sources of growth. Some of this can be realised by the freeing up of certain monopolies so that competitive forces can be released in currently protected sectors.

Other initiatives require a longer time period to come to fruition such as increasing the innovation and R&D (research and development) capacity in the country. One way in which this process can be expedited is to tap on the large Malaysian diaspora, some of whom may be interested to come back and invest their time, expertise and money under a new non-BN federal government.

One of the biggest policy areas for Pakatan to tackle would be in education since this is something which almost all Malaysians care about and where there is a widespread consensus that something drastic needs to be done in order to arrest the decline in the standard of public education in the country.

Pakatan has said that it would respect the rights of vernacular (Mandarin and Tamil) and religious schools to flourish in the country. It will have its hands full in taking on the civil service as well as some within the Pakatan who do not want to strengthen vernacular and religious education, especially in allowing more Chinese primary and independent secondary schools to be established.

These are only a few of the key policy questions which Pakatan has to address if it comes to power at the federal level. The list can easily be longer. Pakatan’s challenge is to design a strategic plan or plans in order to fulfill a set of political, economic and social goals.

4. Urgent priorities

Not all of the plans outlined above can be fulfilled in a short period of time. Some may even take more than one term to deliver the desired results. Pakatan does not have the luxury of taking its time to deliver once it is in control of the federal government.

It needs to prioritise its various objectives so that some immediate quick wins can be given the proper focus.

Some of Pakatan’s promises in its first 100 days in government have already been outlined in the Buku Jingga such as providing free Wifi to the rural areas in the country and abolishing certain corporate subsidies such as the gas subsidy to the independent power producers (IPPs).

These deliverables may have to be adjusted if a Pakatan federal government realises that some of the initiatives may take longer than 100 days to fulfill.

It is important for Pakatan to show it can deliver concrete results and initiatives early in its administration so that it can build momentum for other initiatives later on. Without clear, focused priorities, Pakatan may fall into the trap of wanting to do too much but failing to deliver anything significant in a timely manner.

5. Procedures to overcome disagreements

Finally, Pakatan will have to come up with certain procedures, both formal and informal, for dealing with disagreements between the Pakatan component parties on key policy issues. I have already pointed out that local government elections and hudud are two potential flashpoints within the Pakatan.

There is no doubt that other controversial disagreements will emerge from within the Pakatan coalition. Unlike the BN, where Umno can dominate and control major policy directions, the parties within the Pakatan coalition are much more equal in terms of stature and also control of parliament and state seats.

Even though the prime minister from Pakatan, most likely Anwar Ibrahim, will yield considerable power, it would be difficult for him to ride roughshod over his component party members in the same way as for example, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, within the BN context.

The Pakatan supreme council needs to be strengthened and proper procedures identified in order to solve conflicts emerging from within Pakatan on issues of national and sub-national importance.

Just the tip of the iceberg

This article has barely scratched the surface of what a Pakatan government may look like and the main challenges which it will face as a new ruling coalition.

But hopefully, it has been helpful in outlining the major issues of contention and providing some guidelines as to how these challenges may be addresses so that Pakatan can effectively deliver positive change to the country.

ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in political science from Duke University. He is the project director of the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project (Merap), political analyst and a lecturer at the University College Sedaya International (UCSI). He can be reached at The above article first appeared in New Mandala.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 17 June 2012 - 11:16 pm

    Before Pakatan can deal with these specific issues, it’s component parties will have to have consensus on a prior more basic & urgent one – ie. if assuming Anwer were PM, who’s next as DPM and who will hold what minister or deputy minister posts and so on – ie the shadow cabinet, which even now, PR has not come out with. PR is not BN in which UMNO dominates and could say who from which party takes what position on power sharing basis. However in Pakatan at present no component party clearly dominates and each is waiting for next GE to see which wins more seats to have greater say on specific power sharing formula. If it were talk of who takes what post now it will probably break up before it can even have chance to win the GE! This also means that if at all, against odds, PR wins by a hair breath, it my well not form the government if (1) groups and interests supporting BN conspire to cause disturbance to thwart the regime change or (2) even if it could form the government, it will be for long if internal dissension over these issues of positions cause tension or break out providing BN the opportunity to buy crossovers to destabilise and change the situation ala Perak style.

  2. #2 by Taxidriver on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 12:05 am

    Add 2 more Ps. ( 6 ) Outlaw ‘P’erkasa. With sincere effort by PR to achieve National Unification, there is no place for such extremist organization. ( 7 ) Dismantle ‘P’erkida. Hooliganism should be strongly discouraged in our God-fearing, good-natured and caring Malaysian society, Attract more foreign investments so that these ‘strayed’ youths get proper jobs to do. Those not prepared to change to become good citizens must be go for rehabilitation.

  3. #3 by sheriff singh on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 4:57 am

    PR can win the elections but will it be allowed to rule?

    Can it easily change the structures and frameworks that are currently in place ?

    Will the army of loyal servants incumbent in these switch loyalty or will they become difficult obstacles to the new government frustrating them at every turn ?

    PR needs a strong mandate from the people, a 2/3 majority is essential. Anything less than this will see them struggle, struggle, struggle and maybe collapse due to frogs. Remember, UMNO has lots of cash stashed away and its many ali-baba supporters and backers will be more than happy to ante-up to ensure BN rules again.

    A decisive PR win is a must.

  4. #4 by sheriff singh on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 4:59 am

    How well has PR learnt the lessons of Perak?

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 5:50 am

    ///PR can win the elections but will it be allowed to rule?///

    So the real question is if that happens what is PR to do next???

  6. #6 by k1980 on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 6:32 am

    The above eats shoots and leaves

    But jib es\ats, shoots, and leaves

  7. #7 by k1980 on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 6:37 am

  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 8:48 am

    Re #1 – “…This also means that if at all, against odds, PR wins by a hair breath, it mAy well not form the government if (1) groups and interests supporting BN conspire to cause disturbance to thwart the regime change or (2) even if it could form the government, it will NOT be for long if internal dissension over these issues of positions cause tension or break out providing BN the opportunity to buy crossovers to destabilise and change the situation ala Perak style…”

  9. #9 by boh-liao on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 9:40 am

    MMK n NR scoff at d delirium of PR: Regime change!? What change?
    N some1 moooed ‘Yes Sir’ in unison: What regime change?
    He moooed d people of Perak would continue 2 support UmnoB/BN 霹州人民在下届大选毫无其他选择,只能支持国阵
    He also moooed “国阵的声势强大,谁说国阵在峇眼没获支持,今天下午华裔展示的支持力量,若林冠英一起看到呈蓝色风浪的场面,肯定会害怕,脚也会抖得厉害。”

  10. #10 by Winston on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 11:26 am

    I believe that if the PR can have a decisive win over the BN, those who seem to be their ardent supporters at present, will switch sides.
    It’s usually the case because they are in the government, or support the government, out of self interests.
    So, when that source is gone, they will wise up and throw their support behind the PR.

  11. #11 by Godfather on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 11:50 am

    BN is in disarray, which explains why Mamakthir is pleading with Najib to stay the distance and not call for polls too early. The infighting within UMNO in Selangor, Perlis, Kedah and Sabah is really hotting up. There are also fissures in Negeri and Trengganu.

    If BN wins by a whisker, there will be plenty of negotiations either way but it would mean paralysed government for quite some time.

  12. #12 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 1:13 pm

    A marginal win for umno would eventually lead to the collapse of umno. Hv no doubt about that. And that automatically means leaving putrajaya vacant for pakatan to fill (well almost, assuming of course that the army is not interested).

    A marginal win for pakatan would be enough to decimate umno almost immediately. “Which umno leader is free of problem” (I am quoting cowgirl here for authority). So which umno leader would be brave enough to hang around in the event umno loses (even marginally only)? He (or she) could be arrested, investigated, charged and jailed (for some, hanged)? For sure umnoputras will dissappear leaving behind ordinary malay folks in umno. These ordinary malay folks in umno are very much like the rest of us. So they will get assimilated in no time.

  13. #13 by monsterball on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 2:48 pm

    No one can stop progress and changes.
    No one can claim they are their best and need no changes.
    UMNO b dirty politicians can change from ordinary wage earning people to become millionaires.
    Mahathir started to poison Muslim on race and religion dirty politics….forgetting people can change and not simply believe.
    Malaysians has reached that stage and like one promoting a false religion…..UMNO b propagating and their devilish works are not working like before.
    It spells the end for the evil doers.
    As this involves the country and people…the rouges and thieves are tolerated without obedience to avoid bloodshed.
    It’s Najib and his people must wake up to realities in life….and not the other way round.

  14. #14 by Loh on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 5:30 pm

    There is no need to make sweeping changes other than removing any policy which is being implemented based on race. The Attorney General should be asked to retire, or else!. The police can still have the same people but the assignment should change. Instead of having 9% of its staff working on crime prevention and suppression, it should be 50% for a start. Once criminals appreciate that they are not getting away easily, the crime rate will go down!

    Pakatan Rakyat must show that it will not tolerate corruption. Senior government officers will have to declare their assets of themselves and their family. Those found difficulties in explaining the source of income should be asked to retire. This free up the positions for the true professional.

    Mamakthir should be given his days in court to counter the charges as contained in Barry Wain’s book. Those who sent out 800 billion RM illegally should be made to bring their money back.

    Malaysia can go on autopilot so long as the powers-that-be are not corrupted. UMNO will have a chance to come back, and it will be welcomed if the M stands for Malaysians.

You must be logged in to post a comment.