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We all want Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government to succeed. I have said many times before that for reform-minded Malaysians, there is no plan B, no other leader to fall back on other than Anwar. For now, at least, he is our last best hope for change. 

Changing the legacy of the past and making structural changes may take time but there is no reason why the government cannot start acting upon its ideals and modelling good governance going forward. Anwar has taken some steps in this direction (a more transparent tender system, for example) but has not been consistent in other areas.

It is disheartening to see, for example, the government remain ambivalent in the face of the scurrilous attacks on the judiciary including by a member of Anwar’s own cabinet. Is it too much to expect the Prime Minister and other party leaders to come out and unequivocally say that such attacks against the judiciary are unacceptable and must be stopped? 

At the very least, the cabinet minister who released the MACC report to Najib’s lawyers along with the MACC chief ought to have been reprimanded for their illegal if not unethical behaviour. According to Anthony Loke,[1]it didn’t even warrant a discussion in cabinet. Whether before or after the storm, such silence is a shameful dereliction of duty. That was the point of my recent article, Is Anwar colluding with UMNO to set Najib free?

And now we see worrying signs in the way Zahid’s trial is unfolding. According to news reports, the trial has been postponed apparently because the MACC needs more time to carry out further investigations.[2] As former attorney-general Abu Talib Othman noted, the prosecution had already proved its case against Zahid last year after the deputy prime minister was told to enter his defence to all charges brought against him.[3]

The last time something like this happened, an UMNO leader walked free.[4] How are we to respect the system when the system itself is not transparent?

If the charges against Zahid are suddenly dropped, Anwar’s credibility will be severely damaged. All his talk of being tough on corruption will sound hollow; all the prosecution of opposition leaders for corruption will suddenly look like selective prosecution. If Zahid walks free, many will completely lose faith in Anwar’s leadership; a crisis will soon ensue. It’s a distraction we simply cannot afford.

In other areas as well, there are worrying signs. A wide spectrum of human rights activists and Pakatan Harapan supporters are dismayed, for example, at how quickly the government has ruled out reform of draconian legislation, legislation that both PKR and DAP had long rallied against. As well, it is discouraging to see how intolerant the government is of its critics, how activists continue to be hauled up for questioning even while the government insist it is open to criticism. 

We have a small window of opportunity to make a reset that will perhaps change the face of Malaysia for the better. The Pakatan Harapan administration did not seize the moment to make lasting changes and the nation suffered. The unity government must not make the same mistake. The “give-them-more-time” mantra is misplaced; time is of the essence.

That is why many are so concerned over the government’s lack of resolve. Lim Kit Siang warned recently that the unity government will “self-destruct” if it acts contrary to its core values and principles[5] while PKR MP Hassan Karim warned that it would be a disaster for the unity government if Najib is pardoned and Zahid freed of his corruption charges.[6]

These are not individuals who want to see the unity government fail; they speak out because they want Malaysia to succeed, as we all do. 

I know it is not popular to question or critique the unity government. I can’t tell you how many people have written to me to urge me to moderate my criticism of the government. They keep reminding me that we don’t have any other choice; it’s Anwar or Muhyiddin or horror of horrors, Hadi Awang!

But it is not a zero-sum game, an either-or scenario. We can support the unity government but at the same time insist that they do what is right. We can welcome UMNO’s participation in the unity government but insist that they do not subvert the system for their own ends. By all means work with UMNO but by no means compromise on what is fundamental. The success of the unity government and our nation depends on it. 

Until the unity government starts living up to its promises, there’s every reason for reform-minded citizens to be distraught!

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 14th April 2023]

[1] Govt trusts due process, King’s wisdom, says Loke over Najib’s pardon bid | FMT | 10 April 2023

[2] Zahid seeks to drop 47 charges, trial to resume on Aug 1 |Malaysiakini |10 April 2023

[3] MACC probe into Zahid’s case reflects badly on AG, says Abu Talib |FMT |11 April 2023

[4] Abdul Azeez freed of graft charges | The Star | 24 September 2023

[5] “Anwar’s unity gov’t must uphold battling corruption, restore independent judiciary” |Focus Malaysia |11 April 2023

[6] Disaster for PH if Najib, Zahid freed, warns PKR MP |FMT | 10 April 2023