New government’s nerve fails in the face of political expediency
Was that even a budget? Seems to me it was more like bookkeeping that a former finance minister would have produced through the art of counting beans. It was a "play safe" set of accounts on the state of the country -- not a "nation" -- with an eye on, as the authors of this article alluded to, the forthcoming state elections which are to deliver Anwar Ibrahim and his leadership of Pakatan Harapan and his so-called "unity government" some bad news. If he was hoping for a lift in his political legitimacy from the the elections, he can kiss that goodbye.
This was a "soft" budget. It barely smelled of a whiff of "reformasi". If one thought Anwar was going to hit the road running upon being installed prime minister by the "king", rather than by the national elections result, how disappointed would one feel when Anwar exhibited none of the zeal he had been promising since 1997-98? Anwar is still playing the numbers game, counting who he can count on to protect his long sought after position. And what has he done since becoming prime minister? Two things: political protectionism and expending -- softly -- his political populism aimed at winning over the majority Malay race that is hopelessly split between his own PKR party, Bersatu, Islamic fundamentalist PAS and a smaller Malay party with whom the ultra-Malay nationalist racist, in the mould of India's Hindu nationalist, racist prime minister Narendra Modi, has joined for largely inconsequential reasons. Inconsequential because even Mahathir lost his Langkawi stronghold seat, but more to the point, Anwar's daughter Nurul Izzah lost the family-stronghold seat of Permatang Pauh. This says a lot about the state of unforgiving racialised politics in Malaysia -- something I am certyain Anwar simply does not have the "political will" to resolve (nor anybody else who become prime minister next). Even the garb Anwar wore to parliament, right down to his Malay sandals, to deliver his "budget" smacked of his intent on playing populist toward the Malay race.
On the economy: Anwar perhaps sniffs the air of rising government debt, already at 1.04 trillion dollars, as it inches towards parity with GDP. Malaysia will be constrained by slowing receipts if foreign direct investment does come in by shiploads (China is on track to win most of this after opening up following madman Xi Jinping's monumentally-failed zero-Covid policy). And Anwar would be praying the world economy does not enter into recession the longer the Ukraine-Russia war continues or if intensifies with global supply chains once again coming under pressure, as commodity prices rocket up, and domestic prices hit inflation to a double-digit set while Malaysia's central bank safeguards its foreign reserves but unable to stop the besieged ringgit being king-hit for yet another six. That's only going to make Malaysia's structural deficit and debt problems far worse.
Judging by the budget, Anwar has little idea, if at all, on how he's going to save Malaysia's economy, much less notching higher up the ever-changing and intensely competitive new international division of labor (never mind the staid old mantra of "paradigm change" that reads more like a tired old cliche. There won't be any paradigm change as long as Malaysia's politics and "society" are bedeviled with its unshakeable racism wrought by religion and the politics thereof and an ideology steeped in the dark ages. What Malaysia has become is a four-tiered economy of private firms dominated by international capital, domestic ethnic-based conglomerates, stat-owned firms that live off public monies by way of subsidies and easy levies, and a "society" ever hopeful of state-controlled price ceilings and taxpayer-funded income transfers by way of "government" subsidies (state welfarism).
Anwar needs to grow a political spine, and soon, if he is (still) serious about introducing his "reformasi" if he wants to save it from the grubby paws of the dominant capitalist class and corrupt political elites. I will bet he will do nothing as long as his wingman, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, an allged crook as wickedly greedy as Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor, remains Umno chief and Anwar's number two in cabinet. He should have had the guts to insist to the "king" that the ridiculous Malay "adat" of criminals holding vast and personal political power are either stood down or put away until the courts make a decision on their guilt or innocence. But Anwar doesn't have the guts. His primary motive is to remain prime minister, that he thinks he can crave out a legacy and go down in history as -- at least -- the tenth PM. He has four years and nine months to carve out his legacy or he is dust in the wind.
Then again this is Malaysia. No? One can't expect more than what it manages to stitch up from one day to the next that amounts, in the end, to the same old, same old.