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MP SPEAKS | Govt hears people's woes but unpopular reforms necessary

MP SPEAKS | The Sungai Bakap by-election has concluded. I congratulate the Perikatan Nasional and PAS candidate who emerged victorious.

I want to thank our coalition government candidate Joohari Ariffin and his team for their hard work. The results were not what we wanted, but having gone up to help with the campaign, I know they tried their best.

Pakatan Harapan and our colleagues in the Madani government respect the result and decision of Sungai Bakap voters.

We understand that the voters there - of all races - have chosen to send us a very loud and clear message, particularly in the shape of the reduced turnout (including non-Malay voters) and the increased majority of our opponents.

Although it is true the result has no bearing on the position of either the state or federal government, and turnout in by-elections usually tends to be lower, we are also aware that the outcome might be influenced by voter unhappiness at some of the Madani government’s recent policies, including the targeting of diesel subsidies.

Everyone - both the PKR leader and the coalition government – has listened to the verdict.

We understand that the diesel targeting issue was controversial, not only among the Chinese community but with voters across the board.

Reforms necessary for future survival

Certainly, we must continue to explain why this was necessary, while also correcting misunderstandings or downright falsehoods on certain issues like the Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) privatisation.

The Madani government believes the reforms it is undertaking are necessary for the country’s future survival. The blanket subsidy scheme for diesel, for instance, is clearly unsustainable and even the opposition has acknowledged this.

The government spent RM14.3 billion on diesel subsidies alone in 2023 - and a lot of that has been proven, in the aftermath of the targeting, to have been leaked through smuggling or purchases by foreigners.

We have introduced the Budi Madani scheme to continue to provide subsidies to eligible users, including those in crucial economic sectors. The ministries involved have shown themselves to be willing to be flexible to address problems with its execution.

Continuing with the blanket diesel subsidies in the long term is simply not sustainable because it will burden future generations with crushing debt and defeat our energy transition pathway.

Penang’s water supply was a major issue during the by-election campaign and again, the government has been working all out, since it took office, to address the issue.

It has to be said, however, that maintaining the water infrastructure - which is also a key component of the supply issue - cannot be done with low tariffs. All state governments, including the PN-led ones, pushed us to allow the increase in water tariffs to address this issue.

No better time to introduce reforms

Initiatives like these may not be popular, but tackling them is what a responsible government does. Critics may claim the timing might not be right especially with the economy still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and the rakyat still anxious about the cost of living - but the fact is that the present is always the right time to do the right thing. And delaying action will inevitably result in greater suffering for the rakyat.

I will also admit that the government needs to better communicate the reason why it is acting this way. To be sure, my colleagues have repeatedly sought to address the diesel subsidy, MAHB and other issues in the Dewan Rakyat, on social media, on the ceramah stump and elsewhere.

We have answered to the best of our ability and engaged both supporters as well as critics alike. But we also know that the rakyat’s attention may often be occupied by the need to make ends meet and so we must redouble our efforts. We must not lose touch with the heartbeat of the rakyat.

The Sungai Bakap result was also a sign that PKR needs to do more to strengthen its get-out-to-vote efforts.

We cannot, will not, and must not take any voter group for granted. We cannot, will not and must not give up on any voter demographic because we are supposed to be a party for all Malaysians, in a coalition for all Malaysians.

We must work hard to convince the Malay vote - indeed, all Malaysian voters - that our economic reforms are and will ultimately benefit them.

Inclusive governance

We must also continue to listen to our non-Malay supporters and address their grievances, in line with our inclusive agenda.

It has been said that political reform has to be done gradually - and this is true. But we also know that the rakyat instinctively feels that success in economic reform is also tied to better, more inclusive governance, so we must show progress in this flank too.

The next general election will be upon us soon. Several state elections are already looming.

I still believe that Harapan offers the best, most progressive and inclusive vision for Malaysia. And so we must not fail to get ordinary Malaysians to support our agenda for the country.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is natural resources and environmental sustainability minister.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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