By Jahabar Sadiq
MAY 28 — Just more than three weeks with a fresh mandate, the Najib administration only has a small window to set its own agenda or allow its policies to be dictated by the fringe right wing.
While Datuk Seri Najib Razak began his government with the 1 Malaysia concept four years ago, he has yet to outline his administration’s priorities after winning a smaller majority in the May 5 general election from Election 2008.
Malay rights group Perkasa is already pushing for 60 per cent Bumiputera equity targets and quotas for enrolment in public universities, double the current 30 per cent quota, ostensibly on the back of increased Malay support in the polls.
But should the government go further to the right and reward one community, or continue its 1 Malaysia policies that promise more for all rather than less for some?
Several Western leaders have called up Najib to congratulate him on his election win and encourage him to push through with his reforms.
“He is being encouraged to push forward with reforms,” a Western diplomat told The Malaysian Insider, adding there will be a flurry of visits next month to reinforce that point.
But voices encouraging the country’s sixth prime minister to continue his New Economic Model (NEM) are not that vociferous in Malaysia where the political hangover from the elections has made things more racial.
“The government should be thankful to the Malays,” added the Malay group’s acting president Datuk Abd Rahman Abu Bakar,referring to the results of Election 2013 that showed a bigger victory for Umno.
He pointed out that Barisan Nasional (BN) had enjoyed increased support from Malay voters in the May 5 election, noting that Umno had bagged 88 out of the ruling coalition’s 133 federal seats, up from the 79 seats it won out of BN’s 140 seats in Election 2008.
“We’re not asking for something that’s unrealistic,” the Perkasa deputy president said.
Hours after polling finished and the results were trickling in, BN had blamed its poor performance on a “Chinese tsunami” as it won more in rural areas than urban areas, which appear to be predominantly Chinese.
Yet, rapid industrialisation and urbanisation since the 1970s had led to migration from rural areas with more Malays in the cities and towns, and they too did not vote for BN.
A case in point is in the Selangor capital Shah Alam where PAS’s Khalid Samad defended his seat with a bigger majority against Perkasa vice-president Datuk Zulkifli Noordin, who stood on a BN ticket in Election 2013.
Several snap analyses have revealed that apart from losing the Chinese vote, BN also lost a fair number of Malay votes in its bastion and birthplace Johor, Kelantan, Selangor and Terengganu.
But Perkasa’s demand for increased racial quotas will likely complicate Najib’s efforts to reform the economy and roll back race-based policies to transform Malaysia into a developed nation by 2020.
It can also affect foreign direct investment especially the free trade pacts where Putrajaya is under pressure to end race-based procurement policies.
To his credit, Najib has kept his economics team intact, naming Maybank Berhad chief executive Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar as economic planning unit (EPU) minister to replace Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop who did not contest in the elections.
He has also kept his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as education minister, and added Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh as the second education minister in the ministry that now takes back the higher education portfolio.
All eyes are on them for policy directions in both the economic and education fields and pressure from Perkasa and other fringe groups could further narrow BN’s support base in the next general election.
And turn into another vicious cycle of pandering further to communal interests.
Putrajaya has to act now at this fork in the road, to either go down that path of narrow interests or open up for a bigger pie to be shared by all Malaysians.