It’s impossible, governing.
Fortunately, for the last thirty years, ministers never had the problem.
Well fortunate for them, but not for the people.
Most of them, just sat around for photo-ops, and others went about the business of taking care of themselves.
Then in cycles, the obtuse ministers would say or do a massively unpopular thing and when faced with criticism, would tell the public to just suck it.
“I’m a minister because the prime minister likes me, and as long as I am of value to him, I’m really not bothered what random urbanites think of me.”
That’s the gist of their defence. And the further their parliamentary seat is from cities, the more outspoken they are about being the least bit bothered about the public.
And now, here in the present, in #MalaysiaBaru, our new ministers are waking up to the realisation, it’s not a walk in the park.
Worst, if they feel their front-liners cannot do the job for them. In fact, lately, the appointing of front-liners has got a bit unstuck.
New day, a new country, sekejap
After May 9 and the swearing in of the the new ministers, the expected honeymoon period started and very soon after stopped surreptitiously. While it lasted, missteps were overlooked, and public relations stints glorified.
When the defence minister takes the bus to his hometown, visits the ATM — not Angkatan Tentera Malaysia –, or the education minister says all new ideas will be considered, or the youth minister asking people to call him bro and speaks about the economic dynamics of esports while collecting trash in a stadium, or the finance minister insisting he is Malaysian first, not Chinese.
People find themselves elated by the discoveries.
After all, feelgood politics wins hearts. Ask Justin Trudeau.
The uneasy present
The change of government is a distant memory for political operators. Historians and sociologists will continue to flesh out the value of the seismic effects of the change while correcting textbooks and make YouTube videos.
The operators however, they have to get on with it.
Lim Guan Eng has appeared to have slipped away from the language trap, even if the attorney general is under siege for proficiency, or the lack of it.
The minister in charge for Islamic Affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa is taking flak for defending JAKIM’s budget. But since his faith is under the respective states, the federal minister’s main vehicle in Putrajaya is through JAKIM, and telling him to shed the agency is akin to asking him to spite himself. Unless of course activists rather us not having that portfolio to begin with and leave religion to the states.
Education Minister Maszlee Malik started off being positive about getting the private Chinese school’s UEC qualification, but after much backlash from the national school advocates, has reverted to saying that a “holistic” study of the matter is necessary. He won’t appear all too inclusive to his fans, especially with those which back his deputy minister from DAP.
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, got into a pickle over his choice of special officers. His aide chose to walk away from the debacle, after the minister was attacked for countenancing the possibility of making permanent the aide who was openly gay. There is much to write about the matter, but from a purely public view point, it was poorly handled.
These are early days, and his team has to learn, while the minister must always appear in front, he must was always be advised on what is ahead by those behind him delicately, and see off potential banana peels long before they materialise.
It is not about being a Lone Ranger and giving cute replies, because opponents will see the worst of everything said.
Saddiq has a progressive agenda, but just putting progressives by his side won’t get the job done. That’s the advice to all the ministers, who are of different styles. Getting the job done is not a function of the loyal staying close, but rather of capacity and probably hubris.
Switching to battle mode
The demands from a more resource rich Umno will not ebb even if many of the claims will be fantastical.
Civil society after its post-election lull, will begin to demand to from their various vantage points.
Groups like PAGE will fancy ministers only as long as they are serious about upping English as the medium in our schools, or EcoKnights keen on ministers as far as they remain on point with sustainability when it comes to the environment.
Then there are the activists. While the Numan Afifi fans are rightly aggrieved by the perceived U-turn by the young minister, it would have been too heavy a cross to bear for the most junior minister in Cabinet. Still, even if junior, still a minister, and that is massive. But the point is, to raise the issue of inclusivity and non-bias on sexual orientation is a mountain to climb in moderate democracy, here it is an Everest due to the non-public discourse on the matter for decades.
It would require few more to back progress.
In summary, all ministers are part of a government bent on reform, which was the unique selling proposition to end the longest standing democratic government in the world.
So they are all possess bold dreams, of different hues, DAP wanting to bring better government in a colour blind way; Amanah with hopes for a more tolerant vision of Islamic-inclined governemnt; PKR with a dream to uplift the masses; and Pribumi with the other-worldly desire to be a cleaner and firmer version of Umno.
They just have to come to terms with the reality getting their way would mean a bit more than expressing their earnest desire for change. It’s a battle ahead, and they better gear up.
For, Realpolitik is a drag.