In this webinar, Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Mr Wong Chen and Ms Tricia Yeoh provide insight on Malaysia’s fluid political and economic developments in light of the COVID-19 situation.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME
Tuesday, 28 April 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar on “Malaysia’s Political Upheavals and the COVID-10 Crisis”, delivered by Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Mr Wong Chen and Ms Tricia Yeoh. Wan Saiful is the Chairman of Malaysia’s Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) and a Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute; Wong Chen is the MP for Subang and Parliamentary Select Committee (International Relations and Trade) Chairman; Tricia Yeoh is a Fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and a PhD candidate at University of Nottingham Malaysia campus.
Mr Wan Saiful began the webinar by situating the recently installed Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) administration within a broader democratic context. He opined that a change of administration midterm without fresh elections is normal in democracies as seen from the Italian experience in 2019, despite being unprecedented in Malaysia. Mr Wan Saiful subsequently shared that resolving the COVID-19 pandemic is Perikatan Nasional’s immediate priority. Perikatan National, in contrast to the former administration, places greater emphasis to address the immediate needs of ordinary Malaysians as seen in the recent Prihatin stimulus package. Mr Wan Saiful commented that, as a consequence, approval ratings for the new administration have risen.
Next, Mr Wong Chen commenced his presentation by stating that the Pakatan Harapan coalition intends to play the role of a constructive and effective opposition. Pakatan Harapan, for instance, raised concerns that the initial Prihatin stimulus package announced on 27th March 2020 was inadequate. The Perikatan Nasional administration subsequently enhanced wage subsidies, among other measures. Mr Wong Chen shared that with the postponement of parliamentary debates to July, Pakatan Harapan is prevented from serving as a constructive player to value-add in policy making. He also urged the present administration to restart the Select Committees in Parliament, in order to offer scrutiny of government bills. Mr Wong Chen concluded by commenting on the impacts of COVID-19 for government revenues. He argued that revenue from income tax and petroleum dividends would fall precipitously, since businesses are closed under Movement Control Order (MCO) while global oil prices have also plummeted. Given that income tax and petroleum dividends comprised a significant share of the government’s overall revenue, the present administration may table a revised or supplementary budget in the coming months.
Second, Ms Tricia Yeoh began her presentation by sharing the dynamics between federal and state governments in combating COVID-19. She commented that, on top of the Prihatin stimulus package announced by Putrajaya, some state governments (e.g. Sarawak and Sabah) have implemented substantial stimulus assistance funded through state expenditure. Ms Tricia Yeoh subsequently commented that the fight against COVID-19 is largely orchestrated and conducted by the federal government, through the Health Ministry. While the Health Ministry has performed commendably as seen in a sharp reduction of newly infected cases, closer collaborations between Health Ministry and state governments could be explored.
A robust question-and-answer session with online audience followed the three presentations. Questions raised include internal stability within the Perikatan Nasional coalition, institutional reforms under the present administration, postponement of parliamentary session, impact of Prihatin stimulus package, among others. The webinar attracted an overwhelming 200 attendees from Singapore and abroad, comprising of diverse career backgrounds including researchers, public servants, consultancy and the public.