Webinar on “Reformasi and Harapan after 2020: End of an era or Remake of a Movement?”

In this webinar, Mr Fahmi Fadzil engages in a conversation to discuss the reformasi movement in Malaysia, the future of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) party and the Pakatan Harapan coalition in Malaysia’s new political landscape.


Friday, 12 March 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Fahmi Fadzil for an online question and answer session to discuss the upcoming prospects of the Reformasi movement and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. Fahmi is the Communications Director for the People’s Justice Party (PKR), and Member of Parliament (MP) for Lembah Pantai. He also serves in the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Rights and Gender Equality. Fahmi has a Bachelors’ degree in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University. His reflections as a candidate in the 2018 General Election (GE2018) are published in The Defeat of Barisan Nasional (ISEAS, 2019).

Mr Fahmi Fadzil
Mr Fahmi Fadzil argued that during the 22 months of PH administration, most of the decision-making process was monopolised by Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Dr Lee Hwok Aun moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The first question fielded by Dr Lee Hwok Aun concerns the declining popularity for PH as Malaysians have become increasingly sceptical about the coalition’s commitment towards the goals of Reformasi. Fahmi argued that during the 22 months of PH administration, most of the decision-making process was monopolised by the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. In contrast, senior PH leaders and cabinet ministers wielded little influence. Fahmi nonetheless credited the contributions of Dr Mahathir for Malaysia’s political transition. Dr Mahathir, by throwing his weight for the opposition coalition in GE2018, dismantled the deep-seated beliefs among Malaysians that the Barisan Nasional (BN) would always be the ruling party. Dr Mahathir also provided insights on the civil service machinery while securing the confidence of civil servants to support the PH administration during the transition period.  Fahmi highlighted the fluidity within all political parties since the Sheraton Move in January 2020. The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has further affected the usual political machinery and increased the pace of change.

The second question relates to the role of PKR within PH, especially as the former grapples with frequent defections. Fahmi argued that the PH coalition failed to restrain Dr Mahathir when the latter exacerbated factionalism by promoting certain individuals into ministerial positions. Most of the ministers aligned to Azmin Ali have since resigned from PH. Fahmi also mentioned the proposition for Dr Mahathir to remain as the Prime Minister of a unity government which included both PH and UMNO, which unfolded in the wake of the Sheraton Move but proved unworkable, and unable to avert PH’s collapse. However, Fahmi conceded that the PH administration failed to establish an effective communication platform which resulted in confusion among Malaysians, as certain political parties actively propagated misinformation. With regards to the recent defections by Larry Sng (PKR MP for Julau) and Steven Choong (PKR MP for Tebrau), Fahmi claimed that the Muhyiddin administration has applied both “sticks” and “carrots” to lure opposition MPs into defecting. Fahmi illustrated the recent instance where Sekijang MP Natrah Ismail made a police report that 10 million Ringgit was offered should she switch her party allegiances. A related question was fielded on leadership succession and the role of PKR party president Anwar Ibrahim. Fahmi argued that Anwar remains a national “symbol of resistance” to political establishment, given his persistent stance to fight against corruption despite repeated political persecution. Fahmi added that the cards are highly sacked against Anwar as he was imprisoned in the late 1990s soon after the move to establish a unified opposition coalition.

The fourth question inquired if Reformasi remains a viable political formula to win elections. Fahmi claimed that compared to the late 1990s when the movement first started, Reformasi has evolved from a political slogan to the present situation where PH has clear roadmaps and proposals on how to achieve national reforms. He also argued that the spirit of Reformasi remains a central goal among top PKR leaders. The webinar attracted a large turnout of 83 audience from Singapore and overseas.

Over 80 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)