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Spirit of federalism on the wane after state-centred polls?

Analysts weigh in on the effects of campaign remarks comparing one state to another.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
The Putra Perdana building in Putrajaya which houses the Prime Minister's Office.
The Putra Perdana building in Putrajaya which houses the Prime Minister's Office.

Analysts say the spirit of federalism in the country appears to be on the decline in the aftermath of the elections in August where sentiments of statehood were heavily featured  in political campaigns.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Ahmad Atory Hussain attributed the situation in part to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, whom he said had used party sentiments. 

“They should serve professionally, in accordance with the law and the Federal Constitution which clearly outlines the jurisdiction of states within the federation,” Atory of Universiti Sains Malaysia added.

Anwar had said in July that Kelantan would be unable to develop without assistance from the coalition government. 

“The same goes for Perlis. If we don’t give allocations, there won’t be enough even to cover salaries,” he said at a programme in Gua Musang. 

Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli was also said to have criticised states administered by Perikatan Nasional (PN). He recently said that several states had received large allocations for development but lacked good economic planning. 

Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar had responded by saying that what the federation had was from the people and all of the states. 

“We should be big-hearted, not feel ourselves to be big or have a superiority complex,” he said in an open letter to Rafizi. 

Shamsul Amri Baharuddin however said that Anwar’s remarks while on the campaign trail were not the same as an official speech.

“They were speeches for a political campaign, the content of which was not always accurate,” Shamsul, the chairman of the National Council of Professors, added. 

“The content of these speeches followed his mood at the time, so it can be interpreted from various angles, whether positive or negative.”

Shamsul nevertheless said that the audience would have understood Anwar’s remarks as a speech by the prime minister, even though he had campaigned in his capacity as the PKR president. 

He said Anwar’s roles had overlapped due to his multiple positions as the prime minister, finance minister, regional minister and PKR chief. 

Atory meanwhile said that the federal government, led by Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional, should have behaved otherwise. 

“If the prime minister can ink memorandums of understanding with foreign countries, why the ‘allergy’ to cooperation between the federal and state governments?

“The prime ministers before this had no issue with the chief ministers or menteris besar.” 

Oh Ei Sun said Rafizi’s comments on economic planning were not only directed at states led by PN.

“The accusation of Rafizi having singled out PN-ruled states for criticism is inaccurate,” Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said.

“But that being said, Rafizi could be more tactful in his criticism, such as exhorting those states to improve their financial management instead of saying they do not practise sound financial management.”

Adding that Rafizi was sometimes “over-zealous” in presenting his arguments, Oh said the Pandan MP was too eager to show professional superiority.

“He is a bit like Guan Eng in that sense,” he said, referring to the DAP chairman.