A New Selangor State Government
I remember the flurry of news that trickled over the internet out of Malaysia and into my dormitory here in the United States almost two months ago — the news of political outcasts and newbies felling giants like Samy Vellu and Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. All this, as unimaginable as it was, though, paled in comparison to the news that Selangor — the state my family has lived in for three generations — was finally under a new government. Like most of my fellow Selangorians, I was and am fed up with the corrupt shenanigans of my state government, which acted as if it was above, rather than accountable to its own people. Despite its rough start, and my natural cynicism, I feel justified in being optimistic about the prospects for the Pakatan Rakyat state government in Selangor.
To begin with, this was not supposed to happen. The last time Barisan Nasional lost its majority in the state assembly was 1969, and shortly thereafter, they carved the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur out of the state to ensure the opposition could never again shake the BN government. It was not without reason that former Menteri Besar Khir Toyo so audaciously embarked on his Sifar Pembangkang (Zero Opposition) campaign in the state — the opposition simply did not have bright prospects here, even in the urban areas not under the Federal Territory.
I recall well that one political insider — from the opposition no less — was strongly skeptical that Elizabeth Wong could ever win in my state constituency, Bukit Lanjan. Insiders from the establishment laughed at the notion that Tony Pua could ever defeat Chew Mei Fun for the Parliamentary seat of Petaling Jaya Utara. Yet, to the surprise of everyone, the people of Selangor sent the previous administration packing, electing all these outsiders, from Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad to Loh Gwo Burne, to be their representatives in the State Assembly and federal Parliament.
Most striking was the figure of Khalid Ibrahim — the former high-flying corporate figure who quit the world of commerce to enter politics was supposedly a goner after his disastrous outing in Ijok last year. Yet, he came back to win Ijok, and succeed Khir Toyo as the new Menteri Besar. Khir Toyo made some weak noises about the possibility of Khalid not having the support of his DAP and PAS colleagues in the state assembly, but this was simply a non-issue; Sultan Sharafuddin invited Khalid to form the next state administration. The unlikeliest of unlikely scenarios had actually happened.
Unsurprisingly, before the campaign even began to wind down, the problems of governance started to manifest themselves. Most notably, there was a bitter struggle for plum posts in the new state government. Who would get to be Deputy Menteri Besar? How many seats on the executive council would the DAP get? The new state government struggled to find its footing — in the days before Pakatan Rakyat, there simply was no formal power-sharing arrangement, and everything had to be hammered out by hand.
These problems were bad enough without the problem of race insinuating itself into the picture. The Sultan expressed concern that a non-Muslim Deputy Menteri Besar would not be able to officiate at state religious functions. A palace official told the press that the Sultan wanted half the executive council to comprise Malays, in proportion to their population in the state. Meanwhile, individuals from the grassroots, both partisan and non-partisan, pushed for greater non-Malay representation in the exco. The state government was wracked with crisis before it had even fully been birthed.
In spite of this, the Pakatan Rakyat leaders forged ahead and hammered out their own compromise. Their success speaks to the political maturity of all involved. They agreed on an exco comprising five Malays, four Chinese, and one Indian, roughly approximating the population of the state. Teresa Kok, who many had expected would become the Deputy Menteri Besar, instead was appointed a senior member of the exco, with Khalid having no deputy. Those who had been widely-tipped for the exco but did not make the final cut got their just compensation too; Teng Chang Khim, the most senior PR member of the state assembly, became the first Chinese Malaysian Speaker in Selangor's history. Other new firsts were made with the first woman Deputy Speaker, Haniza Talha, and the largest proportion of women and non-Malays ever in the Selangor exco.
The new government now has to face the pressing challenges of running one of the most prosperous and populous states in the country. Selangor was the site of many controversies in recent years, ranging from the demolition of Hindu temples to the razing of Kampung Berembang. Although we are one of the most developed states in Malaysia, many parts of Selangor remain impoverished and underdeveloped. Where the state government will proceed from here is anyone's guess.
Nevertheless, as I stated before, I feel there is reason to hope for the best. In Selangor, many of those sitting on the exco have had their own businesses and years of experience in politics and government. Most first-time Menteri Besars, regardless of political persuasion, have not had much experience administering multimillion-ringgit budgets or huge bureaucracies; Khalid has done so with aplomb for years. While many things can still go wrong, I feel more confident having Selangor in Pakatan hands, and more optimistic about the future of a state I am glad I call home.