Barisan Nasional (BN) governments resorted to pension increases and “brainwashing” to turn the large civil service into a vote bank for the then ruling coalition, said two political analysts.
Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said BN had “blurred the line” between the ruling party and the government.
“So if civil servants did not support the ruling party, it was akin to not supporting their employers,” he told FMT.
Such “persuasive and intimidating” methods were among those employed by the notorious and now-defunct Biro Tata Negara (BTN), Oh said.
Former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) lecturer Azmi Hassan said the annual salary increases for civil servants, even when it was “nothing to shout about” compared to bonuses in private companies, also ensured they would continue to support the government.
Similarly, support is ensured when the government maintained the perks enjoyed by civil service officials.
“So when they support the government, the government will support them back.”
It also helped that BN had never described the civil service as being bloated, in contrast to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s lament two years ago that the civil service was “too big” and could be reduced.
“This is something civil servants will not appreciate because I think they feel that they are making a sacrifice as their earnings are not as lucrative compared to their counterparts in the private sector,” said Azmi.
Both Oh and Azmi were commenting on a former diplomat’s claim that the rot in the civil service began during Mahathir’s first stint as prime minister (1981-2003) and that the civil service had since become bloated and increasingly corrupt.
Former diplomat Dennis Ignatius wrote in his book recently that Mahathir craved a more subservient bureaucracy ready to do his bidding and politicians were hesitant about confronting the bureaucracy as it represented an important vote bank.
Oh agreed, saying the civil service had expanded into an important electoral constituency that “no serious politician or party could afford to ignore”.
Azmi said while one could “safely say” that civil servants would support the government of the day during Mahathir’s era, it was hard to tell these days for “they can and have proven that they would vote for the opposition”.
Former trade union leader P Arunasalam said civil servants were also aware that they represented an important vote bank which had led to suspicions about the existence of a “deep state” in Malaysia, as alleged by foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah, when he served in the same portfolio under the Pakatan Harapan administration.
“Politicians come and go but the bureaucracy continues to function. Therefore, the government of the day dare not push the bureaucracy for fear of backlash during the election,” Arunasalam said.
He added that the civil service should be more multiracial so that it could be apolitical, as it was during the pre-Mahathir era.
He said the government had the advantage of securing the votes of civil servants with promises of a better livelihood, although some promises went unfulfilled.
“Unfortunately, civil servants fall prey to such empty promises.”
Arunalasam also lamented that the civil service takes up a large chunk of the national budget.
“The government should look into this seriously. It should decide whether the ‘vote bank’, or national development through stronger national budgets by trimming the bloated civil service, is important.”
Source : FMT