6:04pm 06/11/2023
The tragedy of Rafizi Ramli
By:Murray Hunter

Before Rafizi Ramli was re-elected to parliament, many mooted him as a future prime minister.

Rafizi had principle in his pursuit of corruption, appeared to be highly intelligent, and knew all the answers.

As deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Rafizi appeared to be the heir apparent to prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Rafizi was appointed Minister of Economy, which was portrayed as a senior cabinet position. However, it soon became evident that he was quickly sidelined by the finance minister, who is also the prime minister.

Rafizi was excluded from all major finance ministry initiatives, so had to find new ways for his economy ministry to pursue.

The Rafizi pedigree

Rafizi Ramli doesn’t fit the classic profile of other senior politicians in Malaysia.

Born in Terengganu to a rubber tapper, Rafizi made his way to the prestigious Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, becoming one of the top students.

He graduated from the University of Leeds and worked in Petronas in some top managerial positions. Later Rafizi became the general manager of Pharmaniaga.

Rafizi was the founder of the polling and election strategy company Invoke, which became an important electoral tool.

Rafizi was one of the “Reformasi” pioneers, and in 2013 won the seat of Pandan in the federal parliament.

With a conviction hanging over Rafizi in 2018, for disclosing National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) bank records, he sat out the general election, withdrawing from politics.

Rafizi returned to politics in 2022, defeating Saifuddin Nasution Ismail convincingly for deputy president of PKR, and later in the year winning back his Pandan seat in parliament.

High expectations quickly fell

As a minister Rafizi very quickly made gaffs. Calling former minister Mustapa Mohamed for advice, gave the optics Rafizi was clueless.

Rafizi’s advice to consumers not to buy products that were too expensive and eat at home came across as being condensing to Malaysians.

This showed an apparent lack of empathy towards the current economic plight of Malaysians.

Rafizi’s energy transition blueprint appears to have been made up by an advertising agency, although he claims it was designed by bottom-up discussions with the industry.

It’s still really unknown how his targeted subsidy schemes will actually work.

Rafizi had broken cabinet solidarity from time to time leaking information from cabinet he didn’t personally agree with. This most probably indicates his frustration over many policy issues.

Hurting those who were intended to be helped

Perhaps the most controversial measure implemented by Rafizi was his Menu Rahmah scheme which hurt MSMEs badly.

Burger stalls claimed they couldn’t compete with the cheaper meals offered by the major branded industry players.

As major industry players jumped into support of the scheme, independent restaurants, food stalls, and petty traders selling food are seeing their incomes drying up, as the fast food branded food at cheap prices is dragging their customers away.

Menu Rahmah has been a bonanza for fast food chains at the cost of local businesses, which have still not recovered from the Covid-19 MCOs as they had to drain their savings and go into debt.

This single policy cost Rafizi much grassroot support as a minister.

The future

Rafizi has been quick to present ideas, some better than others. Ideas are the easy part, it’s the implementation that he has found very difficult.

Rafizi’s relationship with both Anwar and his daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar has deteriorated over the last 12 months to the degree that he has become an outcaste in the cabinet. This has left Rafizi almost completely isolated.

Rafizi is more a tragedy than someone who should be criticized harshly. It’s probable the strain and disappointment from his position was partly the cause of his recent heart attack.

The myth of Rafizi’s brilliance is gone. Rafizi has shown he is not yet tough enough to politics at the top.

Rafizi is best to resign from the cabinet and look after his health for a couple of years.

After the next general election, PKR will be a party that will have to be rebuilt from the bottom.

Rafizi should reflect upon all the things that have happened to him and return in the post-Anwar era.

His time as a backbencher in Pandan serving his constituents will help build the character he needs to be a good leader in the future.

Rafizi has proved he can be the comeback kid.

(Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.)


Anwar Ibrahim
Rafizi Ramli
Murray Hunter


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