Malaysians no longer trust Najib Razak

December 29, 2016

S.E.A. View

Malaysians  no longer trust  Najib Razak

The lack of excitement over massive infrastructure projects and ringgit’s plunge are signs of market and ground sentiments

Image result for najib razak and rosmah mansor

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and Big Momma Rosmah Mansor

The last weeks of December have been busy ones for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. On December 13, Datuk Seri Najib signed the much awaited High Speed Rail (HSR) agreement with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that will link Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

That same week, he officiated at the opening of Malaysia’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), a project that started in 2011. Days later, on December 18, Mr Najib launched the 1.4km-long Batang Sadong Bridge in Sarawak, a huge connectivity leap for Sarawakians, who previously had to rely on ferry crossings. The bridge is one of several projects the government has in store for Sarawak, the others being the massive 2,000km-long Pan Borneo Highway that will link Sarawak and Sabah and a coastal highway that will connect towns in Sarawak.

Soon after the Sarawak trip, Mr Najib was in Sabah to launch eight projects linked to the Pan-Borneo Highway. The recent launches came weeks after Mr Najib’s trip to China, one that saw the Malaysian economy potentially receiving a thumping US$33 billion (S$48 billion) of Chinese investment. A major part of the investment deal was Malaysia agreeing to build a 640km-long East Coast Rail Line(ECRL) with Chinese financing. Once completed, the ECRL will link the northernmost town in the east coast state of Kelantan to Port Klang, which fronts the busy Straits of Malacca on the west coast. Needless to say, these infrastructural investments are major game changers that are set to alter Malaysia’s landscape in a fundamental way, unleashing the country’s huge economic potential.

Such long-term growth commitment should excite the public, but not so in Malaysia. As for China’s massive investment, Mr Najib’s critics see it as a sell-out to China’s interest. They were also quick to contest that the US$13 billion ECRL project was overpriced – never mind that the proposed line needs to negotiate the Titiwangsa ridge, difficult geographical terrain that has for a long time kept the east coast of the peninsular relatively underdeveloped compared with the west coast.

What is apparent is that Mr Najib’s policies attract sceptics. Malaysians, it seems, are less willing to go along with government policies no matter how attractive the long-term benefits are. An obvious reason is that nagging political issues continue to cloud the many positives of Mr Najib’s policy initiatives. People in Malaysia are not quite done with the 1MDB issue. The international media has also kept turning the spotlight on 1MDB and Mr Najib, reinforcing public scepticism. What is obvious is that Malaysians are stuck in second gear, unwilling to move beyond the 1MDB issue.

Is Malaysia paying a heavy price for its ongoing political crisis? It seems so. The state is suffering from a trust deficit. Trust, between the governed and the government, seems to be in short supply. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 39 per cent of Malaysia’s general population trusts the government

Is Malaysia paying a heavy price for its ongoing political crisis? It seems so. The state is suffering from a trust deficit. Trust, between the governed and the government, seems to be in short supply. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 39 per cent of Malaysia’s general population trusts the government. That needs addressing because a trust deficit prevents the state from garnering policy collaborators. Policy “buy-in” becomes difficult as stakeholders are unwilling to be part of the policy process. Worse, a trust deficit could also see stakeholders subverting what otherwise could be effective policies. Mr Najib’s market-friendly policies, which would have been gladly accepted in the past, are now looked upon with intense scepticism. His decision to lift fuel subsidies, allow 70 per cent foreign ownership in the services sector, sell all the government’s Proton shares and introduce the goods and services tax (GST) to prevent leakage and broaden the tax base are but a few market-friendly policies that, thus far, have not warmed citizens’ hearts. Malaysians are still unwilling to accept the GST even when GST receipts have clearly buffered Malaysia’s huge losses in petroleum revenue in the past year.
Mr Najib launching Malaysia’s MRT on Dec 15. The lack of public trust stands in the way of Malaysia’s long-term goals. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A trust deficit could potentially lead to more damaging systemic risk. Thinning public trust and greater tendency to talk down the economy could amplify Malaysia’s political, social and economic risks. A self-fulfilling prophecy may set in, creating a case where the public runs down the economy more than it should and triggering a crisis of confidence. An obvious benchmark of confidence is the Malaysian ringgit, Asia’s worst-performing currency. Though there are external factors that have contributed to the weakening of the ringgit – Trumponomics, the attractiveness of US bond yields and weak commodity prices – analysts are also quick to add that the ringgit suffers from domestic risks, the premium of which is anybody’s guess. Some see domestic risk as one contributing factor to the ringgit weakening to a rate of RM4.70 to US$1.

Image result for the malaysian ringgit the disappearing currency

There are those who think that the ringgit slide is overdone as it does not reflect Malaysia’s fundamentals. But under conditions of low public trust, good economic figures are quickly neutralised by bad economic ones. Going by fundamentals alone, there are reasons not to short the ringgit. The Malaysian economy has shown plenty of resilience despite chaotic domestic politics and severe economic headwinds. Its GDP has averaged 5.3 per cent growth since 2011. This year, the economy is expected to grow at 4.2 per cent. For next year, the IMF predicts the economy to grow at 4.5 per cent on the back of strong domestic consumption. The country is also in better fiscal shape, with Mr Najib keeping to his promise to trim spending. The Budget deficit now stands at 3 per cent of GDP, down from a high of 6 per cent in 2009. Its current account remains positive. In fact the current account saw a sharp increase in the third quarter, the highest since December last year. More importantly, the economy has broken away from its heavy reliance on the oil and gas sector. Petroleum now counts for just 15 per cent of total revenue, a sharp drop from about 30 per cent two years ago. The economic figures, however, do not seem to count when it comes to the sliding ringgit.

Finally, broken trust between the state and the governed is affecting Malaysia’s long-term effort at institutional change. Change is difficult when stakeholders are unwilling to ride on the change agenda. In a low-trust environment, stakeholders are persuaded by partisan concerns, depriving the change agenda of a diversity of views. The Najib administration, for instance, has introduced the “blue ocean” strategy as part of its strategic blueprint. Developed by two INSEAD professors, the strategy rethinks the idea of competition and collaboration and has been behind many of Malaysia’s government and economic transformation programmes. Policy emphasis on the bottom 40 per cent of income- earners, retargeting state subsidies, providing direct transfers to low income earners, collaboration and sharing of resources between government agencies and building a one-stop centre for public services are among the few policy initiatives that seemed to enjoy little public buy-ins.

An exploratory study I carried out between September and October to gauge public receptiveness to the government’s national blue ocean strategy, part of wider research on networked government, found that the public know little or nothing at all of such blueprint. Trust, or the lack of it, has blurred the public’s identification with policies, making them unwilling partners of institutional change.

With a general election expected next year, Mr Najib has his work cut out for him. Restoring public trust is proving to be difficult but the need for it is urgent. Systematic public disengagement from political leadership could well be the most important factor that stands in the way of Malaysia’s long-term goals. In the short-term though, Malaysians should be careful that their attempts at political change do not cripple an otherwise functioning economy.

  • The writer is a visiting research fellow at the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy, Murdoch University and Assistant Professor at the Tun Abdul Razak School of Government, Universiti Tun Abdul Razak. 

14 thoughts on “Malaysians no longer trust Najib Razak

  1. Watching MO1 make hypocritical statements on TV to the citizenry during festival days is actually nauseating and revolting.

  2. Pingback: Malaysians no longer trust Najib Razak — Din Merican: the Malaysian DJ Blogger | Mon site officiel / My official website

  3. Professor at the university named after jibby father says it all.tun razak school of government(???). trust deficit your article a pathetic spin.which will send Alistair Campbell spinning

  4. RM150b maybe more for MRT lines, HSR, ECRL, Pan Borneo Highway all hundred billion ringgit projects all borrowed and cannot pay itself, Felda looks like another 1MDB in the making. Trust Deficit? There should be mob lynching by now..

  5. Remember the joke about how many Poles you need to change a light bulb, in Malaysia now is how many Ministers to monitor the e-cig issue.

  6. Saudara-saudari:

    Comment from Cdr(rtd) s.thayaparan prompted this thought.

    Please recall the 2016 US Presidential election and how the bloggers, mainstream media, intellectual elites, etc. kept pounding the airwaves with all the data and so-called evidences from the grounds and all; and electoral college. Applying that to our Malaysian context, we (yes, you and I) are huffing and huffing blowing up our own hot air hoping the house to go down and what turned out? Hillary Clinton won by some 3 millions popular votes (i.e., more people voted for Hillary compared to Trump) but Trump won the presidency. In Malaysia context, non-Najib could win the popular votes but in the end, could parliamentary seats favor Najib?

    I kept on reading in social and mainstream media how disgusted the rakyats are but those come from us, the “we who are well-read and well-articulated” but what about the feel on the ground, the ordinary PakCiks and MakCiks? Just like when all the talks, data, analyses and predictions seemed to favor Hillary, wham and bam – the reality of the result hits us in the face.

    Pontificating all we want but I am wondering about the validity and reliability of our nuances and if our thoughts and insights are congruent to and in sync with those very rakyats in the kampongs. Are our concerns similar to theirs? Or there exists a huge gap in our ways of looking at things (worldviews)? Are we a representative sample of Malaysian populace or are we so out of touch with ordinary rakyats?

  7. Trust deficit is not the only thing the UMNO-B kleptomaniacs are afflicted with or suffering from.

    There’s the:
    1. Fiscal deficit – self explanatory;
    2. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – as exemplified by the Jamal IkanBakar, Kulup Kurap, Butt Tinju Ali, Tiga Line Dancers, Tunku Aziz, Raja Petro et al – not mention our most august Twittering IGP and Jello-Jowled Attorney Gen;
    3. Cognitive deficit with ‘spin-derful’ denial coupled with delusions of grandeur;
    4. Trade deficit soon, due to wonky labor policies;
    5. Income deficit suffered by both the urban poor and kampung ignorami;
    6. Sleep deficit by the kelapa chief chef and his coterie of ‘branding’ advisers;
    7. Structural deficit in the civil service, due to the huge numbers of deadwood.

    Jibros Blue Ocean whatever is turning into a Toxic Red Tide, ain’t it? The Gomen is exsanguinating from self inflicted mediocrity. What with the very red PRC flag being hoisted soon over the ramparts of TRX, Edra power-stations and ECRL and A**** knows how many other National Strategic Assets – all because the bloke is red-blue color blind!

    So how is the Felda SNAFU-FUBAR gonna be resolved? Yuan-Remimbi.


    I am very flattered for all the kind words of support given to me ever since I was sentenced to 1.5 years imprisonment under the OSA about 2 months ago. Despair not, while fate has it that I have to take a 6-year break from parliamentary and party politics; that does not mean I stop working towards the removal of Najib.

    In fact (through INVOKE), I have been running faster than ever. I am now able to decide (independent of party bureaucracy) how to channel my time and resources to contribute. I have focused the last 2 months on recruiting more volunteers, spearheading emotive issues that strike chords with the key swing voters (i.e. disenfranchised Malay voters who were largely pro-establishment previously) and building specific communication channels that can micro-target these swing voters.

    INVOKE has hit more than 10,000 registered volunteers so far (a phenomenal success given that it is only a few months old). Our analytics system is operational and running as we speak. Through my Facebook page (which has hit circa 570,000 followers), I have been able to engage directly with the largely Malay audience and the readership of the news that I post daily on the page has reached a weekly average of 4 million.

    I have toured Kedah, Penang, Selangor, Johor and Kelantan since my sentencing to meet Malay swing voters in key battleground seats in 11 marginal seats. I have been scheduled to cover the rest of the country and the remainder of the 30 marginal seats in January and February – now armed with the highly emotive Felda issues.

    There is definitely a disquiet on the ground among the Malay swing voters. More people come forward to express their readiness to change. I know for certain there is a significant shift among the Malay swing voters that presents us with the best opportunity for change in decades.

    But winning the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised Malays in key battleground seats is literally a hand-to-hand combat. Our candidates are up against outright money politics, intimidation and overwhelming resources that Najib deploys against them on daily basis. Without a steady ground presence to keep pushing for the shift among the Malay swing voters, we may not be able to sustain this in the coming months leading up to GE14.

    That is why INVOKE has launched a “Sponsor A Constituency” initiative to raise RM3,000 a month to help fund grass root campaigns by our candidates in the marginal seats for four months. Our target is to raise RM360,000 in January 2017 (RM3,000 X 4 months X 30 constituencies), so that the candidates supported by INVOKE can continue to penetrate areas previously unfriendly to them.

    Please buy tickets to the “Sponsor A Constituency” fundraising lunch in Johor Bahru on 14 January 2017 to meet me and other speakers. Lunch begins at 12 noon at Pekin Restaurant, Johor Jaya and tickets start from RM100. For more details, you can buy online at…/invoke-fundraising-lunch…/

    If you are in Penang or the northern region, you can meet me on 15 January 2017 for the northern leg of “Sponsor A Constituency” fundraising dinner. Dinner begins at 8pm at Penang Chinese Town Hall, Georgetown and tickets start from RM100.
    For more details, you can buy online at…/invoke-fundraising-dinne…/

    Alternatively, you can call our dedicated tele-fundraiser number at 03 7890 2478 to speak to one of INVOKE’s tele-fundraisers who will be able to complete your bookings.

    If you are not in the vicinity of Johor Bahru or Penang; or are not available during those dates, you can still sponsor a marginal constituency at whatever amount you can afford. Please visit…/sponsor-a-constituency-s…/ or speak to our tele-fundraisers at 03 7890 2478 to contribute.

    In December 2016, INVOKE has disbursed RM64,500 in the form of “Back To School” grant of RM2,000 each to 30 marginal (or strategic) parliamentary seats. You can watch pro-reform candidates supported by INVOKE relating their challenges in campaigning in a Facebook Live program to mark the launch of “Sponsor A Constituency” at

    Change is possible with a little help from each of you. Please help spread the words to as many people as possible through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Wechat or any means of communication.

    Call 03 7890 2478 (or Whatsapp 019 276 5200) and help get rid of Najib by sponsoring a marginal constituency today. #HowToDefeatNajib

    Rafizi Ramli
    29 December 2016

  9. CLF, Felda Snafu/FUBAR, dig bigger hole, borrow more renminbi and sell more Tanah Melayu, after all AhLong Xi already lay claim to 9 Dash line which include Malusia. Sad thing is Felda, EPF, Tabung Haji are supposed to be cash rich but they have been borrowing to buy assets in UK, Aust.

  10. All these talk of Najib and his wrongs is besides the point. The very hard and ugly truth is unless Hadi’s PAS can be similarly marginalised, and it’s much tougher than destroying Najib, it will not make the important difference.

    The issue is not corruption, it’s not even really racial anymore but the failure of political Islam. It’s taken so much to bring so many to transcend racial politics, to ask them to transcend the politics of their religion?

    Put it bluntly, the road to change must go through Hadi’s PAS, and it’s very very hard and dangerous.

  11. Multiple, multi-billion public works projects are another way for the ruling regime to raise funds for GE 14 (via kickbacks etc).
    Also to buy more support from its politically-connected cronies.

  12. Pak O.M, them xenophobic PRC Chinapek ain’t interested in loan repayment. Remember, they even tried to buy up Petronas during Dopey’s time?They want suitable arable land to feed their heaving masses. Freehold better. Leasehold 99 years also can. There goes Felda, Felcra etc.

    You see, those UMNOb blinking blunderers decided that food security ain’t that important – basically cuz they’re lazy and thought that farming is beneath their dignity. That’s why Malusia is no longer self sufficient in grain, vegs, meat, fruit and all types of fish/meat (condo-beef, notwithstanding). Even the kai-lan (kale), sawi, broccoli, cabbages and chili etc are almost all imported. Idiots!

    Nowadays, all those succulent red cayenne peppers that we used to quaff when young comes from Indonesia or Thailand – with the wax coating as thick as Jibros skin! How to make yong-tau-foo lah..?! Even the chili boh comes from Indonesia with an almost toxic level of boric acid. Maybe we should just stick to the Kangkong found free in the overstaffed offices and drains of PutridJaya.

    So i was about to venture into urban ‘vertical’ robotic farming – chili, kale and other vegs. Unfortunately, one of the lapdog BeEnd parties co-opted me. So i sold the idea to them for a bomb – but i didn’t include the sensors, control software nor the harvesting robots. So much for aero-hydroponics. Back to prescribing capsaicin topical analgesic preps and figuring out new formulae to make water cannons more ‘stinging’ and pepper spray more effective.. Crowd control and thwarting criminals good ehh? We are gonna see a lot more nonsense this coming year.

    Cheers and have a happy, safe new year, buddy – despite all the negativity.

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