Former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim has retracted his remarks claiming that former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin and his “billionaire friends” are in control of the country.
Zaid said today that he will also cease to make public statements henceforth and stop participating in politics.
“I regret my unfair and unjustified remarks and apologise to both (prime minister) Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Daim for the anguish my writing has caused them both.
“In all my years of writing, I have taken great pains to ensure the accuracy of the information I received, but this one is obviously faulty and has crossed the line of responsible writing. I much regret it.
“To my readers: I have decided it’s best for my self-esteem and my family’s welfare that I cease writing altogether… It’s difficult to write with honesty and some courage without upsetting or hurting some feelings somewhere.
“Not only I will stop writing altogether (sic), I will no longer be a member of any political party. I have wasted enough years in politics, thinking I could make some difference to the country, but it’s not to be,” Zaid said in a statement published by Free Malaysia Today.
Picking ‘unnecessary fights’
Zaid’s move to retract his statement and retreat from the public sphere comes after a series of incidents that began on Wednesday, when he first mentioned in a blog post that Harapan’s manifesto promises of a welfare state were now being overruled by “billionaires and towkays”.
In response, Mahathir had asked Zaid to furnish proof of his claim, quipping that the former minister should show evidence about “how many billions I have”.
Zaid had subsequently clarified that he was referring to Daim and his friends, not Mahathir.He claimed he was severely criticised for his remarks.
“First, (Finance Minister) Lim Guan Eng called and said my statement was uncalled-for as it was not true and not based on facts. He suggested that I make a retraction.
“Then my closest friends asked why I was picking unnecessary fights with so many people.
“Even my family members seemed unhappy. They told me we would no longer have food on the table if I continued giving opinions about powerful people in the country,” Zaid said.
He added that he would now focus on finding ways to “pay the debts I have accumulated in the many years in the wilderness”.
The former minister has had a colourful political history since being sacked from UMNOno in 2008. His last foray into politics involved joining DAP last year.However, he was not fielded as a candidate in the 14th general election.
After two decades of reformasi, two generations of resistance to ‘Malaysia lama’ spent September addressing capacity crowds of Malaysians abroad about ‘Malaysia baru’ and the horizon ahead.
As the two veteran campaigners for Malaysia’s democracy traversed the Australian continent across September, another leader Anwar Ibrahim formally started his campaign to reclaim parliamentary leadership, nominating for the Port Dickson by-election almost 20 years to the day his jailing sparked off reformasi, the democratic reform movement that led to Malaysia’s regime change on May 9 this year.
Amid this frenetic activity was the background rattle of ruling party PKR’s own tightly contested polls this month, threatening to split it apart in bitter recriminations as two proteges contest to become Anwar’s party deputy. All at a time when this year’s historic victory under the PKR flag has become a drama of a fragile coalition, rather than about how the biggest ruling party enables reformasi coming to pass.
As veteran reformasi activist and PKR Vice-President Tian Chua blitzed three Australian cities in four days over the Hari Merdeka (Independence day) weekend, he provoked a raft of thorny questions about a new Malaysia that were sometimes left unanswered.
Those in two minds about new Malaysia’s ambivalence on liberalism, religious laws, and political values found the DAP icon Lim Kit Siang cajoling and bristling in front of record crowds over such questions a few weeks later. After a half-century as an integral part of Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy, the once-‘Mr Opposition’ Lim now counsels patience and fortitude as an elder in the new government. Like Mr Chua earlier in the month, Mr Lim by September’s end encouraged Malaysians he met abroad to not judge the new coalition government too quickly or harshly.
The 77-year-old occasionally displayed flashes of his famed street-fighting rhetoric when parrying questions in jammed venues across Perth, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, before continuing his tour of the Malaysian diaspora this week in New Zealand. Like his former nemesis and now coalition partner Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Lim took all questions, barbed and not, with a deftness and directness that was so alien to the previous prime minister’s leaden events.
He wanted the Melbourne crowd, which packed three rooms with scores more stranded outside on a Saturday evening, to forgive but not necessarily forget the DAP’s old foes. In the new Malaysia the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government hopes to build, “we all need to have a big picture outlook, to have a lo-o-o-ng vision.”
Nobody in the new government joined this endeavour with entirely clean hands, he said, and Malaysians when united demonstrated to the region how corrupt governments could be tossed out peacefully via the ballot box.
“Tainted people? We’re all tainted. To some, Mahathir is tainted,” he told the crowd. “Let’s give a chance to all who’re tainted to turn over a new leaf. We want Malaysia to succeed. In the past, some said ‘Malays must unite’ but today we say ‘Malaysians unite!’. So we must give them a chance. So we can go forward. So that we can be inclusive, so that we can be progressive.”
“That’s why when people ask how can Lim Kit Siang cooperate with Mahathir when he had put Lim Kit Siang in jail? Not only that, Mahathir put my son (new finance minister) Lim Guan Eng in jail, and Guan Eng’s daughter is here!” he said, as the audience applauded his granddaughter in the room.
“Yes, it’s not easy. But there’s the larger interest of the nation. Personally, of course, you’ve jailed me twice (referring to the previous Barisan Nasional regime). You say I’m anti-Malay, I’m anti-Islam, you tell lies about me. But what is the larger picture? If Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai Shek can unite for the larger interest, why can’t we do so too? So we must be above ourselves, we must rise above our personal likes and dislikes. National interest, national good.
“So we’re in uncharted waters, in completely new territory,” he stressed. “There’s no simple answer to solve all problems. Of course there are a lot of reports about Mahathir, about Anwar disagreeing, but nobody can give answers to that. But you must have a positive outlook because we want the (PH) experiment to succeed. We don’t want it to fail. And if we continue with that approach, if Mahathir, if Anwar and everyone else has this approach, it will succeed, whatever difficulties and contradictions that arise. But if our attitude is ‘so what? let it fail’, then it will fail. But we want it to succeed. Of course the differences will develop, it will come. Let’s have a big picture outlook, a long vision. That’s also my message to the Malaysian diaspora. Not just now, tomorrow, the day after, but the next 10, 15, 20 years. Can we survive that?”
Mr Lim proved more gnomic and nuanced off stage the night before in Sydney, at a vegetarian dinner after a more formal panel discussion where he insisted Malaysia was created as a secular state, framed as it was by Sabah and Sarawak when the nation formed in 1963. He was relaxed about his ‘backseat’ role in the new government, he said, bemused when referred to as an ‘elder statesman’ after receiving the Bersih Sydney Democracy Award earlier in the evening. His political secretary, the young constitutional lawyer Syahredzan Johan, drew giggles among the Sydney crowd thanking the “boss” when Mr Lim pointed audience misunderstandings about Malay rights and religion for him to answer.
While the crowd had come to hail “the opposition legend”, as someone synonymous with leading the resistance against the UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional government’s corruption and other abuses since 1969, there was also a reflection of where the past 20 years had left Mr Lim’s DAP and the instrumental role he played in the reformasi coalition.
There were principles of accountability, of good governance that couldn’t be cast aside, he said, that urgently needed reform in any ‘new Malaysia’. He suggested old men like the new nonagenarian Prime Minister, and octogenarian advisors like former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, were atoning for previous mistakes, keen to leave behind a nation that worked for more than just the few. The Malaysian people had to continue playing their renewed role, he stressed, whether it was through civil society movements like Bersih or other groups, to ensure the new government stayed true to their promises.
Fellow coalition leader Tian Chua faced similar questioning a few weeks earlier, when he took to the stage at a ‘Malam Merdeka’ dinner event in Sydney featuring Malaysian dancers, and a performance by legendary chanteuse Saloma’s niece Rozita Rohaizad that included the crowd singing along to the Mahathir-era anthem ‘Sejahtera Malaysia’. Unlike the mostly older crowd that attended Mr Lim’s talk a few weeks later, many younger Malaysians at Mr Chua’s event had been part of the storied overseas voters contingent that had gone to great lengths to vote at the historic 14th general elections (GE14).
The questions posed to Mr Chua suggested the crowd was still unsure about how a disparate coalition worked together, under a former authoritarian leader that had jailed so many in the new government, while doubts about another leader returning to center stage also hovered into view. Where this fits into the past 20 years of acrimony between politicians now unexpectedly triumphant together was not easily answered by Mr Chua.
“I was quite surprised when Mahathir invited me to his office the day before he quit UMNO. We hadn’t seen each other since 1999, when he had advised me to eat more as I was going in and out of jail so often,” he revealed, as the audience laughed along.
“Both of us we alone in his office, and I started by saying that most of the time we’ve been opposite each other (sic), we’ve disagreed about most things, we have fought over various issues. But one thing I’ve never doubted was his commitment to Malaysia, never doubted his love for the country. That’s what I said to him. But now we could sit down and work out our differences. We wanted the country to be free, to have a proud and better future,” he said, explaining the meeting in 2016.
“Today, whether it’s led by Anwar or Mahathir, Malaysia will be governed by the set of principles laid down in the (Pakatan Harapan GE14) manifesto. It doesn’t matter who takes over from Mahathir, and after Anwar there will be others. We have to follow a new way of governance. We must strike a consensus among those running the country. There will be no more one-man-shows, no more PM-decides-everything. We must all agree, and the leaders must follow this principle.
“It’s inconsequential whether we think Mahathir is a reformed man, or whether Anwar is up for doing the job. It will be a collective effort. Those in Putrajaya must be executing the collective wishes of the Malaysian people. And if any of us deviate from this, you all know what to do! That’s why May 9 can be repeated, the guarantee that helps us stay on the right track.”
This question of Dr Mahathir’s notorious authoritarianism, and how it had damaged Malaysia’s democracy by the time of 1998’s reformasi, intrigued the Australian parliamentarians Mr Chua met with during this short trip.
When catching up with Anthony Albanese, the former Australian Deputy Prime Minister who’s now a senior leader of the opposition Labor Party, Mr Chua had explained to his old university comrade how a delicate coalition of parties was galvanised to win power after the previous regime’s scandals proved too much for Malaysians. This Sydney meeting contrasted with one a few years earlier, when Mr Albanese learnt of the outrage over the multi-billion dollar 1MDB heist that was still unfolding, and how opposition parliamentarians like Mr Chua faced arrest and worse as they raised the alarm.
The respect for human rights and the supremacy of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution (which had co-drafters from Australia) was a critical part of new Malaysia, said Mr Chua, and keeping the new government true to its word will not only be the task of parliamentarians but also a responsibility of civil society. Adhering to the principles outlined in the winning coalition’s election manifesto will be tough, he admitted, and as Mr Lim echoed a few weeks later, the disappointments will pile up if “practical” timelines for promised reforms are not publically discussed and expectations managed.
“Sometimes people forget that some of us were pushing for the reforms we’re discussing as policy today, before this time 20 years ago. We helped start the reformasi movement, we weren’t parachuted in afterwards,” he said.
But it was the discussions about the tough party elections headlined by Rafizi Ramli’s challenge to Azmin Ali, and the opposing camps Mr Chua and his party peers were slotting into that made his long road trip between the Canberra and Sydney events so weary. The unbridled ambition and the urgency for power often obscured the ideals of the reformasi movement that he felt was still a core part of his identity.
ian Chua and Anthony Albanese, with classic regime change poster as backdrop.
Tian Chua and Anthony Albanese, with classic regime change poster as backdrop.
The party polls had sounded a little like the party fratricide that Mr Albanese alluded to when explaining how yet another prime minister was torn down in Australia the previous week, making it the fifth time in 10 years. The enmity stayed raw for quite some time, and a brutal contest for party power was no way to ensure stability and purpose when in government.
It was a sobering reminder that lingered as we left Mr Albanese’s inner Sydney enclave. Just as we stepped out, the overcast skies broke into a stormy deluge as the Malaysian reformist rushed to the airport for his flight home, straight into another bruising election season.
Anwar Ibrahim–The Asian Renaissance Man or The Mutant Malay Ultra? –PD Voters Beware
by Patrick Teoh
“Anwar Ibrahim is still very much a man for all audiences, but one who knows who he can be champion for. In a nutshell – the ultimate politician. Beneath the mellow facade lurks a very ambitious and impatient man. Making him more potent is the popular notion that he has been badly wronged. And that the time has come for him to claim his crown.”–Patrick Teoh
Who is Anwar Ibrahim? I am going to share the experience that someone close to me had, firsthand, to shed some light on what we are dealing with.
My niece was awarded a scholarship for further studies in the UK. There was an orientation event before she left. She found herself in a school hall, packed with hundreds of young, eager Malaysians. She was one of just 11 non-bumis present. The guest of honour addressing the crowd was Anwar Ibrahim, then the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports. He was full-on Ultra with his motivational speech.
The long, loud and spittle-spewing spiel was inflammatory, incendiary, and outright seditious. It was all about these young inheritors of Tanah Air using their Allah- and UMNO-given rights and opportunities to arm themselves with all that’s necessary to make sure the Pendatangs do not rob them of their rightful place and position in their country.
With his stature and his oratorical style, Anwar had the full attention of the young and impressionable audience. My niece wasn’t sure how her fellow awardees actually felt because she was too traumatised to make sense of the situation. She remembered that she very hastily got away from there. And she cried herself to sleep for a quite a few nights, too fearful to share what she had gone through, with family and friends.
Years later, having settled in London, she went to one of the roadshow sessions that Anwar held during his Reformasi days. Seeing the chance, and thinking that he must be a much-changed man by then, she went up to him, reminded him of that speech and asked him: Why? Without batting an eyelid, Anwar replied: Ahh, that’s politics.
For sure, Anwar has benefited a lot for being such a forceful leader and champion of his race. His dramatic fallout with his boss, Dr Mahathir, and his subsequent jail time, along with advancing age, have mellowed him. But has the man changed?
Judging by his recent speeches, Anwar Ibrahim is still very much a man for all audiences, but one who knows who he can be champion for. In a nutshell – the ultimate politician. Beneath the mellow facade lurks a very ambitious and impatient man. Making him more potent is the popular notion that he has been badly wronged. And that the time has come for him to claim his crown.
There is a lot of resistance to that trajectory. But the deal had been struck. If and when Anwar ascends to the throne, will he rely on the failsafe strategy of race-and-religion in his bid to obtain and retain power?
Would this ambitious but beleaguered politician be opting for a divide-and-conquer strategy, taking the country down the path to fundamentalism, and keeping a large part of the population placated, ignorant and compliant?
It’s all familiar stuff – highly workable, failsafe, and easy to achieve – the perfect gameplan for a man in a hurry, someone who is a bit short of the intelligence, substance and conscience that define a real leader of a multiracial country. We are acutely short of such leaders but that should never be the excuse to settle for someone who will choose the fast and easy way to achieve his ‘My Time is Now’ ambition.
A leader like Anwar must have a system of check and balance firmly in place, to prevent him from resurrecting the structure of UMNO that would enable him, his family, and his cronies to get their stranglehold on the country. We have seen how it is done. This time around, we can make the difference. We have to. Yes – Patrick Teoh
Patrick Teoh (born 16 October 1947) is an actor and radio personality in Malaysia. A career in radio, TV, stage and movies spanning more than three decades has earned Patrick the nickname of “Voice of Malaysia”, bestowed by his fans and the Malaysian mass media.
CEP’s Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram–A Life of Public Service
The Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), sometimes described as the Council of Elders, was set up to advice the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s new Pakatan Harapan government.
However, the CEP has also attracted a fair amount of controversy, including criticisms from within Harapan about the council’s role and powers.
One of the council’s members, economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, addresses those criticisms in a question-and-answer format.
Question: You have been quite quiet since you were appointed to the CEP.
Jomo: Yes. Given all the speculation and tendentious publicity, I did not feel it was helpful to provide more fuel to the fire. As you know, myths about the CEP thrived, and all manner of things were attributed to the CEP, often wrongly.
There were also things we did in our individual capacities, which were being attributed to the CEP. As a result, the initial goodwill, credibility and legitimacy the CEP enjoyed were undermined, and instead of being an asset to the government, especially the PM, we became the butt of many criticisms, including from within the Harapan coalition, largely due to misunderstandings and misperceptions.
I think I speak for all CEP members that if the PM needs our services, we will gladly serve in our individual capacities, and hopefully, become less of a liability to him.
Why are you reported to be against publication of the CEP report?
The issue is complex and nuanced. First, producing a single report for publication was not in the PM’s appointment letter or announcement.
Undoubtedly, some other bodies in the past, viewed by many as precedents, did produce reports after working for much longer periods, but some did not. For example, Tun Razak’s National Consultative Council after May 1969 did not do so.
Our brief was to help the PM, and the new government, with some immediate tasks at hand, especially the PH manifesto pledges for the first 100 days. To do that well, we tried to offer advice as soon as possible for him to consider and act upon, which is different from producing a report after 100 days.
But a report has been submitted to the PM?
While CEP members were agreed on most matters, there were also some disagreements, for example, on government-linked companies. As is known, some of us disagreed on privatisation policy decades ago, which has a bearing on contemporary debates.
It may be impossible to resolve some such differences, even after further discussion. In such situations, what does one do? Remain silent, or publish the chair’s view, as long as that is made clear.
The CEP chairperson has come under particular criticism from certain quarters.
Former CEP Chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin–The Silent Man of Action
I am not sure what you are referring to, but his longstanding relationship to the PM was undoubtedly crucial to the CEP’s establishment and functioning, and the object of criticism by his or the PM’s detractors.
There were also many criticisms of his trip to China, but again, such criticisms were undeserved, in my view. Governments dispatch special envoys all the time to deal with sensitive matters discreetly.
But you were a critic of the earlier Mahathir administration.
Indeed, I was critical of some aspects, but if you read what I wrote, my criticisms were always intended to improve government policy, and I also shared his aspirations for the country, especially development, industrialisation, Wawasan 2020, economic nationalism, nation-building, the so-called Asian financial crisis.
The CEP has not been meeting after the 100 days, but yet a report has just been submitted to the PM.
While we have not met or reviewed draft reports since, our chair has been helping the MACC on certain urban land abuses, as he should. Remember he has vast experience in such matters for half a century, even before he was involved with UDA, the Urban Development Authority.
Some CEP meetings were like master classes where I personally learnt more than I could ever hope to learn from reading.
So, are you for or against publication of the report?
It is really up to the PM. There are many options, including partial publication. Remember there are some highly sensitive matters, in terms of official secrecy as well as other matters which may be sensitive in terms of market behaviour, international diplomacy or even legal procedure.
As someone who has been critical of the abuse of secrecy in the past, I must also acknowledge that there are legitimately sensitive matters, and full transparency may not always be in the public interest.
If the CEP had a different proposal on some issue from the one eventually adopted by the Harapan government, what is the point of publicizing such differences with the government of the day after the fact? It is likely to be used by detractors for their own purposes rather than for better purposes.
Also, as you know, two committees were set up. The Institutional Reform Committee prepared a long report with a view to publication, and the PM may wish to publish it. The other one on 1MDB has contributed to expediting investigation and action, but I doubt their recommendations were intended for publication.
So, you will have nothing to show for your 100 CEP days?
Serving the national and public interest was our priority, not publicity or publications.
What are you doing a month after the CEP’s 100 days ended?
No longer an elder, I already feel younger.Many people expect me to write about the CEP, its work and its recommendations. I have no such plans, but am very busy with earlier unfinished and postponed work as well as new work to help the new administration, preferably under the radar.
DID you catch the Tun Daim Zainuddin interview on TV3 last Wednesday night? He spoke on a wide range of issues, sharing insights and juicy behind-the-headline anecdotes. Those who missed it can click on Youtube. You won’t regret it.
Tun Daim Zainuddin being interviewed by Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar and Mustapha Kamil on TV3 last Wednesday night.
He was interviewed by retired but still active journalists, Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar and Mustapha Kamil. They were colleagues in the Media Prima group of companies until a few years ago.
Johan maintains a weekly column in The Star newspaper while Mustapha is an active commentator on Facebook with a big following.
Friends who saw the interview gave their thumbs up. A television interview is different from a newspaper interview. Speaking on air, viewers can see the expressions and listen carefully to the words and the manner in which they were uttered.
An UMNO activist told me the following day that Daim has not lost any of his sharpness when answering questions. He said it was a typical Daim show — short and crisp; straight to the point; and he didn’t duck any question thrown at him.
But the UMNO man said Daim was more talkative than usual, in so far as media interviews are concerned. I thought so too. To me, this was expected because Daim, as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s closest confidante, was sharing insights on events before, during and after the May 9 General Election.
Daim is head of the Council of Eminent Persons, a body set up by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government three days after it kicked out Barisan Nasional (BN) and Datuk Seri Najib Razak from Putrajaya.
The council’s main objective was to dive deep into the administration with microscopes to find out the who, what, why, when, where and how the previous regime ran the country.
Daim is not new to such assignments. Dr Mahathir had, in the late 90s, tasked Daim with tracking the economy and to suggest solutions to the problems faced by the country following the Asian financial crisis in 1997/98.
Daim set about his task by tracking every aspect of the economy on a daily basis. It was a painstaking exercise but one that eventually helped Dr Mahathir to bring the country out of its huge problems.
One could say that Daim is Dr Mahathir’s “fix-it” man. If there’s anything difficult, and complicated, that needed to be corrected, just send Daim. But Daim would be the first person to reject such acclaim, countering that no single person could do such a job.
That task of tracking the economy was done by the National Economic Action Council which Dr Mahathir himself chaired. The NEAC was placed under the Minister of Special functions, a post held by Daim.
So it was really a no-brainer for Dr Mahathir to pick Daim to dig deep into the Najib administration to find out what went wrong.
Four months and one day after the general election, people are still talking about and analysing the history-making polls.
Many people on the ground had anticipated a change, but they had not dared predict such a huge upset.
Daim’s take on GE-14 was typical. He told the interviewers and the audience that UMNO and BN think-tanks had told him that their party was not going to make it. And this helped Daim and PH leaders to work out an appropriate strategy, giving them the additional confidence that they would win big.
I said typical because Daim has an information gathering mechanism that is reliable and accurate. In the 2008 general election, Daim told the country via an interview with a Chinese newspaper that the BN would lose five states.
The BN, then led by Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, did lose five states — Penang, Perak, Kedah, Selangor and Kelantan. Kelantan was already an opposition state then.
This time around, the strategy was straightforward: discredit the BN and its leaders and make Dr Mahathir the rallying point to save the country.
Remember the “You’re not alone” poster? This worked well as other personalities came out to show their support for Dr Mahathir, with Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz being one of the most visible and vocal.
Wednesday’s interview also had Daim giving his views on why BN was rejected by the people. UMNO leaders were simply arrogant, he said, adding that they were also ill-mannered and complacent. UMNO’s fixed-deposit constituencies came under attack from the PH forces, a great number of them comprising ordinary folks who had grown tired of the old coalition.
Abuse of power and a head who could not be criticised plus a civil service that saw some key senior officers taking part in political campaigns eventually led to BN’s downfall.
“Duit tak turun (the money didn’t come down),” Daim said, referring to money meant for campaigning purposes was not properly distributed, thus hampering work on the ground.
Well, it’s all gone down as part of the country’s political history. Daim has a vast reservoir of first-hand knowledge in many aspects of the country’s development, with personal involvement in many of them too.
This interview would be seen again and again and widely analysed by those interested in the country’s welfare. If the programme was not capped to one hour, more juicy stuff would have been revealed.
The UMNO activist reviewed the interview many times and concluded that Daim is as relevant as ever. Not many people doubted that.
The Economist editorial board opined that although Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has made headway in fulfilling key election pledges, in effect Mahathir is hindered by a “novice” Cabinet.
The article further contends that this has resulted in Mahathir having to become the “chief of everything”, thus reverting to his old autocratic ways. The piece also claims this is why Mahathir is retaining “cronies” such as those in the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) and Daim Zainuddin.
Malaysia’s ” Chief of Everything (The Economist)” or a strong crisis Leader ?
Worse still, The Economist is mischievously insinuating that Mahathir has no intention of dismantling racial policies seen as favouring the majority Malays despite his unexpected move in appointing Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister.
The Economist further, and I have to say very subtly, insinuates that this state of governance is hindering Malaysia’s economic growth, by comparing Malaysia’s expected growth rate of 5% for 2018 against 6% in 2017.
I have to say, this is a very mischievous and almost maligning piece by The Economist. I thus feel compelled to enlighten the public, both local and foreign, of the state of matters as it stands.
The Economist, as influential as it is, must surely understand the nature of change, particularly involving changes in government. Who can forget the case of the Missing W’s when President George W Bush took over from President Bill Clinton? Or even the debacle of the US Cabinet appointments under the leadership of President Donald Trump? Yet, The Economist expects immediate and absolute perfection in the new Malaysian Cabinet line-up despite a game-changing opposition win after 60 years of single-party rule.
The Economist apparently fails to understand that in situations of change, there will be learning curves and gaps in knowledge and experience. That is only to be expected.
I challenge The Economist to undergo an equally momentous change without similar issues, just within its own organisation.
The Council of Eminent Persons is, in fact, a crisis management team. It is being led by former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin who took Malaysia out of two serious economic recessions. His leadership of CEP and his steady stewardship of the economy (in 1986 and 1998) is welcome by the international and domestic business community, given the uncertain times ahead as the trade war between America and China heats up. –Din Merican
The appointment of the CEP was made in recognition of this gap in experience and knowledge, particularly given the anticipated challenges in cleaning up after the Najib Razak administration. Professionals in the field of change will know that in such situations of extreme challenges, it is important to establish a team focused on clearing and cleaning up while the existing managers ensure that business runs as usual.
Failure to do so will exacerbate the tremendous problems currently faced.
It is just good change management practice and should be more relevant given the situation the new Malaysia finds itself in.
As for becoming the “chief of everything”, I am surprised The Economist says this. After all, isn’t a CEO a chief of everything? Yes, under normal circumstances, a CEO approves by exception only. However, these are exceptional times for new Malaysia. A new ruling alliance and fresh-faced ministers are confronted with a corruption and money-laundering scandal which has inspired a new field of study in international money-laundering, and these same fresh-faced ministers have to contend with the fall-out of that scandal domestically.
I ask the CEO at The Economist, had you been the incoming CEO in such a situation, would you freely delegate as you would in more normal circumstances? Or would you keep tighter control on the reins of power?
I have to say that despite all this, Mahathir has been admirably receptive and flexible to the suggestions and objections of the coalition ministers in his crafting of policies and handling of issues.
I think The Economist and regrettably most Western commentators on the new Malaysia underestimate the fine balance between the PH coalition and the public support behind it. There is an assumption, especially in the international media, that change was imminent simply based on the change instigated by PKR 20 years ago, and that this meant the PH coalition partners are all cut from the same cloth, so to speak, and are thus of one mind. This is a simplistic and careless analysis of Malaysian politics.
The reality is that Malaysia’s voting demographics, whether by economic standing or ethnicity, is fractious at best. This extends to political party support as well. PKR would never have made it on its own without the other coalition partners who are more modest in comparison but who still commanded crucial support from the section of society that could push PH over the 50% mark to win the election.
At this juncture, everyone would do well to remember that a coalition by definition is “a temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government”. Massive amounts of negotiation and give-and-take are required to make a coalition work, and even more so to make it historically successful. This does not happen without a firm leader guiding the numerous coalition partners in thought and deed, such that everyone reaches a consensus. If this is mistaken for Mahathir reverting to his “old autocratic ways”, I can assure you, a significant number of voting Malaysians are happy for it to remain so for now.
I say this because The Economist, and probably many others, seem to have forgotten the most important lesson of the new Malaysia. It is this: ordinary individuals who share the same universal values and the desire to do what is right by their own selves have the power to effect change regardless of race, ethnicity, economic standing, gender, age and ideology.
As such, The Economist’s pathetic attempts at stoking the fire of dissent and racial enmity topped by a prediction of poorer economic performance will not work in the new Malaysia. The people of the new Malaysia have always been the drivers of our own economic and political fortunes, good or bad. We know this for certain. And we know that as we did before, we can do so again if need be. The power is in our hands.
Tariq Ismail is a member of the PPBM Supreme Council.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.