Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's the Economy, Sir!

by Dr Chandra Muzaffar
March 9, 2009

It is no coincidence that in the short span of 3 or 4 days Ruler after Ruler has expressed grave concern about the situation in the country. Their concern reflects the sentiments of the rakyat who are fed up with the excessive politicking that has characterized public life since the General Election of 8 March 2008.

Even people outside Malaysia --- as I discovered recently--- are astounded that leaders in government and the opposition are consumed with political manoeuvrings at a time when the whole world is focused upon the global economic crisis. Some of them are of the view that the antics of the politicians have brought Malaysia to the brink of political turmoil.

At the root of this politicking is the unbridled drive to acquire and enhance power, whatever the costs and consequences, among politicians on both sides of the divide at state and federal levels. Ethical principles mean little to them.

Their politics has not only created tension and antagonism, illustrated so starkly in the Perak crisis. It has also, it appears, increased corruption and abuse of power and has led to the further deterioration of ethnic relations. Intense politicking has also taken a toll upon certain institutions of governance such as the Election Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Police and even the Judiciary.

Most of all, it has distracted our political leaders from concentrating upon the economy. With almost all exports – petroleum, palm oil, rubber, electrical and electronic goods—declining, unemployment escalating steeply, and the Gross Domestic Product(GDP) shrinking, the prognosis for the next few months is discouraging. Our leaders, regardless of party affiliation, should be responding to this Herculean challenge by implementing carefully thought-out policies and programmes that will ensure the well-being of the people in these difficult times. All their energies should be focused upon this challenge--- and not on how to engineer defections or to oust their political rivals.

Such a concentrated focus upon the economy may not be forthcoming for an obvious reason. The two major dramatis personae in the Malaysian political arena today, Dato Seri Najib Razak, the incoming Prime Minister, and Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the Leader of the Opposition, will continue to be locked in combat for some time to come. Najib will want to consolidate and strengthen his position as head of government, while Anwar will go all out to topple him since his single-minded ambition is to become Prime Minister in the shortest time possible.

It is partly because of their fear of the disastrous consequences of this titanic tussle for power between these two personalities that concerned citizens like Anas Zubedy have proposed a truce that would help to reduce politicking. Najib and Anwar could perhaps seek to forge some agreement in the following areas:-

1)The formulation of anti-defection laws at state and federal level which would require an elected legislator to vacate his seat in parliament or the state assembly if he decides to resign from his party. Some existing provisions in the Federal and State Constitutions will have to be amended in order to accommodate the proposed legislation.

2)Joint efforts to improve Federal-State ties in accordance with their respective constitutions and in the true spirit of federalism.

3)The creation of ‘economic crisis councils’ at federal and state levels which will bring together the government and the opposition--- apart from other groups and individuals--- with the single aim of overcoming the economic crisis.

4)Joint efforts to improve ethnic relations by eliminating communal rhetoric, deepening understanding of the ethnic situation in Malaysia, and demonstrating through deeds a commitment to a balanced, all-embracing notion of justice for all communities.

5)Concrete measures to enhance mutual respect for their respective roles as Prime Minister, on the one hand, and Leader of the Opposition, on the other.

If Najib and Anwar make no attempt to reduce politicking and improve the political atmosphere in the near future, it is quite conceivable that the overall situation will deteriorate rapidly with all its dire consequences.

In such a situation, the rakyat would expect the Rulers--- specifically the King--- to help restore good governance through measures which accord with constitutional rule and democratic principles.

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