Abdullah may bring forward general election plans from next year to December this year because of the worsening economic scenario with economists forecasting a global economic recession as a result of the galloping SARS epidemic on top of the Iraq war

 Nibong Tebal DAP Branch Dinner
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Sunday): I have always believed that the next general election would be held after the retirement of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia in October this year and that it would be the new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who will be leading the Barisan Nasional into the next general election campaign.

The reasoning is very simple political logic - Abdullah will otherwise lack the authority and legitimacy as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Already people are asking as to how long Abdullah could last as Prime Minister, whether he could assert leadership and authority, not only in the country but also in UMNO.

If Mahathir wants Abdullah to fail or falter as the new Prime Minister, then there could be no more powerful way than for him to dissolve Parliament and hold a general election before handing over the premiership to Abdullah, where every Barisan Nasional Minister, Member of Parliament and State Assembly member would owe his or her election to Mahathir and not to Abdullah - including Abdullah himself.

Abdullah would have to wait for another four to five years for the next general election before he would have the opportunity to lead and win a Barisan Nasional election victory to establish full authority and legitimacy - and four to five years can be a very long time in politics and nobody can be sure that Abdullah will still be around in the Malaysian political arena in those circumstances!

Going on the premise that it would be Abdullah and not Mahathir who would be dissolving Parliament and leading the Barisan Nasional in the next general election, the conventional wisdom is that Abdullah would want some time ranging from three to nine months to project a new image of the Abdullah administration to garner public confidence and votes. This would mean that the next general election is likely to fall anytime between February and July next year.

However, recent national and global developments may have forced a re-think of this time-table, and Abdullah may bring forward general election plans from next year to December this year because of the worsening economic scenario with economists forecasting a global economic recession and its adverse fall-outs for the Malaysian economy as a result of the galloping Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic on top of the Iraq war.

The third postponement in the announcement of the estimated RM5 billion first 2003 economic stimulus package tomorrow to an indefinite date probably next month is one result of such worsening global economic scenario.

Until two days ago, the country was expecting the multi-billion ringgit economic stimulus package to be unveiled tomorrow, as it had been completed three months ago and had been held back from announcement originally scheduled for February precisely because of the Iraq war. It was then rescheduled for announcement for late March and then tomorrow.

The reason that has been given for the third postponement of the economic stimulus package is not very convincing - that there has to be a relook at the whole package again as the Finance Ministry had thought that the Iraq war would be short and quick.

This is because any responsible contingency response and plan must factor the three possibilities of the Iraq war - that it could be short, medium or a long war.
The really new element is the economic devastation that could be caused by the global SARS epidemic, which has spread to 20 countries, infecting more people and causing more deaths - now exceeding 90 casualties.

Although the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (Mier) executive director Dr. Mohamed Ariff said four days ago that the Iraq war may have a more damaging impact on the regional economy than the SARS virus, there have been a growing chorus of warning from economists that SARS could plunge the world into a global recession.

Stephen Roach, chief economist of the leading international bank Morgan Stanley has predicted that SARS could trigger a global downturn and tip the world economy into recession, and lowered world growth forecasts because of the rapid spread of SARS.

He said: "SARS may well be the tipping point for a global economy that has already been hit by the twin shocks of war and geopolitical uncertainty. Unfortunately, the SARS effect is concentrated in Asia - long the fastest growing economy in the world and the one area that had basically been keeping the world economy afloat."

Morgan Stanley said it was reducing its forecast for global gross domestic product (GDP) this year to 2.4 per cent, from 2.5 per cent previously. Because there is little chance of every region of the world economy contracting simultaneously, analysts typically regard any global growth figure of below 2.5 per cent as representing recession.
In contrast, Bank Negara two weeks ago forecasts a modest global economic growth of 3.1% for this year with Malaysia's economic growth this year at 4.5% (down from the original estimate of 6 - 6.5% in the 2003 Budget last September).

Has the post-Iraq war economic stimulus package been further delayed because the government has belatedly discovered that Bank Negara was over-optimistic in its revised forecasts and furthermore, had not factored into account the adverse economic repercussions of SARS not only on the global but also on the national economy, which have led some economist analysts to slash Malaysia's growth projections this year to as low as 3 per cent?
Malaysians are entitled to know the reasons for the third postponement of the multi-billion ringgit economic stimulus package in three months - which does not speak well for a decisive and confident style of economic management.

The single biggest issue in the next general election is whether Malaysia is to embark on the road to an Islamic state, starting on the UMNO model and then heading towards the PAS concept.

Recently, Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in Penang that Malaysia is an Islamic state and was one long before the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's "929 declaration" at the Gerakan national delegates conference on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia was an Islamic state.

DAP rejects the contention that (i) Malaysia is an Islamjic state ; and (ii) that Malaysia was an Islamic state long before the "929 Declaration" and we have the public declarations of Bapa Malaysia and the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman and the third Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn to back our positions.

It is most shocking and unbelievable that Abdullah's development of the theme that Malaysia had all along been an Islamic state was made at a Gerakan Penang State Government function "to explain the Islamic State", when one week before the "929 Declaration" by Mahathir, Gerakan leaders including its President and Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik and Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon were assuring the Sarawak voters in the 2001 Sarawak state general election that Malaysia was not and was never an Islamic state, while falsely accusing DAP leaders of "aiding and abetting" PAS to set up an Islamic state.

Penang should be the frontline state in Malaysia in the next general election to defend the fundamental principle in the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the "social contract" and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement that Malaysia is a democratic, secular and multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic state, whether ala-PAS or ala-UMNO.

Yesterday, Parti Keadilan Nasional proposed co-operation with DAP in Penang in the next general election. DAP welcomes the proposal of co-operation and invites Parti Keadilan Nasional to join forces with DAP to make Penang the front-line state in the country to translate into practice the most important legacy of Tunku Abdul Rahman when he made the stirring call on his 80th birthday on February 8, 1983: "Don't turn Malaysia into an Islamic State!"


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman