DAP calls for national economic summit of  all political parties, economists, representatives of business, industry and finance,  trade unions, consumer groups and NGOs to work out a national strategy to address the worsening economic crisis compounded by Iraq war and the global SARS epidemic

DAP State Political Dialogue “Political Challenges and   the next general election”
by Lim Kit Siang

(Triang,  Sunday): In six months, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad will step down as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia after more than 22 years in the highest office of the land.  Although there are political leaders and observers who still would not believe that Mahathir would hand over the Prime Ministership to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Kuala Lumpur in October, I had never subscribed to the view that Mahathir’s resignation drama at the UMNO General Assembly last June was a “sandiwara”. 

But in his final 12 months as Prime Minister, Mahathir seemed to have woken up to the need to do things which he had failed or had not realized the importance of doing in more than 21 years in office, and this is why we see the major tinkering with various government nation-building policies, like the revamp of the national education policy, the national service and most ominous of all, the attempt at a tectonic shift of the fundamental basis on which this nation was founded more than four decades ago with  his  “929 declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic state. 

There were hopes that with the transition and handover of power, Malaysia can look forward to a return to greater normality, where there would be a restoration of public confidence in the rule of law; respect for human rights;  good governance with a clean, open and trustworthy administration; end of corruption, cronyism and nepotism; and greater national unity and sense of national purpose to better equip Malaysians competitively to face the challenges of globalization, liberalization and the information and communications technology. 

Is Mahathir positioning Malaysia, in his  final year as the longest-serving Prime Minister, in a stronger and more advantaged position to face the many challenges, national and international, political, economic and nation-building,  of the post-Mahathir era? 

Two days ago, when  the appeal of former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim against his second conviction and nine-year jail sentence for sodomy was rejected by the Court of Appeal,  and he failed to walk out of court as a free man, the hopes that  Malaysia is embarked on a steady course to restore  public confidence in the rule of law and good governance were dashed to the ground.

This is not the only matter for concern. For instance, in the proposal to introduce national service, there has been a total absence of public participation and consultation,  reinforcing reservations as to whether this is a scheme for national service or Barisan Nasional service! 

Even the revamp of the national education system, which is headed by Mahathir following a decision of the UMNO Supreme Council last November, is conducted  in utter secrecy without any public participation or consultation – in fact  without any Cabinet endorsement or participation by the other Barisan Nasional component parties! 

This is not the route to greater national unity but a formula for more national discord and divisiveness. 

The past year has also seen the 46-year Merdeka Constitution, the “social contract” and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, laying down the fundamental nation-building compact  that Malaysia is a democratic, secular, multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion but Malaysia is not an  Islamic state come under unprecedented assault following the unilateral, arbitrary and unconstitutional “929” Declaration by Mahathir at the Gerakan national delegates conference on Sept. 29, 2001. 

These can be seen by the boost which the “929 Declaration” had given to the advocates of an Islamic state in Malaysia, whether in UMNO or PAS, as evident by snowballing  instances in the past year which are creeping attempts to move Malaysia towards an Islamic state in violation of the 46-year Merdeka Constitution and the legacy injunction of Bapa Malaysia and first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman on his 80th birthday on 8th February 1983 to the Barisan Nasional leadership and the Malaysian people not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.

Some examples of creeping attempts to move Malaysia towards an Islamic state in the past year  are:

  • The PAS Terengganu State Government passing   the Terengganu Syariah Criminal Offence (Hudud and Qisas) Enactment in the Terengganu State Assembly in July last year in its attempt to up the ante in the UMNO-PAS competition to out-Islam each other;
  •  The Johore Bahru municipal councils decision  to impose  new regulations in January this year requiring the written  consent of Muslim neighbours before the issue of  any dog licence – undermining national unity and social tolerance.
  • The hudud punishment of a male and a female student of a religious school in Kota Bahru who were caned 25 times each for talking to each other which prompted an UMNO Kelantan leader to deplore that “extremism had crept into institutions and society in the country”.
  • The unreasonable and insensitive ruling by International Islamic University (IIU)  compelling non-Muslim female students to wear the tudong – especially when  the IIU is funded by the Malaysian taxpayers from all races and religions.
  • The  ban on the Iban Bible and other Christian literature in Bahasa Malaysia violating  the constitutional  right  of freedom of religion.

The only way to end the creeping attempts to  nudge Malaysia towards an Islamic state is for Mahathir or the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council to publicly  withdraw the “929 Declaration” and return to the 46-year constitutional  compact and nation-building cornerstone of Malaysia as a secular and multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic state.

Another area where Malaysia is undergoing great stress is our economy.  Yesterday, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) announced the lowest dividend in 40 years, i.e. 4.25 per cent for 2002.

MTUC President, Datuk Zanianl Rampak has said that as EPF Board member, he had been told that the EPF dividend for this year would be even lower and below 4 per cent!

DAP cannot accept the 4.25 EPF dividend for last year and less than 4 per cent dividend for this year, as EPF is capable of paying higher dividends despite the difficult investment environment and a  a low interest rate regime.  The problem of the low dividend stems from  mismanagement of the shares investments, resulting in the EPF suffering some RM10 billion of “paper losses” which have now to be paid with the hard-earned cash of the life-savings of the 10.3 million EPF contributors. If EPF did not have to write off RM2.14 billion last year for “paper losses” for equity, the EPF dividend for last year should be 5.43 per cent and not 4.25 per cent.

The scandal of the lowest EPF dividend in 40 years highlights the grave economic crisis facing Malaysia, which is being compounded by the Iraq war and the global SARS epidemic.

The long delay in the announcement of the  RM3 billion to RM5 billion economic stimulus package, postponed three times in the past two months,  is not reflective of a confident and sure-footed government on top of the economic crisis.

The second Finance Minister, Datuk Jamaludin Jarjis had told foreign fund managers and brokers on 21st January 2003 that the economic stimulus package would be announced by Mahathir in February, as it was clear by then that the government’s economic growth forecast of 6 to 6.5 per cent made in the 2003 budget last September had already been made illusory by the poor global economic conditions and lack of investor confidence in Malaysia.

Two days before  the US war and invasion of Iraq on March 20, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Shafie Salleh told Parliament  that the country  was “economically ready to face the consequences of the impending war on Iraq” and in the following week, assured  Parliament that the economic stimulus package, prepared by 10 special committees, would “strengthen economic growth in the face  of new uncertainties in the global economy following the war in Iraq”.

But despite 10 special committees, and over two months of drafting, the government found it was not  ready to face the consequences of the Iraq war and  kept postponing the unveiling of the economic stimulus package without giving any acceptable reason when the proper thing was for the economic stimulus package to be presented to the Dewan Rakyat  for debate and approval before it adjourned sine dine on April 10.

Now the country has been hit by a double whammy – the Iraq war and the global SARS epidemic, with the global  death toll breaking the 200 barrier with the  more realistic and truthful reporting of the SARS outbreak by  China.

The Far Eastern Economic Review has put the damage of SARS to Asian economies in the region of US10.6 billion (RM40.3 billion), which could end up costing the region as much as US$50 billion.

Economists have warned that  the economic effects of SARS is even worse than the Iraq war and that it could precipitate a global recession, if it led to the stalling of the Asian economies, the engine of global economic growth.

DAP calls for the convening of a national economic summit of  all political parties, economists, representatives of business, industry and finance,  trade unions, consumer groups and NGOs to work out a national strategy to address the worsening economic crisis compounded by Iraq war and the global SARS epidemic.

The government should adopt a more democratic,  open and transparent approach and provide the leadership to involve all Malaysians in addressing the worsening multiple crisis of nation building in the country.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman