(Also published on Malaysiakini)
This week marks the first 100 days of the Najib administration since May 5, 2013, when BN won 60 percent of parliament seats with only 47 percent of the popular vote.
Najib Abdul Razak has the distinction of being the first Malaysian prime minister to hold on to the reins of power without having won the majority of votes.
He has further distinguished himself by presiding over a duplicitous, dysfunctional and directionless government. If this is a sign of things to come, the next five years will, if Najib lasts that long, see things in the country going from bad to worse.
On the night of polling day, when it was announced that BN had retained power at the federal level, Najib called for a national reconciliation in order to unite the voters who had been “polarized” as a result of a high stakes and often heated general election campaign.
While calling for unity is all fine and good, especially if it is backed up by sincere intentions, Najib went on, in the same speech, to put the blame firmly on the “phenomenon” of a purported “Chinese tsunami”.
This jaundiced view ignores the fact that many Malays, in the state of Terengganu for example, also turned their on Umno in large numbers. This ignores the fact that many bumiputeras in Sarawak and Sabah also voted against the BN coalition in large numbers.
The duplicitous call by Najib to have a national reconciliation and at the same time “call out” the Chinese, opened the doors for others within the Umno leadership and machinery to jump on the bandwagon.
Utusan, the Umno-controlled newspaper, led the way with its now infamous headline ‘Apa lagi orang Cina mahu? (What more do the Chinese want?).
This was followed by threats by the Malacca government to open up Jonker Walk to traffic which would have effectively shut down the many traders there, the majority of whom happen to be Chinese.
Deputy Prime Minister – ‘Malay First, Malaysian Second’ – Muhyiddin Yassin also irresponsibly echoed Najib’s sentiments when he said that having one community support one side and another community supporting another would lead to “tensions in inter-racial relations and political instability”.
MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek added more fuel to the fire when he said that Malaysia had moved into a two-race system after GE2013.
And of course, one cannot leave out the indefatigable Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who accused the DAP of orchestrating the Chinese dominance of politics, in addition to being dominant in the economy, or so the former prime minister claims.
This is very far from a sincere gesture of wanting national reconciliation after a supposedly divisive elections campaign.
Najib’s own jitteriness over the legitimacy of his victory pushed him to call for all sides, primarily Pakatan Rakyat and their supporters, to accept the election results and to stop the Black 505 public protests.
His fears that the Black 505 public rallies would culminate into a Malaysian spring and the overthrow of the BN regime were totally unfounded, given the peaceful nature of all these rallies.
His insecure and duplicitous regime would act the only way it knew how – by using existing laws to persecute and prosecute social activists and Pakatan politicians.
In the space of one and a half months, a total of 80 individuals were charged – some with more than one charge. Out of these 80 individuals, only one – Papagomo – was a pro-BN person.
Many of the organisers of the Black 505 public rallies including elected representatives such as Nik Nazmi (Seri Setia assemblyman), Thomas Su (MP Ipoh Timor), Rafizi Ramli (MP Pandan) and Anthony Loke (MP Seremban) as well as social activists such as Chegubard, Adam Adli and Safwan Anang were charged under Section 9(1) of the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Ironically, the act that was supposed to make it easier for us to organise peaceful public rallies has instead been used to punish the organizers of these rallies.
One “concession” which Najib did make to Pakatan was to promise to put the Election Commission under the supervision of a Parliamentary Select Committee.
One cannot help but doubt the sincerity of such an offer – remember the outcome of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform? – especially since Najib will not even admit to some of the serious problems which took place during the campaign and on polling day.
We made international headlines for having spent millions of ringgit to procure indelible ink that turned out not to be so indelible after all!
It is almost expected for a weak leader to not be able to “control” his followers. He may say one thing only to have a key member of his team disagree with him in public. This was certainly Najib’s experience in this first 100 days.
He had already announced in July 2012 that he would replace the Sedition Act with a National Harmony Act and he reiterated this promise in an interview with the BBC in July 2013.
But soon after his repeat of this promise, his own home minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, disagreed with the repeal of the Sedition Act since this would, in his opinion, “legitimise sedition, whether it was in the form of slander, accusation and condemnation.”
The very same home minister also called for the Emergency Ordinance to be brought back in some shape or form after its abolishment by Najib’s administration before the 13th General Election.
The dysfunctionality of Najib’s government and the BN coalition which he leads was further accentuated by the tabling of the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Amendment Bill 2013 during the first parliamentary sitting post GE13.
It created an unprecedented outcry among the non-Muslim BN leaders and MPs making it seem as if none of them had been consulted or briefed about the contents of this bill before it was tabled.
The subsequent withdrawal of this bill, announced by Muhyiddin, could not erase the impression that Najib’s government was not – to put it mildly – on the same page.
As if Najib’s duplicitous and dysfunctional government was not sufficiently worrisome, the lack of a firm direction for the country moving forward should give any reasonable man or woman reason to pause.
Rather than taking charge and facing the post GE13 challenges square in the face, Najib seems as if he’s allowed events to overtake and perhaps even overwhelm him.
The country’s Q1 2013 growth came in at 4.1 percent, the first time in six consecutive quarters where it registered a rate that was lower than 5 percent. In response to this, the Malaysia Institute of Economic Research (MIER) cut its growth forecast for the country from 5.6 percent to 4.8 percent.
CIMB Investment Bank economist, Lee Heng Guie, also cut his growth forecast for the country from 5.5 percent to 5.1 percent.
Coupled with growing household debt, which now stands at 83 percent of GDP, and the revision by Fitch Ratings on Malaysia from “stable” to “negative”, the prospects of a serious economic slowdown and a fiscal crisis happening in the not too distant future in Malaysia does not seem so far-fetched.
All Najib did in response to this, in his capacity as the finance minister, was to make vague claims about being able to reduce the budget deficit to below 4.0 percent of GDP when the 2014 budget is announced in October 2013.
With Petronas revenues and profits possibly being hit hard by the production problems in Sudan because of continued tensions between the North and the South, and also slower growth in tax collection receipts, Najib’s ambition to cut the government deficit to less than 4.0 percent of GDP does seem like pie in the sky.
Meanwhile, the federal government’s contingent liabilities – debt which are not officially ‘on the books’ but which is understood to be guaranteed by the government – has increased from RM96.9 billion in 2010 to RM150 billion in 2012.
One of the biggest reason for this increase is none other than the Najib created 1MDB, which according to a recent report in the Edge, has racked up debts of over RM38 billion.
Najib is also loth to admit that the Economic Transformation Program (ETP) has failed to achieve its lofty goals including delivering economic growth of 6 percent per annum. The palpable excitement which greeted the ETP when it was first launched in 2010 has now died down to a mere whimper.
The quarterly announcements or progress updates which highlighted the many billions of “new” investment and the many hundreds of thousands of new jobs has been noticeably absent in 2013, especially after GE13.
The delay of the RM60 billion RAPID petrochemical complex in Pengerang, Johor, which is the single biggest investment item announced under the ETP, does not give much confidence that the RM1.4 trillion target of investments can be achieved.
In addition, the much touted KPI achievements of the Government Transformation Programme (GTP), including a 40% reduction in street crime, has been pooh-poohed by most, notably those who live in the urban areas who do not feel any safer or assured by these so-called “results”.
If the ETP and the GTP failed to capture public interest, especially among the urbanites who are most likely to be in positions to understand and appreciate the ETP and GTP initiatives, then surely Najib must come up with a new transformation plan or to tweak the current one so that these shortcomings can be addressed.
The problem with Najib is that having invested so much in the ETP and GTP, he does not know where to start in terms of significantly changing the parameters of the ETP and GTP.
Take the recent spate of shootings as an example. Instead of taking concrete measures to tackle this worrying trend – for example, by tracking down how these guns fell into the hands of these criminals and going after the suppliers of these firearms – Najib has allowed this home minister to put the blame on the 2,600 individuals released as a result of the repeal of the Emergency Ordinance.
Worse still, he has stood quietly by as his home minister ludicrously puts the blame for the recent increase in the crime rates on the 260,000 criminals who have been “activated” by the released former EO detainees. And the best that the GTP team can come up with? You guessed it – a “lab” on serious crime after the Raya holidays.
Meanwhile, there is a running tally on how many people will be shot and killed on any given day. And we breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the day if we are lucky enough to live through it without reading about casualties of gun violence.
Give Najib the benefit of the doubt?
Some Najib sympathisers have argued that he should be cut some slack because of the impending Umno elections. Once he has received his mandate from his party, he should be able to move on with the next phase of his transformation programme. There are many reasons to be sceptical.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (left in photo) fulfilled none of his election promises despite winning a record 90 percent of parliamentary seats in the 2004 general election.
Najib, with a much weaker popular mandate, will always be looking over his shoulder to fend of threats from the right wingers in his party, including the still influential Mahathir, as well as Muhyiddin.
Najib has never shown that he is willing and able to take on big fights especially on reform issues. And when tough decisions have to be made or tough times have to be faced e.g. Bersih 3.0, he is usually out of the country or he delegates the responsibility to others.
Two years after the Sarawak 2011 state election, Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is firmly ensconced in power despite being prompted by Najib to pass the reins of power to someone else before the next state elections.
To summarize, the duplicitous, dysfunctional and directionless administration of Najib in the first 100 days is a strong sign of things to come. It will surely lead to a government that is duly discredited towards the end of its term.
Sadly, for the country and its people, things will have to get worse before they can get better.