Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It’s the economy Najib!

Leslie Lau , Consultant Editor
Tuesday, 28 October 2008 15:03

During the March general election campaign, the opposition’s message was simple: Barisan Nasional (BN), they told voters, stood for “Barang Naik,” which translates to rising prices.

Then, the oil price hikes, and their consequential effect on inflation, were used to amplify everything that could be wrong with the administration of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Now, as Datuk Seri Najib Razak prepares to take over the helm, the economy is even more dire straits.

He is already being judged on his handling of the economy even though he has barely learned the geography of his new office at the Finance Ministry.

Any follies and poor handling of the economy will surely open the door to a parliamentary opposition stronger than any BN government has ever faced.

Malaysians are far less forgiving today.

The opposition Pakatan Rakyat will pounce on any opening to put pressure on the government and any misstep could even result in the government falling before completing even half its term in office.

So far, the prognosis is not good for the Malaysian economy.

And Najib’s first prescription — a RM5 billion injection of borrowed EPF money into the stock market — is not being well received.

The aim is to prop up Malaysia’s stock market.

But it is already being criticised as throwing good money after bad.

The government should realise that Malaysia’s market is very small and will follow global trends.

There is very little confidence now globally in the markets, banks or even the capitalist financial system.

Najib, as the Finance Minister, needs to show more leadership.

He cannot afford to say he will only wait until Nov 4, when he winds up the debate on the Budget in Parliament, to offer details on what the government plans to do.

The market will not wait. It is an unforgiving animal.

There are genuine worries that the future is not bright for Malaysia because the country’s trading partners are all going into recession, which means the market for Malaysian products and services is not strong.

This means Malaysian businesses will need more liquidity.

Perhaps Najib and the rest of Malaysia’s senior government leaders should try to learn a lesson from what is happening in the US presidential election campaign.

The two candidates almost trip over each other in trying to offer an economic plan and to support the proposed bailout when the economy started to turn.

Politics had to be thrown out the window, they both said, as they tried to appeal to voters who were only looking at pocketbook issues.

In Malaysia, Umno is in the middle of an intriguing race for top party posts.

Najib looks a clear certainty in winning the Umno presidency unopposed.

He will have to now concentrate more on providing the kind of leadership needed to manage the economy in what is uncharted territory.

He will not need to be mired in a controversy over the proposed acquisition of 12 Eurocopters.

He will not need to be mired in controversies surrounding race relations.

He will certainly not need to be mired in the politics surrounding his own party or that of the Barisan Nasional.

What he will have to focus on right now is the economy.

If he does not manage the economy well, it could be the end of the road for him and the BN.

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