Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

PKR-DAP-PAS Take the Economic High Ground

Written by johnleemk on 12:41:14 am Mar 17, 2008.

For quite some time I have been stressing that if PKR, the DAP and PAS want to win power, they have to hold the high ground on bread-and-butter issues like the economy. In this recent election, they went to town on the rising costs of living and other bread-and-butter issues such as personal security. The natural thing for Barisan Nasional to do would be to attempt to regain the high ground, but instead, they have chosen to dig their own grave.

BN was already caught flatfooted by the opposition's well-thought-out economic policies, especially the DAP's. The economic agenda of PKR earned accolades from publications like the Wall Street Journal. Both parties called for cleaner government with less graft and more transparent operations. They demanded the opening of markets closed to competition so BN cronies' monopolies could siphon profits that should not be rightfully theirs. They proposed establishing a cleaner and more stable business environment. It's unsurprising that this is the sort of agenda investors and entrepreneurs, both at home and abroad, would applaud.

The failed New Economic Policy, at least in its current state, is perhaps the complete antithesis of the kind of business environment that our economy needs. If we want good, clean growth that will positively raise our standards of living, we cannot afford the kind of cronyism that the NEP has bred. Whatever the good intentions of those behind it were, whatever the successes it achieved in the 1970s and 1980s were, today all it does is preserve the opaque and uncertain business environment that drives away investors and entrepreneurs — which makes it all the more surprising that BN, the party which has always claimed the economy as a key plank of its platform, insists on retaining the NEP.

Meanwhile, all three leading opposition parties have decisively rejected the NEP as an unjust basis for racial discrimination against Malaysian citizens, and detrimental to the economy. In the states they now govern, they have pledged to begin undoing the negative aspects of the NEP, such as those automatically granting closed tenders to Bumiputra contractors. Pledging to enact an economic policy that will provide for increased opportunities amongst all Malaysian communities, while guaranteeing a healthier environment for businesspeople, they are taking steps to nudge us in the right direction our country and economy need to take.

These moves have (un)surprisingly been met with recalcitrance on the part of BN, especially UMNO. In Penang, UMNO has actually organised street demonstrations against the government and its policy, claiming opening tenders for state contracts would harm the Bumiputra business community.

Mind you, opening up the tendering process does not mean the Bumiputra contractors have no chance of winning the bid. The policy is just in that it gives all contractors a chance to see who has the best bid. Who wins ultimately? The people of the state, regardless of what race they are. Even if the contract does not go to a Bumiputra — and there is no guarantee that this will be the case — it is far more important to enrich the more numerous taxpayers of Malaysia, including the Bumiputra. That UMNO and BN would take to the streets to protest this either suggests that like Hishammuddin Hussein, they cannot think, or that they actively want to harm the pockets of Malaysians, especially the majority Bumiputra.

Then, of course, there is the issue of hypocrisy yet again. It's not enough for UMNO and BN to vindictively proclaim that citizens living in opposition states will not get development funds; they reserve for themselves the right to take to the streets to vent their grievances while denying this same right to Malaysians not associated with them. In Penang, it is perfectly fine for UMNO to protest in the streets against the elected government of the state, while it is apparently completely wrong for activists to meet with their MPs or little girls to give the Prime Minister flowers in Parliament. Either all these things are legal, or they are not; UMNO's persistence in defending an indefensible double standard only compounds their political difficulties.

Ultimately, however, the proof is still going to be in the pudding — will the PKR-DAP-PAS states implement policies that will create a healthier and more vibrant economy? Thus far, the signs point decisively in their favour, and decisively against BN. It may not be surprising that in Penang, the various non-Malay chambers of commerce have strongly endorsed the move to a fairer economic system. What might take you by surprise is that conservative Bumiputra-based organisations have joined the movement as well, such as the Penang Bumiputra Petty Traders Association. These businessmen rightly recognise that only competition will strengthen their businesses and the economy in the long run, and create a level playing field for everyone to operate on.

When even the Penang Bumiputra Petty Traders Association is begging BN and UMNO to do away with the NEP and other cornerstones of the BN economic platform, you know that their economic stance is fundamentally bankrupt. The simple fact is, the economic future of our country lies with the pro-competition and pro-transparency economic philosophy that the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition has adopted.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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