2009 : Watch Kuala Trerengganu And Sarawak Polls

The Kuala Terengganu and Sarawak state polls will be key tests for both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat coalitions.


What should we be looking out for this New Year? Well, the obvious answer will be the economy. The downturn caused by the subprime crisis in the United States will be the dominant issue for leaders the world over.

The global economic crisis will also have geopolitical implications. For one thing, countries like the USA and the UK – amongst the largest debtor nations in the world will have to readjust to their diminished status.

It has become rather fashionable (if it ever went out of style) as of late to speak condescendingly about American 'greed' and 'hypocrisy', given their moves to nationalize whole chunks of their financial sector and bailing out their so-called manufacturing 'champions'. It cannot be denied however, that Asia in general and Malaysia in particular still needs them to succeed.

The Americans are, after all the ultimate consumers of our elaborate manufacturing supply-chains. We 'need' them just as much, if not more than they need us. Incoming President Barack Obama hence faces the gargantuan task of reviving demand on a global scale.

This will probably mean a round of competitive currency devaluations (led by the greenback and British pound ) as Western countries seek to acquire an export-led advantage. At the same time, their leaders will need to re-educate their citizens as to what constitutes good housekeeping. It'll be a painful process for the millions who are paralysed by fear and anxiety over their futures.

"The Kuala Terengganu and Sarawak state polls will be key tests for both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat coalitions."

Obama will probably, like most world leaders resort to revive the American economy with a stimulus packages. There's also an intangible side he needs to work on, however. Americans will have to rediscover the value of good old-fashioned accounting and the principles of self-discipline, namely: spend less than you earn, save money for a rainy day and make investments you understand.

It's a daunting task, but Obama with his soaring rhetoric and calm, steady demeanour is probably the man to carry it through. One also hopes that he'll manage to resist the inevitable call for protectionist policies- which would be disastrous.

Closer to home, the private sector is in retreat and Southeast Asian governments will have no choice but to step into the breach and drive up demand. State intervention in the economy is here to stay, because it's quite possibly the only thing that can work.

Malaysian leaders will need to be adept and realistic. They shall have to anticipate and then ride the waves created by others and minimize the devastating impact of the recession on our populations.

We also need to band together as a region. Linkages through the ASEAN framework and also with regional giants like China and India need to be strengthened. The long-promised integration of the former should cease to become a buzzword and become something substantive.

Presumptive premier Najib Razak will be face a resurgent Opposition that, hiccups aside, are getting their acts together. Umno's decidedly déclassé brand of back-room style of governance will continue to be scrutinized by an increasingly sceptical populace. The Kuala Terengganu and Sarawak state polls will be key tests for both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat coalitions.

What about the rest of the region? In Thailand, the face-off between the urban elite and the rural poor will continue unabated. The same rough tactics that brought new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to power will be used against his fledging administration. The Thai government's lack of an electoral mandate will undoubtedly make it's job of administering the restive nation all the more difficult.

In the Philippines, former President Joseph Estrada (also known as 'Erap') will be seeking to regain the power that was taken from him by the dominant Forbes Park elite and incumbent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Like Thailand, the stark socio-economic divides in that country will also come to the fore and have a telling effect on its politics with polls scheduled for 2010.

Indonesia, too, goes to the voting booths, albeit in 2009. There as well, former President Megawati Sukarnoputri will challenge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the former ruling Golkar party's grip on authority. The republic, more than any country in the region will be extremely vulnerable to economic shocks and this will definitely influence the political scenario there as well.

In Singapore, the long-incumbent PAP will desperately attempt to stave off the political tsunami that has swept the globe from coming to its shores. But the recession's impact on the Singaporean underclass will also mean that things there will be far from settled as well.

So 2009 promises some interesting times indeed! While the challenges that face us are great, let us also not forget that times such as these are also moments for our leaders and citizens to demonstrate their mettle. We have every reason to be cautious, but this shouldn't stop us from also facing the New Year with a determined optimism that things can only get better.