30 days on, 1 Malaysia is found wanting

(The Malaysian Insider) MAY 3 – Thirty days after taking over as Malaysia’s sixth prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has yet to impress Malaysians or get the opposition to tremble in their boots.

True, he has announced a slew of measures to free up the economy and some ISA detainees, unshackle opposition newspapers but the moves are half-hearted, to say the least.

His 1 Malaysia philosophy has yet to be fleshed out although others have tried to give it form and function. However, all agree its not Malaysian Malaysia.

That remains his one ace up the sleeve to change and reform the ruling coalition and federal government to retain and regain trust from an increasingly disillusioned electorate.

The laundry list of electoral losses after the historic Election 2008 point to the fact that Barisan Nasional has yet to wake up to the reality of Malaysia in the 21st century.

Najib’s 1 Malaysia slogan “People First, Performance Now” acutely and accurately captures his challenges ahead of the next general election but actual delivery thus far has been found wanting.

Meanwhile, the economy continues to soften as the stimulus package trickles to take effect.

The 27 economic sub-sectors freed from Bumiputera equity quotas have never been those that have had much Malay interest in the first place.

Liberalising the financial sector with nine new licences at a time when lenders and insurers across the world are consolidating has been greeted with yawns from the markets. Especially seeing as Malaysia had been asking the banks to merge over the years, with some 50 at its height now just in the low teens.

The foreign equity limits for the domestic commercial banks are still at 30 per cent, disappointing investors who can take up shares now tightly held by GLCs. Fact is, like the foreign banks, Malaysian banks are also looking at lucrative markets abroad.

“The measures are too little, too late and not much of a bang,” an Umno leader admitted to The Malaysian Insider.

And of the 13 ISA detainees freed, the two Hindraf leaders still have to report to the police and cannot speak to the media.

Some 30 others languish at the Kamunting Detention Centre, including several recent arrests. Kota Alam Shah assemblyman M. Manoharan is contemplating resigning his seat due to his continued incarceration.

The legal advisor to the now-outlawed Hindraf won the seat on a DAP ticket while in Kamunting but he and his family find it a burden to serve and represent the constituency.

DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang today urged Najib to free them all, saying: “I call on Najib to immediately and unconditionally release the three Hindraf leaders, Manoharan, P. Uthayakumar  and T. Vasanthakumar under ISA detention or his slogan of  ‘1 Malaysia. People First. Performance Now’ will be swiftly be reduced to a joke.”

Najib has also lifted suspensions on two opposition newspapers Harakah and Suara Keadilan but they still complain newsvendors are harassed for selling the members-only party organ.

All these are issues being exploited by a resurgent opposition under Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who has melded them into the Pakatan Rakyat.

In the marketplace of opinions and ideas, the Pakatan Rakyat is way ahead of Barisan Nasional despite some differences in the electoral pact.

“Pakatan Rakyat is not threatened yet by Najib as his 1 Malaysia and policies have yet to bite,” a PAS official told The Malaysian Insider.

He said the 1 Malaysia concept will only be a threat it is fleshed out and becomes clear in policies and implementation.

“They can’t make up their mind on what it is. It’s just words, even the Cabinet decision on children’s faith is a paper tiger,” he said, referring to the conversions controversy by new Muslim converts and their children.

But Umno’s Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said it’s still early days for the Najib administration.

“It’s just a month and changes take time. Reforms are not like instant noodles that only need two minutes,” he said, pointing out the difficulties dogging the opposition in their effort to implement  reforms at state level.