Govt flip-flops put M’sia’s international standing at risk

The Malaysian government’s flip-flop responses and inability to co-ordinate swift and satisfactory solutions to internal crises may seriously hurt its standing with leaders of the first world countries, where importance is increasingly placed on transparency and security issues.

By Wong Choon Mei (Harakah)

Already, there is speculation that the United States may slap economic sanctions if Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration is unable to explain how two F-5E jet engines could be stolen from a military base and purportedly sold to underground arms syndicates on Washington’s blacklist.

The US is also unhappy over the recent spate of violence and vandalism against non-Muslim places of worship in Malaysia in retaliation over a court ruling that lifted a home ministry ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah.

“These are the two worrying topics that have caught the attention of the international community. But another one that is set to explode soon is the sodomy trial of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim when it begins next week,” Dr Syed Azman, head of PAS international bureau, told Harakahdaily.

“Actually, it will be Malaysia that will go on trial for the whole world to see. The corruption and the manipulation can no longer be hidden and first world leaders will surely want an explanation why they should condone and not condemn the actions of the Umno-BN government.”

Losing faith

Indeed, it may be too late for Najib, who has been accused of indecision and snail’s paced responses.The business community – both domestic and international – have already reacted.

In 2009, Malaysia registered unprecedented capital flight – about 50 percent of its GDP, which in 2008 was worth some RM739 billion. According to a UBS Securities Asia report: “Question: which Asian country had the biggest FX reserve losses in 2009? The answer is Malaysia, and by a very wide margin; we estimate that official reserves fell by well more than one-quarter on a valuation-adjusted basis.”

So far, Najib who is also Finance Minister has not explained to the Malaysian public the reasons for the latest capital flight – which dwarfs the outflows recorded during the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Even on the latest outbreak of religious bigotry, he has tried to downplay the incidents as a “minor aberration”.

“You can’t blame people from overseas forming a bad impression. Even the Malays and the whole of Malaysia is fast losing faith in their ability to govern the country. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is saying one thing today and another thing the next day. Whilst the ministers within the PM’s own department are making contradictory statements that further adds salt to the wound,” Syed Azman chided.

Since the start of this year, 10 churches, a 100-year old Sikh temple and Catholic school have been hit by assailants, widely believed to have been encouraged by the inflammatory communal rhetoric from Najib and other top Umno leaders. Although they have denied instigating the attacks to rally Malay support for their party, no arrests have yet been made. Nor have they initiated any inter-faith dialogue to find a way forward.

Meanwhile, US Commissioner for International Religious Freedom, Leonard Leo, has warned:  “How the Malaysian leadership deals with this issue will determine the political and economic future of the country”. The World Council of Churches has also expressed concern, urging “immediate action by both the government and civil society to resolve the conflict, in order to avoid renewed hostilities and escalation of violence”.

Sodomy II

But it is the second round of sodomy charges against reform icon Anwar, which may tilt the balance and deepen the growing disaffection for the Malaysian administration.

Eleven year ago, Anwar, who was once the country’s deputy prime minister, was jailed on corruption and sodomy charges that he says were fabricated by the then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to kill his rising political career.

In September 2004, about a year after Mahathir’s retirement, the Federal Court cleared Anwar of the sodomy charges and freed him. However, in 2008, as he was about to make his parliamentary comeback, a junior aide in his PKR party accused him of sodomy. Despite two hospital reports, including from the government’s own Hospital Kuala Lumpur, that found no evidence of penetration in the ‘victim’s’ anus, Najib’s administration has insisted on a full-blown trial.

“The new case replays an old script with new actors. The current script also shows the previous episode’s features of political interference, manipulation of officers in the AG’s Chambers and police, and falsification of evidence all arising from a political conspiracy to stop Anwar’s political career,” said PKR vice president Sivarasa Rasiah, who is also a member of Anwar’s legal defence team.