Malaysia’s toxic UMNO gang wants another chance to make things worse

The teams that cemented the insular, low-productivity, weak-innovation policies hurting Malaysia’s 2021 are all now vying to lead the nation — again.

William Pesek, Nikkei Asia

Crises do not change a government, but reveal its true stripes

The hits just keep on coming for Malaysia’s long-troubled economy.

In the last 30 days alone, we learned not just that net foreign direct investment plunged 56% in 2020 — but why. In March, names like IBM and restaurant giant Chili’s announced exits from what once was one of Asia’s most promising economies.

Meantime, Top Glove’s stock tank after one of the biggest winners amid COVID-19 ran afoul of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials over labor practices. Authorities seized rubber gloves made in Malaysia, leaving the nation’s main industries — gloves and palm oil — under scrutiny at the very worst moment.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin would have you believe these are all isolated incidents — and that the pandemic is to blame. But they are connected and predate 2020. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a dysfunctional and smug political system to create the business climate hobbling Malaysia’s 2021.

The very headwinds bearing down on the place today were there in, say, 2019 — just easier for elected officials to hide. And the very same folks who either helped generate or enable them are pretending they just arrived out of thin air with the virus.

Take opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who once essentially held the job he is now slamming Mohamed Azmin Ali for doing poorly. To be clear, Anwar, a 1990s finance minister, is dead right about Azmin, who serves as Muhyiddin’s senior minister of international trade and industry. Anwar cannot fathom Azmin’s casual attitude toward some of globalization’s biggest names pivoting away from Malaysia.

“The IBM announcement comes after similar announcements from companies moving out of Malaysia including Hyundai and Panasonic as well as reports that other ASEAN countries are scoring big investments from the global Fortune 500 including top technology brands,” Anwar said last week.

Anwar chided Azmin and Muhyiddin’s government for thinking, wrongly, the exodus “does not matter” and that Malaysia “has the luxury of being selective” about the multinational companies that invest there.

Yet does Anwar own a mirror? Again, he is 100% right about the Muhyiddin government’s dangerous ambivalence about the economy. When Muhyiddin suddenly maneuvered Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar’s boss in the 1990s, from the premiership in March 2020, it was supposedly about getting big things done.

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William Pesek is an award-winning Tokyo-based journalist and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades.”