“THERE go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” – Alexandre Ledru-Rollin
Most Malaysians are feeling economically worse off today than they were 10 years ago, youth unemployment spiked by 13% last year, Malaysia is less respected around the world, inflation is making it harder for Malaysians to buy the things they need, and a recent Pew survey found that 73% of Malaysians expected the country’s economic situation to worsen or stay the same over the following 12 months.
Najib Razak is feeling nervous about this lack of success. He has four big failures to be ashamed of.
New Economic Model
Let’s admit it: the country is never going to achieve US$15,000 (RM64,009) in gross national income (GNI) per capita by 2020.
Najib frequently blames “the slowdown in global growth” for his government missing or falling short of his own economic targets. But because of Najib’s poor understanding of the Malaysian economy, GNI per capita has decreased on his watch over the last 10 years.
According to the Asia Foundation, Malaysia will most likely not be able to climb out of its middle-income trap, “unable to move on to achieve high levels of economic growth and further economic transformation”.
These disappointments again raise one of the most important questions of the Najib era of Malaysia: can he actually deliver on what he promises?
It certainly doesn’t feel like “one Malaysia”. Despite Najib’s recent attempt to rebrand the 1Malaysia concept on Merdeka Day, his actions have degraded Malaysia into being one of the world’s most divided societies.
Not only is Najib believed to support extremists like Perkasa and the Red Shirt Malay supremacists (no different than the Charlottesville white supremacists), but he also seems to support a harsh, seventh-century hudud law in Malaysia, which legalises the amputation of limbs for theft, the stoning of adulterers, and other cruel and unusual punishments.
Worse, only 36% of each Malaysian ethnicity has shared a meal with another. Sixty percent of Malays see themselves as being Muslim first, and only 27% identify as Malaysian first.
Worse, Malaysia has more than six times the rate of Muslim citizens leaving to join the Islamic State compared with Indonesia, and polls show that roughly 11% of Malaysians (nearly three million) support IS and suicide bombings.
Far from a unified citizenry, Najib pays lip service to a “1Malaysia”, but has divided the rakyat like never before.
Half a billion ringgit wasted, Najib’s new Pemandu unit was a vanity project “tasked with facilitating the implementation of the Entry Point Projects and business opportunities that have been identified to ensure that Malaysia is transformed into a high-income nation by 2020”.
This, of course, never occurred. As the economists at Blindspot eventually found, Pemandu achieved “no real results” and habitually distorted data to inaccurately depict improvements.
Forced to cherry-pick economic data that looked good rather than portray an accurate macroeconomic view of Malaysia, Idris Jala and his surrogates were not capable of defending the prime minister’s failure to halt the 36% drop in the value of the ringgit over the last four years, nor the (still) increasing youth unemployment rate, nor other economic shortfalls.
According to a recent Financial Times survey, Malaysians are the most pessimistic in the Asean region about the state of affairs in their country. They were the only ones expecting their domestic political and economic situations to deteriorate over the following six months.
Furthermore, roughly half of Malaysians believe that children today will be worse off financially than their parents, while only 30% believe that the children will be better off.
Najib’s Global Movement of Moderates
Najib’s GMM is also spectacularly unsuccessful. After more than seven years of operation and millions of dollars lost, it is neither global, nor a movement, nor moderate.
Instead, it is a poorly designed, outrageously expensive talking shop that was doomed from the start by design: there are no mission or vision statements, no quantitative or qualitative targets to reach, no quarterly or annual progress reports, and no financial reports to show how the GMM Foundation is spending Malaysian taxpayers’ money.
It is also probably one of Najib’s slush funds.
As Johan Jaafar criticised the foundation yesterday in the New Straits Times: “At the rate things are going, GMM has a long way to go. It has to put its house in order first. It needs a strategic plan to move forward in tandem with the current demands. It needs new approaches to be effective. Intermittent noises emitting from its new headquarters make little difference.”
Despite his weak track record on mega-promises, Najib recently announced additional dreamy, lofty-sounding mega-promises (The River of Life, The Cyberjaya Innovation Fund for the Future, The Blue Pool, The Blue Ocean Entrepreneurs Township, etc).
But based on his track record, it’s time for Malaysians to tell Najib to just slow down with all the new mega-promises, and to instead, focus on the basic but crucial essentials: improving healthcare, education, employment and the economy for all Malaysians – not just a few. –