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A brave new world for Malaysia


Unfounded fear: It was quiet and peaceful in George Town on election night.

Unfounded fear: It was quiet and peaceful in George Town on election night.

ON the eve of the general election (GE14) I went to a small wet market near my house at 8.30am. To my shock, all vegetables and meat were sold out. I ended up buying some duck eggs.

Before I left, traders alerted me there would be no market on May 10, one day after polling day. Why? There might be a change of government and possible May 13 riots, they said.

I then drove to a much bigger market in Cheras to get some greens. The Chinese traders in Yulek also felt “the sky might change colour”.

Their assessment on a change in Putrajaya was more accurate than many politicians and analysts. But their fear was unfounded: there were no riots or racial clashes after the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad defeated incumbent Barisan Nasional led by former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

But to these cautious wet market traders, declaring their own “public holiday” was a pre-emptive move to avert any unexpected crisis.

As I followed the full-day drama of Dr Mahathir’s attempt to get himself sworn in as the seventh Prime Minister on Thursday, I realised why this man of the moment had declared May 10 and 11 as public holidays if Pakatan won.

His pre-emptive motive was no different from the traders. The only difference is that his stage is the country and spectre covered is wider.

Armed with a rich experience in ruling the country for 22 years from 1981 to 2003, the medical doctor must have already thought of the possible reactions of detractors, currency, bond and stock markets when declaring public holidays ahead of polling.

He had demonstrated his deft skill and foresight. And giving public holidays was his first masterly stroke in averting various possible crisis situations.

While employees rejoiced having two extra days of rest and employers complained of losing working days, continuous tension arising from the transition of power on Thursday was being calmed down.

In a viral message, Pakatan told supporters to wait patiently when the process of announcing Pakatan victory was delayed for unacceptable reasons, and the swearing-in ceremony was postponed.

After all, they had waited for five years for a power transfer, why not another 12-24 hours?

And when the tired-looking 92-year-old Dr Mahathir was finally sworn in just before 10pm on Thursday in a brief but solemn ceremony in the Palace, the nation sighed with great relief. It was a long day for the old politician, but what was critical was: there was no riot and bloodshed.

On the whole, the transfer of power on Thursday was a peaceful process in this unexpected Putrajaya change, which removed a 61-year-old regime.

This change was a stunning world news. Malaysia has now been crowned “the new icon of democracy” by foreign media. And the sexy element is: “Malaysia is now a young reborn country ruled by an old Prime Minister”.

The public holidays, plus the two-day weekend, have also stopped the transfer of panic funds out and selldown of ringgit and stocks in the local markets.

In addition, the four days also allow investors to have time to observe post-election developments and examine the new government’s policies.

The handling of post-election entry into Putrajaya in the past three days demonstrated the extraordinary leadership skills of Dr Mahathir, who had led the country out of economic crisis in 1987, 1998 and Sept 11 attacks of New York in 2001.

Though lacking in sleep for days, the man who vows to “save Malaysia” wasted no time in naming a Cabinet line-up on Saturday to get back to real business and instil confidence.

Acting on his pre-election promise, he sought royal pardon to release PM-in-waiting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was the deputy of Dr Mahathir in the 1990s but sacked by the latter in 1998.

The new PM’s speedy and steady motion proves that at 92, he is still witty and capable of leading and rebuilding a nation tarnished by the 1MDB controversy, corruption, bad-management and excesses.

Speaking at his inaugural press conference as PM for the second time, Dr Mahathir said the priority now is to implement new economic measures and to reduce the huge national debt.

He also said certain heads of departments must fall as they were “aiding and abetting a prime minister whom the world deemed as a kleptocrat.”

The new premier said he would stay on in the government as long as his experience is needed.

Offshore investors, who sold down the ringgit on Thursday for fear of political uncertainty, reversed some of their positions on Friday after observing post-election developments.

This may imply that on Monday – the first trading day after polling day, the stock market’s fall – if it happens – may not be as bad as many equity analysts have projected.

Ian Yoong, an international investment advisor, tells Sunday Star: “I expect a flood of foreign direct investments to come into Malaysia as a few foreign manufacturers I spoke to are very upbeat about our country’s prospects.

“Everyone is talking about how Malaysians brought down the ruling coalition. Respect for Malaysians is now sky high. Malaysians travelling and living abroad used to hide their nationality because of the 1MDB and other scandals. We no longer have to act like victims.”

It is noteworthy that Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, the banker brother of Najib, had written an encouraging note in his Instagram. He said:

“I wish the new PM and his team every success in building the new Malaysia. Malaysia needs recalibration, but all attempts under the old order failed due to structural rigidities and vested interest. Now you can!”

An early indication of international confidence can be discerned from a Friday report by Fitch Ratings.

The global rating agency affirmed its A- rating on Malaysia with a stable outlook, noting the election result was unlikely to lead to significant economic policy shift, although it sees a higher likelihood of fiscal and economic policy change.

The new government, formed by four political parties that have promised to rebuild Malaysia into a clean and well-managed country, has the support of the local business communities.

The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) and Federation of Manufacturers in Malaysia (FMM) pledged they will work alongside the new Government to create a business friendly environment and bring in more foreign investment to enhance economic development.

Tan Sri Michael Yeoh, CEO of think tank Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli), tells Sunday Star: “Tun will govern well as he has the knowledge and experience. He had modernised Malaysia and made it internationally known.

“In the past, he had achieved a lot in infrastructure development. He will be able to strengthen the economy. But now, he has to focus more on structural and institutional reforms. On human rights too.”

Lee Heng Guie, executive director of Socio-economic Research Institute, concurs, “I have no doubt that Tun, who had gone through various economic cycles, and his highly capable team will steer Malaysia onto a strong economic path and craft sound economic management policies.”

Many highly qualified professionals and dedicated politicians who had been imprisoned in their quest for reforms and justice, are leaders within the Pakatan coalition partners.

Says Yoong, “The biggest advantage that the Pakatan government has is that it does not have any legacy issues. There is no political baggage.

“Under the new administration, confidence in our statutory institutions, legal system, currency and government will be boosted. Cream will again rise to the top rather than scum.”

Politics , GE14 , Dr Mahathir , GE14

   

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