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When popularity is a bane to politicians
Publication Date : 11-10-2013
Sometimes tough measures must be taken, even if they prove unpopular.
A politician needs to be popular at all times, for his “legitimacy” comes from being elected as president of the party that commands the largest number of seats in Parliament.
There are other ways of being president of course – a former United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) president was in power for 22 years and in that time, only one election for president was ever held.
UMNO is a component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in Malaysia.
He was able to convince Supreme Council members that an election for the top posts would destroy the party.
Persuasion is an option for those who find democracy too difficult to manage.
I am sure Najib Tun Razak, who has been returned unopposed as UMNO president, wants to remain as prime minister for a few more terms, and to do so democratically so he can complete the reforms he has in mind for Umno as well as for the country.
Certain measures that the country needs are not popular but he will be doing a disservice if he abandons them just to be popular with his party and the voters.
Leadership is necessary on a number of critical issues and it is important that this message is not lost amidst the popularity contest of UMNO’s General Assembly at the end of the year.
The country’s finances are not in great shape despite what investor Marc Faber said about Malaysia being a great place to invest in.
We are in deficit and have been for many years now.
Our household debt is seriously high, even if the Malaysian central Bank Negara governor has chosen to politely describe it as “not alarming”.
Our dependence on Petronas to supplement the Budget is worrying.
The fact that the United States is also in serious deficit does not mean we can follow suit: we don’t have weapons to sell.
We must try to balance the Budget and we can only do so if we have more revenue.
The inflow of foreign money has reduced dramatically and the new mood in the United States Treasury suggests their usual “expansionary policy” will no longer be in play.
We need to be certain that if there is another financial crisis like the one in 1998, we are ready for it.
I believe it’s time the government introduced the GST – perhaps in small doses – because we desperately need to widen the tax base.
This is where a dialogue with the opposition will be useful.
The country must come first and there is no point in blaming past policies for the current state of affairs.
This new taxation will, of course, be unpopular, but we need to increase state revenue so that development efforts will not be stalled.
The opposition must play their part by not being critical of the BN government’s every development effort.
The fact that the World Bank has projected another 5 per cent GDP growth this year despite the sluggish economic environment elsewhere suggests that the government has been doing something right.
Helping small and medium-scale industries or SMIs is another must if we want to be economically viable in the new world.
The GLCs and other big companies will of course do their part to undertake long-term investments, but small businesses make up the real engine of growth for the economy. What is our master plan for them?
Which ministry will drive this important part of the economy?
I believe the economic advisers in Putrajaya will not regard SMIs as any less desirable than the more “sexy” deals they can put together overseas.
No country in this part of the world – not even Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan – would have succeeded economically if their small industries had not carried them through. Let’s emulate their success story.
The original idea that the prime minister mooted, which was to slow down “affirmative” action policies and open up the economy, must not be abandoned.
Nothing needs to be said or done before November this year, but after the party polls, economic opportunities must be made available to those who can increase productivity and induce optimum results.
Malaysia must be developed sufficiently on broad fronts, be it manufacturing, commodities or tourism.
Every Malaysian must answer the nation’s call to bring about a positive and constructive change to our country.
We want to be like South Korea and Japan. We must be richer and more powerful in more ways than Singapore.
When such calls are answered by Malaysians, they must be reciprocated with enthusiasm and given all the help they need.
The less we talk of divisive issues – better yet, of Malays and non-Malays – the better.
The more united we are, the more productive and prosperous we will become.
Finally, I hope Putrajaya will abandon some of the so-called mega projects until studies are carried out on the suitability of existing infrastructure to make such big projects viable.
I remember the announcement by Petronas that they had to defer the RM60bil Pengerang oil and gas mega plant because there was a lack of water in the area.
I can add a few more important supporting infrastructure projects that we need in southern Johor.
In Sabah and Sarawak, there has also been a spate of announcements on such big projects.
That’s understandable after this year’s general election, but I believe they can be deferred when the country’s finances are better.
This is again not a popular issue to deal with, but it needs to be done.
When Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenburg spent 4 per cent of the country’s oil revenues to balance his Budget, he lost the premiership.
We are already using 45 per cent of Petronas money to pay for salaries and to take care of expenditure – there is only so much money Petronas can give without severely damaging its own viability.
The country needs to be managed prudently and the excesses of the past must stop.
These measures will, unfortunately, be unpopular but the present prime minister must deal with them, even if his own popularity suffers.