The call to action for saving Malaysia is necessitated by the current crisis of confidence which has permeated Malaysian society and international awareness in a way that is unprecedented in the Nation’s modern history.
The impact can be felt in all aspects, and amongst the key areas for immediate mitigation are the following:
1. Protect constitutional democracy and institutions that serve it:
Arguably the biggest concern is the erosion of the constitutional framework which protects and facilitates the functioning of democracy in the Nation. To all Malaysians, from those in Government in positions of power, to the Rakyat in the cities and Kampung, the responsibility to protect the constitutional democracy is of the utmost importance. Any patriot would place his allegiance to this above personal gain, office or other advantage.
By weakening the institutions put in place to ensure constitutional compliance, the current crisis has struck at the heart of the framework which allows democracy to function and that cannot be allowed or condoned, regardless of party, creed, race or other affiliation. Making this a rallying point will serve not only the interests of the Nation, but also align the interests of ruling and opposition political parties, intellectuals, moderates, and all citizens – who may well forgive excesses of a particular administration but not a compromise of the State itself.
The current rhetoric by UMNO party leaders in particular, whether those loyal to the administration or calling for accountability and transition, has largely ignored this subject, and we feel that by introducing a dialogue that addresses this paramount concern head-on one can speak directly to the concerns of the Rakyat, while at the same time fulfilling one’s highest duty to the State; and also staking out the moral high ground in the process.
2. Resume foreign direct investment and increase economic growth:
Foreign countries, global MNC’s, and institutional investors alike have stalled direct and financial investment, taking instead a wait and see approach for the dust to settle on the political front. Already year to date investment numbers have fallen by over $16 billion, and the potential for this trend to accelerate steeply is not only very likely, but inevitable as the footprint of this scandal grows beyond local borders into global perception.
This, taken in conjunction with the slump in global oil and gas markets, is an ominous indicator for economic decline, both on an absolute basis as well as in relation to our ASEAN neighbors and our international trading partners. To avoid joining the ranks of the poor cousins of Asia, aggressive corrective action and a corresponding shift in confidence is needed. Equally, we must equip large and small enterprise in the country with a ready and growing marketplace for their goods and services, in order to maintain a healthy economy.
Taking a proper account of the economic impact of the political crisis, it will be seen that its effects accrue across all segments of the economy, from government to private enterprise, to retail consumption and tourism. Given the long cycles for economic turnaround in large, diversified economies, this has every chance that it will translate into a major issue in 3 years in time for GE14, by which point it will be too late to try and fill the hole.
3. Protect Ringgit and halt and reverse declines from its historic lows:
The most transparent benchmark for confidence in Malaysia is the Ringgit Malaysia. The fact that the currency has broken 17 years lows against the US dollar is the clearest indication of a loss of faith both domestically and internationally, and not just in the Malaysian economy but also in its political stability and institutional credibility. To put it simply, those with a stake in Malaysia have spoken with their feet and are heading for the exit.
There is talk about pegging the currency as a means to stalling its decline. This is akin to sticking on a plaster to a severed artery. Instead of staunching the flow of capital, all that this will accomplish is the impoverishment of Bank Negara’s hard currency reserves, and a corresponding increase in the cost of doing business in and out of the Country. Besides, a peg is a short term fix and merely postpones dealing with the problem’s source.
There is no assurance that the decline will settle at any particular acceptable level either. What may now seem like a reasonable forecast can change literally in hours or days. One needs only to look at our neighbour Indonesia for this lesson to be illustrated in all its force. The knock-on effect of a rampantly deteriorating currency are comprehensive across the board, and can have extreme fallout including social agitation.
4. Minimize further damage to UMNO brand and begin its rehabilitation:
On whose watch will UMNO cease to rule? As confrontational a suggestion as that may be, it is an openly debated question on the streets of the Nation today. In fact, it is now taken as a given that power must inevitably change hands eventually, which itself was an inconceivable notion just some years back.
It is the responsibility of each and every member of the Party, and especially its leaders, to leave the brand in better shape than when they inherited it. Who can say with all honesty that they have done that in this term, and that they will do that before the next. GE14, less than 3 years away, will be a watershed for the Party one way or other. Either as the milestone in which it lost the Rakyat’s mandate, or that in which it recaptured it.
To ignore that the ruling coalition has been critically wounded is simply to ignore reality in the way that an organ whose nerves are severed from the whole may elect to do. To not feel the pain either means you are no more part of the body or that the body itself has ceased to exist. This then is an existential issue for UMNO. Actions are the only balm for this injury, and no amount of rhetoric will compensate for the hard slog of rehabilitation.
5. Ensure that BN has enough runway to prepare a new front for GE14:
The extensive scale of the current crisis, arguably unprecedented in our Nation’s history, presents a logistical challenge. Mapping out the mechanism for dismantling, fixing, and reconstructing the institutions in question, including the highest office of administration, is an herculean task. Not only does it need our best intellectual capital and dedicated hard work, but also demands the luxury of time, a resource that we do not have.
The better part of this year has seen an escalation of accusation, disclosure, and denial that has created a complex web of deception and confusion, which must now be unraveled strand by strand. Please do not labor under the delusion that in time the storm will blow over. No one has a crystal ball and no one can tell where the trajectory of this hurricane lies. Instead, every Party hand must work on the laborious task together.
UMNO owes the public a reconciliation of past accounts, and a new narrative, in advance of GE14. These two necessities for winning a fresh mandate are not mutually exclusive, but are in fact inextricably intertwined. Meaning which: one can be accomplished via the other. Only if there is a robust and credible clearing up of open questions, can there be made the space to talk about a new future. The urgency further impresses itself upon the fact that this must be accomplished ahead of the national debate that will preview the next election. To run out of runway would mean the loss of all the best intentions and effort, to the harsh hindsight of history.
6. Reverse the narrative of negative coverage in foreign press and media:
The international press has smelled blood, and they are going for the kill. While it’s true their intentions may be far from pure, they have the ammunition they need and the target in sight. The time for debating their agenda will come later, now is the time to rescue the brand of the country from the field of the hunt. It hurts every nationalistic Malaysian to see their country ridiculed and their highest office openly questioned. It compromises our ability to act as an equal on the world’s stage, and it allows others to take full advantage of our weakness.
Our approach towards foreign media has been flawed for decades, not just now. It goes back to Noddynomics and before. We should recognize we are simply fueling the fire with our attempts to shut down the discourse. Leaving aside the fact that these actions lack teeth in its bite – and therefore make us look even weaker – one must realize that drama sells stories. Instead of confrontation, collusion is the answer. Give the impression that we have learnt the lessons these so-called pundits are teaching, and there is no longer a dramatic conflict.
As any story teller knows, this removes the essential ingredient for a compelling tale. Take for a moment the notion that a stronger and more independent local press means a more direct control of the narrative, which helps achieve this essential control once and for all, instead of falling into a repetitive pattern and a mutual feeling of suspicion and mistrust. Even leaving this aside, one cannot maintain the tension of an ever increasing gap between one side and the other, such as has currently developed between local and foreign reporting.
It is essential that Malaysia presents itself to the world in the best possible light, as the benefits are numerous and favorable not just to government, but to commerce and private citizens alike. As harsh as it seems, by making the foreign press the enemy we make it easier for them to characterize us as a banana republic.
7. Decisive action that supports a new domestic dialogue on social media:
Gone are the days when propaganda can be projected upon the public in a one-way format. It can be argued, indeed, that this was never the case, but the means for the social consciousness to express themselves was stunted through control of the dialectic. In truth, Malaysian society has always been a far cry from despotic rule, and we uphold with pride our best traditions of inclusiveness, cooperation and understanding for one another.
Today, the dialogue with the public is not just two-way, but unconstrained and even enhanced by technology. Ideally there should be some regulation of this traffic so that it meets the norms of society, and eventually it will definitely be so. Some opinions expressed in social media are wild and unconstrained, but equally many in society find this platform the only avenue for honest expression of their opinions. We need to be proactive towards the social dialogue as well as reactive. To ignore the public discourse is to do so at our own peril.
Looking at the current flow of comments, it’s clear that executive actions that overreach its legitimate scope and intrude upon the rights of independent empowered overseers, is a source of much frustration and anger. Decisive action that demonstrates a new transparency, accountability and respect for the sanctity of independent bodies is needed. It is too late now to back-track, instead we must forge a new social reality. Indeed, the most resonating endorsement of a revised strategic vision will be its validation in social media. Going forward, we must give as much importance to social media in communication as to traditional media.
The above agenda calls for coordinated action by the leadership that will need buy-in from a spectrum of stakeholders that includes the senior ranks of the ruling and opposition political parties, foreign governments and corporate investors, the international media and domestic press, social media, and ultimately the Rakyat themselves. It should, by now be abundantly obvious that cosmetic dressing up and lip service will not work.
As such bold and decisive strokes are required and they must be designed to have the maximum impact on the above stakeholders and yet at the same time minimize the fall-out from change across the rank and file. This means that transition to restore confidence, must be handled by both incoming and outgoing teams with minimal disruption. How can this be done? This is the road map to be explored and adhered to, once the course is finalized.
At the KL Hilton, the lobby free WiFi password is “honestpublic”. Why? Because “honestpolitics” is not possible, according to the person in charge. If the resources of the ruling coalition can be brought to bear to change this dialogue in the public perception and social media, down to the expression of the average people’s mindset, then BN has a chance. This needs urgent, visible, and real initiative. Waiting for the storm to blow over by itself is really not an option.
The sooner we understand that the better, so that we can start to take the necessary steps.
Will we ? Can we ? Think and Reflect !