(Penang, Saturday): DAP is fielding the Penang state organising secretary, Goh Kheng Huat, as candidate in the Sungai Bakap by-election on Nov. 8 to give Penang voters an opportunity to pass a mid-term verdict on the Barisan Nasional after its unprecedented landslide victory in the 1995 general elections.
For months, the people have been buffetted by one crisis after another, whether it be the national haze disaster, the currency collapse or the stock market tumble.
On Thursday, there was a bloodbath in the Hong Kong stock market, twice smashing through the key 10,000-point barrier and shedding more than 16 per cent before recovering slightly at the close to register a loss of 10.41 per cent.
The bashing of Hong Kong’s stock market dragged most of South East Asia with it, and the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index fell 24.72 points from 731.17 at the beginning to 706.45 at the close of the market.
Yesterday, the Hong Kong stocks pulled back from the brink with its key Hang Seng index finishing the day up 718.04 points at 11,144.34, while the KLSE continued the slide downward to crash through the 700-point barrier to close at a four-year low at 692.39.
The KLSE slide cannot be blamed on Thursday’s bloodbath in the Hong Kong stock market, as since the 1998 Budget presented to Parliament on 17th October, both the KLSE CI and the Malaysian ringgit had sunk to a new low everyday, showing the failure of the Budget to achieve the promises given by the Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to achieve speedy recovery for the economy and to restore the Malaysian ringgit to its previous level vis-a-vis the US dollar and other foreign currencies.
The ringgit, for instance, went down to 3.27 against the US dollar immediately after the budget presentation as compared to 3.17 on the day before the budget, and at 5.02 p.m. yesterday, the ringgit had fallen to 3.3620.
The twin economic crisis have adverse far-reaching implications for the people, not only in sparking an inflationary spiral with the general increase in the price of goods but adding to the burden of Malaysians who have to support their children’s studies overseas.
As if the twin economic crisis are not enough, the people also have the third crisis of the national haze disaster, causing untold damage and losses to the economy and environment, and what should be more worrying, the adverse effects on the health of Malaysians and in particular of the young generation, which would only be manifested in ten or twenty years’ time.
How should the people react to the multiple crisis in the country. There are those, including Gerakan national leaders like Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik who argue that all Malaysians must be solidly behind the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, regardless of whether he is right or wrong, do not criticise him, do not criticise the Government, do not criticise any Barisan Nasional leader as the most important precondition for the people to face and overcome the multiple national crisis. There are even those who suggest that anyone who criticise Mahathir and the Barisan Nasional government at this stage is anti-national, unpatriotic and deserve to be locked up under the Internal Security Act.
In fact, there are those who advocate that the DAP should declare that as gesture of its full support for Mahathir Mohamad and the Barisan Nasional Government to face the multiple national crisis, we are staying out of the Sungai Bakap by-election.
Clearly, the DAP does not subscribe or accept this viewpoint. We believe that it is better to show the world that although Malaysians fully support Mahathir and the Barisan Nasional government to deal with the multiple crisis, we have enough wisdom about the importance of accountability and transparency and enough confidence in the maturity of our people and society to maintain a healthy and vibrant democracy where there is full room and space for dissent and criticism, even where it concerns the actions or statements of the Prime Minister himself.
This was why during my speech on the 1998 budget in Parliament on Monday, I said that the DAP, though an opposition party, gave full support to Mahathir as Prime Minister if the United States or any Western nation attempted to interfere in the domestic affairs of Malaysia by wanting to force a change of political leadership not to its liking. This is because whether Mahathir remained as Prime Minister was a matter strictly to be decided by Malaysians, and it was no business either of the United States or any other Western nation to dictate to Malaysia as to who should be the Prime Minister.
I had also declared in Parliament that the DAP was prepared to give full and unstinting support to the Prime Minister and the Government in efforts to overcome the twin currency and stock market crisis, and in particular, to restore confidence in the Malaysian economy.
However this was not a blind support, and this was why I stressed in my speech in Parliament:
"We cannot, however, give a blank-cheque of support, such as endorsing the various outbursts by Mahathir which had led to new rounds of crisis in the currency and the stockmarket, and we would urge the Prime Minister to exercise the fullest of restraint in his pronouncements at this delicate stage of trying to restore confidence in the economy unless he substantiate his allegations - like the allegation that there is a Jewish conspiracy and agenda to undermine the Malaysian economy.
"For instance, we cannot countenance the condemnation of Malaysians who have dissenting views from those of the Government as ‘traitors’ or the threat to invoke the Internal Security Act against journalists, writers, financial analysts and economists who dare to depart from the official line - and for a period in August, the crisis atmosphere in Malaysia was so ominous that many thought there could be a repetition of Operation Lalang ten years ago with mass arrests of dissenters - which only deepened the sense of economic and national crisis in the country."
The DAP has always been a constructive party, which never oppose for the sake of opposition, and which always put the interests of the people and nation above everything else.
This was why in Parliament on Monday, I expressed the DAP’s support for Mahathir’s proposal for international regulation to prevent abuses and manipulation in the international money market, whether it be in the form of an turnover tax suggested by Nobel laureate James Tobin of Yale University or the proposals by another Nobel laureate, Lawrence Klein, of regional monetary arrangements and the introduction of "circuit-breakers" into the international monetary system.
We want the Government however to seriously consider our proposals, such as the Cabinet taking the political decision to renegotiate the contract to end the provision allowing PLUS to impose an annual increase of the North-South Expressway toll rate for the next 21 years until 2018, as Malaysians had paid PLUS over RM3.2 billion in toll for the use of the North-South Expressway by June this year.
If the Cabinet is not prepared to make such a political decision on the North-South Expressway, then let the people of voters of Sungai Bakap speak out and clear in the by-election on this issue.
There is no doubt that one disaster of the 1995 general election is the lack of an effective opposition in the Penang State Assembly to provide proper check and balance to act as the people’s watchdog over the wrongdoings of the Penang State Government.
Sdri. Chong Eng had tried her valiant best in the Penang State Assembly, but a lone voice remains a lone voice, however courageous her performance. She could not even get a seconder to move her motion from the Standing Order to a debate in the Assembly floor.
Another DAP Assembly representative in Penang would definitely make the Penang State Assembly a more healthy and more wholesome place.
Having said this, I concede that we have hardly any chance of winning the Sungai Bakap seat, and this is why I had said that if the DAP can win in a Barisan Nasional stronghold like Sungai Bakap, this would be akin to a political earthquake of Richter 7 proportion.
If there could be such a Richter 7 by-election result, it would do immense good for the people of Sungai Bakap who would stand to gain benefits they could never dream of in the 28-year rule of Gerakan in Penang. It would also do immense good for the people of Penang as well as of the whole country.
However, I do not expect a Richter 7-scale political earthquake in Sungai Bakap on 8th November.