Keng Yaik's gratuitous reaction strengthens my case that a major Cabinet reshuffle is long overdue to bring in new blood, new faces, new thinking and new mindset to tide Malaysia through the economic crisis as well as prepare the country for the challenges of the new millennium


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The gratuitous reaction and comments by the Gerakan President and Minister for Primary Industries, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik strengthens my case that a major Cabinet reshuffle is long overdue to bring in new blood, new faces, new thinking and new mindset to tide Malaysia through the economic crisis as well as prepare the country for the challenges of the new millennium.

In Ayer Tawar yesterday, Keng Yaik said two things:

Firstly, that I was trying to divert the people's attention to politics when I made public my "imagination" of a snap election coming up within the next six months. He said: "Kit Siang is fishing in troubled waters…with the economic situation that the country is facing, he is only trying to get political mileage by coming up with such a statement. I advise the people not to listen to him (about the snap election), the economic situation will only worsen because people will divert their attention to politics and stop contributing towards improving the country's economy". (New Straits Times)

Secondly, he accused me of undermining the people's confidence in the government's strategy to address the national economic crisis.(Sin Chew Jit Poh).

It is significant that in the same NST report, another Cabinet Minister and MIC President, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, when asked to comment on my statement, said MIC was prepared to face a general election should it be called before the current term expired. He said: "We are always ready. So we do not worry about elections. In fact, I already have candidates for the next general election."

The China Press in a report today under the heading "Government Opposition Prepare for early general elections - Speculation on General Elections this year" and Kwong Wah Yit Poh in a report under the heading "Possible Snap Elections in Mid-Year" both reported of preparations being made by Barisan Nasional component parties, whether UMNO, MCA or Gerakan, for early general elections.

The China Press reported that the leaders of various Barisan Nasional component parties had recently been told to get ready for early general elections, although no one could confirm whether there would be general elections this year as the prerogative of deciding when to call general elections is exclusively in the hands of the Prime Minister. Several MCA MPs also confirmed that they had heard of the possibility of early general elections, especially as UMNO, MCA and Gerakan have brought forward their party national conferences by two to three months this year.

Kwong Wah also reported of a general elections workcamp organised by Penang Gerakan recently.

In actual fact, it was another of Keng Yaik's Cabinet colleague, the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, who was the first national leader to go round the country to talk about the possibility of early general elections to MCA leaders.

The previous Sunday, 11th January 1998, Nanyang Siang Pau in a report headlined "National General Elections might be brought forward", referred to a recent visit to Malacca by Liong Sik where he asked the MCA in various areas to finalise their candidate proposals.

Why didn't Keng Yaik accuse Liong Sik of "fishing in troubled waters" and "diverting the people's attention to politics"?

At the Penang DAP ceramah on the economic crisis last Friday, I had referred to the possibility of general elections being held before SUKOM in September and the APEC Summit in November this year as the conventional wisdom was that general elections would only be held after these two high points in the political career of the Prime Minister.

Malaysian economists and economic research institutes have expressed the view that it would be another year before the economic crisis reaches rock bottom and 18 to 24 months before there is an economic turnaround

I was however baffled by Mahathir’s statement in the TV3 Malaysia Hari Ini (MHI) programme on 9th November when he expressed confidence that there would be economic recovery in six months to a year. This "economic recovery in six months" theme was immediately taken up like a chorus by other Cabinet Ministers and government officials.

I was surprised for five reasons:

In view of this, I wondered whether the message of six-month recovery is more a political statement than an economic one.

One way to remove the subject of snap general elections from being a distraction in the fight against national economic crisis is for Mahathir to announce categorically that there is no such possibility

If the government is confident of an economic recovery in six months to a year, then there would be no snap general elections before SUKOM and the APEC Summit. However, if the government is not at all confident of an economic recovery in six months to a year, then it would have very powerful reasons to hold general elections before September this year.

I had absolutely no intention of "diverting the people’s attention" to politics when I commented on the possibility of snap general elections before SUKOM and APEC Summit, as stressed what all Malaysians "should all be more concerned about is not the next general elections, but the deepening economic crisis, which will get worse before it can get better".

One way to remove the subject of snap general elections from being a distraction in the fight against national economic crisis is for Mahathir to announce categorically that there is no such possibility.

Would Keng Yaik raise this matter at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting and suggest that Mahathir make such a public announcement that there is absolutely no possibility of his calling snap general elections before SUKOM and APEC Summit, so that there could be no distraction whatsoever of the people from the national economic crisis?

The biggest cause of the loss of public and market confidence is the government’s "denial syndrome" and refusal to admit to its policy mistakes and weaknesses in handling the economic crisis

I am not surprised that Keng Yaik has made the allegation that I am through my speeches and statements undermining the people's confidence in the government's strategy to address the national economic crisis.

I had expected such an allegation to be made, except I did not know who would be the first Barisan Nasional leader who would be irresponsible and reckless enough to make it.

This was the reason why many Malaysians, worried that I might again jeopardise my personal liberty by speaking up during the economic crisis, had advised me to lie low in case of a new wave of repression in the form of a second Operation Lalang of mass detentions under the Internal Security Act if scapegoats have to be found to distract public attention from the failure to grapple with the root problems of the national economic crisis.

It is no surprise that there would be those who would even demand that Opposition leaders who "undermine the people’s confidence in the government’s strategy to address the national economic crisis" should be regarded as economic saboteurs and arrested under the Internal Security Act for committing economic crimes of wanting to ruin the national economy.

It would be tragic for the country if these wild, irresponsible and reckless voices are one day transformed into official policy.

This is because in the past seven months, the biggest cause of the loss of public and market confidence is the government’s "denial syndrome" and most important of all, the refusal to admit that although the economic crisis was externally-induced, it had been internally-aggravated by a long catalogue of self-inflicted wounds arising from the government’s policy mistakes and disastrous decisions - the latest of which was the Foreign Investment Committee’s (FIC) reinstatement of the waiver to UEM from having to make a general mandatory offer in connection with its RM2.34 billion acquisition of 32.6 per cent stake in Renong.

This morning, when the Kuala Lumpur Stock Market staged a strong rally, with about 172 counters achieving a 30 per cent limit-up when the KLSE Composite Index was at its best at 544.21 points or up 44.4 points at 10.45 a.m., both UEM and Renong had lacklustre increases of 31 sen and 12 sen to RM2.24 and 86 sen respectively.

I had said again and again in public meetings that it served no purpose at the moment to finger-point who is responsible for the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, as the paramount concern of all Malaysians is how to bring the government, society and people to respond as one unit to tide the country through the economic crisis in as short a time as possible and with the minimum of avoidable pain, sufferings and hardships to the people.

However, if Keng Yaik wants to start the process of finger-pointing, making the preposterous allegation that I am undermining the people’s confidence in the government, then Keng Yaik should realise he must accept responsibility as a member of the Cabinet not only for the failure of the government to restore confidence, but also for the numerous self-inflicted wounds caused by the government causing market and public confidence to plunge from one low point to another lower point.

What did Keng Yaik do as senior economic Cabinet Minister to get the Cabinet to take corrective measures to stop the government from aggravating the crisis of confidence?

Instead of thanking voices which are seeking to get the government to give priority focus to the restoration of confidence, not just through words but through radical political, economic and financial reforms, Keng Yaik seems to be more interested in joining the ranks of those who want to shut off such voices.

Keng Yaik seems to have made a basic policy choice - that during the national economic crisis, there should be more repression rather than more democracy!

(19/1/98)


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong