Mahathir should ask himself whether he is part of the solution or part of the problem of the protracted national crisis faced by Malaysia

- Sympathy, Support and Solidarity with Lim Guan Eng 
Tanjong DAP Dinner

by Lim Kit Siang  

(Penang, Friday): Tonight’s successful gathering in sympathy, support and solidarity with Lim Guan Eng serves notice that the people of  Tanjong and Penang are back in the forefront of the national political crusade for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance on the eve of the new millennium.

Malaysians are outraged by the injustice in the Lim Guan Eng case, where an MP who went to the aid of a  weak and defenceless underaged 15-year-old girl against the mighty and powerful was prosecuted and sentenced to 36 months’ jail, the girl herself was detained, while the accused was able to get off scotfree to even plan a political comeback for the highest stakes in the land.

The Lim Guan Eng case is not just about injustice to one person, but about injustices to all Malaysians and the need for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance for the people.

The campaign for Lim Guan Eng transcends any personality, race, religion or party politics but concerns the right of all Malaysians to justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

This was why in Kuala Lumpur last night,  there was a  Sympathy, Support and Solidarity Round Table Conference with representatives from various political parties, such as  Mohamad Sabu, MP and Syed Ibrahim from Parti Islam,  Dr. Sanusi Othman from Parti Rakyat,  Dr. Mohamad Nasir who is seeking application for a new political party, the Socialist Party of Malaysia, apart from Sdr. Ahmad Nor, Sdr. Muluk Daud, Lim Guan Eng and myself.
We welcome leaders and members from UMNO, MCA, Gerakan, MIC or any other Barisan Nasional component party if they are prepared to put aside their party differences and take a common position with all other Malaysians on the fundamental issues  of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

In future,  invitations will be extended to representatives of  UMNO, MCA, Gerakan and MIC  and we hope that there would be positive responses from them to participate and support the campaign for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

Malaysia is entering the 12th month of the worst economic crisis in the history of  the country, with no light at the end of the tunnel.  In fact, the economic  prospect  today is even worse than in January this year when the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made the forecast of an economic recovery from six months to a year - or when the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik corrected the Prime Minister by declaring that economic recovery could come faster in three months!

In January itself, I had responded to Mahathir’s forecast of a national economic recovery in six months to a year by making many calls, including during a ceramah in Penang on the national economic crisis, that the government and the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) and the government should be frank with Malaysians by telling them to be prepared for the worst six months of the national economic crisis instead of creating an euphoria that there could be an economic recovery in the next six months to a year.

I was regarded by the government as irresponsible and alarmist at the time. Now, it is clear that I had been conservative and from all indications, the next 12 to 18 months to the year 2,000 could  be even worse months than the past one year of the national economic crisis.

In January this year, most economists and analysts were talking of a time-frame of two to three years for a full  economic recovery from the Asian economic turmoils. Now, more and more are talking in terms of a time-frame of four to five years.

Furthermore, more and more local economists and analysts are following the example of their foreign counterparts in predicting a contraction in the Malaysian gross domestic product this year - in contrast to the government’s third revised forecast of two to three per cent GDP growth of this year.  Now, more and more analysts are forecasting a negative growth of one to two per cent for Malaysia this year.

Another indicator of the failure of the government to restore confidence and the deep economic troubles facing Malaysia  was the lukewarm foreign investor response to the various foreign trips by government leaders to woo foreign capital.

For instance, Anwar visited New York in the middle of last month and  met and assured American bankers, fund managers and  insurers  on April 14 that "the worst is over for Malaysia’s economy and that the country is recovering".

From the reactions of the American bankers, fund managers and insurers, it was clear that Anwar’s assurance was not very convincing and their reservations were not misplaced.

On April 14, the KLSE Composite Index registered 664.48 points, but it never looked back in its downward decline, falling to 625.97 on April 30, and crashing through the 600-point barrier on May 6. Today, the KLSE Composite Index closed at 538.24.

Lack of investor confidence is also  why there was such desultory response to various government measures which should have boosted confidence, as the announcement of  the establishment of the Asset Management Corporation (AMC) announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, on 20th May.

The AMC is to be modelled after the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) of the United States to give the country’s banks a clean bill of health and restore investors’ confidence by buying over the non-performing loans (NPLs) and assets from banks at market price and revive and later sell them at higher prices.

According to one conservative estimate, the  total NPLs in the banking system is around RM37 billion currently and is expected to rise to above RM100 billion within the next two years, and that that AMC would eventually need approximately RM40 billion.

Although Anwar had repeatedly stressed that the AMC would not be a government bail-out agency, the government has  not been able to allay investor skepticism about the AMC not ending up as a government bail-out agency for troubled companies which special connections.

This was why the AMC announcement  had so little effect on the KLSE. True, the following day, investors welcomed the move to set up the AMC with the benchmark KLSE Composite Index rising 26.90 points to a high of 596.09 points before easing off to close 24.43 points higher at 593.62.

But the KLSE had not been able to sustain such a bullish sentiment and had continued to plunge until its KLSE benchmark reached 538.24 points  at the close of trading today, which is the ninth lowest day  registered by the KLSE in the past 11 months of the crisis - and from all indications, the bottom has not been reached yet.

In recent weeks, various momentous events had taken place in South East Asia, where what was once thought unthinkable suddenly became so inevitable.

The toppling of Suharto after 32 years of autocratic rule is one such example. The Suharto downfall is the best lesson that there can be no effective economic reforms without political reforms.

Suharto had to go because  all sectors of the Indonesian society came to the consensus that he had become part of the problem and no more part of the solution of the Indonesian national crisis.

Such a similar question has to be posed in Malaysia, whether Mahathir is part of the problem of the multiple Malaysian crises, causing the national crisis to become so intractable and insoluble, and that he is no more part of the solution.

Mahathir’s speech to the Harvard project for Asian and International Relations Conference 1998 yesterday where he warned about the dangers of "absolute capitalism" invites such a question.

Capitalism untrammelled is an enormous menace to humanity and this is why DAP advocates social democracy where priority is given to social justice.

However, Mahathir’s railing against the so-called "absolute capitalism" is rather suspect as he did not seem to be very opposed to "absolute capitalism" domestically, or crony capitalism.

The target of Mahathir’s ire was clearly  international finance capital, but if Mahathir has concluded that international finance capital was the culprit for the Asian economic turmoils turning the Asian "tiger" into "kitten" economies, and that they are not welcome in Malaysia, then there should be basic consistency among government leaders on the issue. Instead, what we have is  the spectacle of the Malaysian  government leaders  caught in the maw of contradictions,   where on the one hand, the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister goes overseas to woo foreign capital while the Prime Minister keeps up his campaign of vituperation against foreign capital.

However, what is even more significant about Mahathir’s speech yesterday is his clear defence of Suharto’s authoritarian system of crony capitalism known by its Indonesian acronym of KKN - Corruption, Collusion and Nepotism, and his blaming of international finance capital for bringing about Suharto’s overthrow.

Mahathir has the distinction of being the last foreign leader to defend Suharto before his fall.  Mahathir met Suharto in Cairo  for the G-15 Meeting and even pledged his support for Suharto, declaring that there were attempts to topple President Suharto by outsiders just as for Malaysia, "there are attempts to topple me by outsiders".

Mahathir should be more explicit and state whether he is blaming an international conspiracy for the downfall of Suharto.

Be that as it may, there is a clear and present danger that although Malaysia is not as badly hit by the Asian turmoil as other countries like Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia, Malaysia may lag behind them in economic recovery because of the "denial syndrome" of the Malaysian government leaders and their refusal to concede the need for political reforms before there could be meaningful economic reforms.

In the past 11 months of the worst economic crisis in the country, Mahathir had rejected calls for political reforms for greater democratisation of the political process with greater accountability and transparency, a determined war against corruption and abuses of power, an end to crony capitalism, more freedom of expression and greater press freedom and the encouragement of a vibrant civil society to reflect popular wishes and concerns.

The question that was posed about Suharto and which finally yielded a negative answer,  whether  he had become part of the problem and no more part of the solution of the Indonesian national crisis, must now be posed to Mahathir if he refuses to acknowledge the need for wide-ranging political, economic and financial reforms to address the worst economic crisis in the country.

Finally, if Penang is to become the engine-head of a national people’s campaign for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance, let Penang be the first state to pose the question whether Mahathir is  part of the solution or part of the  problem of the protracted and intractable multiple Malaysian national crises.

For a start, Mahathir should  give serious thought and answer to Malaysians whether  he is part of the solution or part of the problem of the Malaysian national crises.


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