DAPís Eve-of-Millennium Challenge: A New DAP to build a New Malaysia starting with the denial of two-thirds parliamentary majority of the Barisan Nasional in the coming general elections

- 12th  DAP National Congress 

by Lim Kit Siang  

(Kuala Lumpur, Saturday): The 630 delegates meeting at the 12th DAP National Congress in Kuala Lumpur today have two great tasks.

The first is whether the DAP can take up the eve-of-millennium challenge  - to forge a New DAP to build a New Malaysia starting with the denial of two-thirds parliamentary majority of the Barisan Nasional in the coming general elections.

In the past five months, following the national outrage at the patent injustice of the  selective prosecution of Lim Guan Eng,  who will begin his jail sentence on Monday, August 24, 1998 if the Federal Court upholds the Court of Appeal conviction and 36-month sentence for Sedition Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Support, Sympathy and Solidarity with Lim Guan Eng campaign which has broadened into a parallel  national movement for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance received tremendous support from Malaysians from all walks of life and strata of society, transcending racial, religious, linguistic and cultural barriers.

This has  created  a new political phenomenon which holds out a great promise of political change and maturity in Malaysia, where for the first time in Malaysian political history, the possibility of denying the Barisan Nasional two-thirds parliamentary majority in the next general elections is real and near. A New Malaysia is waiting to be born.

I do not expect the next general elections to be far away. In fact, I expect to win the 10-sen wager with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as to whether  general elections would be held this year.

I would prefer to lose my 10-sen wager with Mahathir as this is the time for the country to focus all its energies on economic recovery rather than politicking for general elections - but finally, what will decide the date for the next polls is not my 10-sen wager with Mahathir but his assessment as to whether the worst of the economic crisis is still to come or whether the country has achieved the economic turnaround and  on the way towards economic recovery.

A week ago, when in Kota Kinabalu in what could be his traditional pre-general elections state-by-state roadshow, Mahathir spoke of "shocking measures" to overcome the worst economic crisis facing the nation.

Mahathirís "shocking measures" announcement last Saturday caused a new plummetting of market confidence with a 3.6 per cent slide at the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE) the following Monday, causing the KLSE Composite Index (CI)   to fall to a   10-year low, i.e. down 11.74 points to 316.24 points, which slipped to 315.66 points the following day. Although the KLSE CI  rebounded by 27.81 points on Wednesday and  and another 7.57 points on Thursday to climb to 351.04 points, it crashed by 26.98 points yesterday to land at 324.06 points.

When making the announcement of the "shocking measures", Mahathir had tried to assure Malaysians.

He said:

However, these statements are not assuring at all.  Mahathir said that "every time the government had acted, it had thought about it deeply to ensure that it was only for the peopleís benefit", but for the past 14 months, the economic crisis have escalated from the original government forecast of 5% to 7% GDP growth for this year, to 4%-5% growth, then 2%-3% growth and last month to a contraction of -1% to  -2% for 1998 - while economists and financial analsysts are projecting -5% GDP contraction for this year.

As a result of the unprecedented plunge of the KLSE and the  faltering Malaysian ringgit, with no sign of a recovery,  economic analysts are talking about the KLSE CI falling to between  280 and 300 points in the near to medium term, something which was completely unthinkable exactly a month  ago when the National Economic Recovery Plan (NERP) was announced with  great fanfare by Tun Daim Zainuddin, the Special Functions Minister for Economic Affairs  on July 23.

During the last  recession in the 80s,  the stock market's composition index fell to 170 points in June 1986.  Can the KLSE CI fall below the 170-point level in the current economic crisis, which has not seen the worst yet?

Stanley Morgan Dean Witter Research, which was quoted favourably  by the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) when it defended its NERP proposals,  in its exchange rate  projections  on August 7, 1998 made the forecast that   the Malaysian ringgit would  weaken to RM4.75 to the US dollar at the end of 1998 and RM5.30 to the US dollar at the end of 1999.

Although the NERP, dubbed as the economic salvation plan, was announced a month  ago, it had not only failed to restore the economy, it had failed to prevent the economy from a runaway worsening of the economic crisis,  as evidenced by the drop of more than 100 points of the KLSE CI, the continued faltering of the Malaysian ringgit and the forced cancellation of the trips overseas by the Deputy Prime Minister and  Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Daim Zainuddin to go overseas to raise RM8.4 billion ringgit bonds from international financial institutions as a result of a three-notch downgrading of the sovereign credit rating by Moody's International Investors Inc, Standard and Poor and Thomson Bankwatch.

Apart from the internal factors resulting in the failure in the confidence-restoration efforts of the government, there are also very potent  external factors.

I am not talking about Soros and an international Jewish conspiracy, but the increasing concerns that the Japanese economy is in worse shape than earlier feared, as there is very little market confidence in the new Japanese  Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi as  the right man to tackle Japan's  problems, especially its critically-ill financial sector.

If the Japanese yen fall to 160 or even lower against the US dollar, it will cause pressures which might make it impossible for the Chinese renmimbi to resist a devaluation, which would spark off a second round of the Asian economic turmoils, making the recession of the eighties a  child-play.

When Mahathir talked  about "shocking" measures  that have to be taken in the economic crisis, has the government come around to agree with these bleak and gloomy economic prospects for the short and medium-term?

For instance, when Mahathir talks about "measures which may shock us", who are the people who will be "shocked" - is it the ordinary  people at large or those handful whose squandering ways with mega-loans have landed not only themselves in trouble, but the whole economy and the innocent Malaysian population as well?

What is even more important, are  these "shocking" measures economic or political in nature, and if the latter, is the government thinking of a major  change of the present power structure in the country or a major crackdown against dissent as a second Operation Lalang of mass arrests under the Internal Security Act?

Mahathir rightly said  that in any tough measures, the government needs the peopleís unwavering support and confidence. But the people can only give the government unwavering support and confidence if the goverment reciprocates by taking the people into its full confidence shares all the pertinent information about the economic crisis with the people, instead of keeping them in the dark about the governmentís real plans and intentions.

Mahathir should stop talking in riddles about the "shocking measures" needed to over the national economic crisis, but should spell them out publicly to allow the fullest national debate as to whether these "shocking measures" are appropriate and acceptable to Malaysians.

This is why the DAP calls for the convening of an emergency meeting of Parliament to fully prepare the country for the very tough times in the coming months and years as Parliament cannot wait for another two months before it meets again.

I hope the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad would agree to the establishment of an all-party Parliamentary Committee on the Economic Crisis to monitor the progress of the NERP to effect an economic turnaround and recovery, as well as  to provide a regular  forum for MPs to communicate to the authorities the views, concerns and aspirations of the people about the economic crisis so that the government could have "unwavering support and confidence" from the people when tough and shocking measures have to be taken to deal with the worst economic crisis in the nation's history.

I am glad that after my proposal for a weekly NERP progress report, Daim announced that the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) would provide a fortnightly progress report on the implementation of recommendations stated in the NERP.   When wasnít the  first NERP fortnightly report released on  August 18 as the NEAC has promised to release the progress reports on the first and third Tuesday of each month?

It is reported today that the NERP will finally be on sale to the public from tomorrow.  It does not speak well for the efficiency, competence and professionalism of the NEAC that it has to take more than one month to make the NERP available to the public - especially when the DAP had put the NERP on public sale at our Economic Forum more than a fortnight ago.

The NEAC should not try to make money from the NERP sale but should reduce its RM20 price to RM5 a copy so that NERP could become a Peopleís Plan, discussed and studied by every Malaysian.

The NERP has made numerous proposals and recommendations, but is it merely a long wish-list of things that should be done, or are they serious proposals which are to be implemented by the government?

Both the NEAC and the government have  been guilty of sins which the NERP had identified as among  the reasons  for the failure in confidence-restoration efforts so far: credibility and consistency of government policies.

While Mahathir is for the first time painting the worst economic scenario in 14 months of economic crisis, warning of "shocking measures" as the worst is yet to come, his  economic czar, the Special Functions Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin is doing the opposite.

Daim said in Sungai Petani yesterday that "positive signs of an economic recovery have been seen in the past weeks with prospects of the economy improving further towards the end of the yerar".

If Daim is right that economic recovery is just around the corner, why is Mahathir talking about "shocking measures"?

The NERP has recommended the timely release of economic and financial data to the people, but which has not been acted upon - as the government has not yet released data and statistics of the Malaysian economic performance  for the Second Quarter when other countries have already  done so.

How are the second quarterly economic indices for Malaysia?  The NEAC and the Cabinet Ministers have very high opinion of the American financial services group  Stanley Morgan, for it was also  quoted by the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng on Monday as having given the "thumbs-up" for Malaysiaís macroeconomic policies as being  "among the most appropriate for the region".

On Wednesday, 19th August 1998, Stanley Morgan Dean Witter Research released its forecast of a  negative -4% GDP contraction for the second quarter, after the -1.8 per cent GDP contraction for the first quarter.  The government should not delay any further the release of the second quarterly data on the Malaysian economy.

It is a national tragedy that 13 months after the worst economic crisis, the NERP, the plan to chart the economic turnaround and recovery, is still talking about the paramount importance of confidence-restoration, which seems to be even more elusive in the past one month.

It is clear that the deepening political crisis in the top  government leadership  is undermining any economic turnaround and recovery, as seen by the waves of rumours about the the crisis in the political leadership in government, as evidenced the country have two Finance Minister, the relationship between the  No. 1 and No.2 the perennial issue of whether the Anwar Ibrahim would step down as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

For Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Ghaffar Baba, who has been brought out by Mahathir to do yeoman service, made a very interesting remark in Kuantan yesterday, suggesting early general elections as beneficial to the Barisan Nasional before the economic crisis worsens further.

This is the latest indication that I might be winning my 10-wager with Mahathir that general elections would be held this year. In fact, I would not be surprised if Parliament is dissolved immediately after SUKOM on in the third week of September and polling is held around mid-October - to avoid the full ravages of the La-Nina phenomenon bringing heavy rain and floods to the country.

The next general elections may be a watershed in Malaysian politics - the denial of the two-thirds majority of the Barisan Nasional in Parliament.  Whether general elections are held this year or next year, the Barisan Nasional is assured of Federal power.

However, there have been deep-seated stirrings in the country for  change as  Malaysians want their aspirations for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance to be taken seriously by the Government, which is not possible when the government has a fifth-sixth majority in Parliament.

The Barisan Nasionalís unprecedented landslide victory in the April 1995 general elections is the root cause for the multitude of crises facing Malaysians, not just the worst economic crisis in the nationís history, but water shortage crisis in a country abundant with rainfall, the haze disaster, the information deficit crisis, the crisis of confidence in the judiciary, etc.

This was why the DAP scored a Richter-6 by-election victory in Teluk Intan in May last year and PAS scored a Richter-5 by-election victory in Arau recently.  If there is a Teluk Intan wind in the next general elections, 27 MCA and Gerakan parliamentary seats are not safe; and if there is an Arau wind in the next general elections, 23 UMNO parliamentary seats would not be safe.

There is not need for the Teluk Intan wind and the Arau wind to blow full-steam - for if there half the Teluk Intan wind and the Arau wind in the next general elections, Malaysia would have made history in denying the Barisan Nasional its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in Malaysian history.  This would have far-reaching political consequences, unleashing forces which could only be for the good to promote justice, freedom, democracy and good governance for Malaysians.

This is the first challenge of the DAP at this Congress - to rise up to the eve-of-millennium challenge -  a New DAP to build a New Malaysia starting with the denial of two-thirds parliamentary majority of the Barisan Nasional in the coming general elections.

This the time for the DAP to build a grand coalition with other opposition parties, NGOs and like-minded Malaysians for the cause of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

The second challenge of the DAP Congress is to to save DAP from its worst crisis in 32 years, elect an united and solid Central Executive Committee and move ahead immediately to translate the unprecedented political possibility of denying the Barisan Nasional two-thirds parliamentary majority into a reality in the next general elections.

The Congress must send out a clear and unmistakable message to friends and foes alike - the end of  the DAPís worst crisis in 32 years, so that the Party can  turn its back to the party turmoils of the past three months and  march in unison with confidence and vision  to focus undivided attention on the historic mission to write a new political chapter in Malaysian history, starting with the denial of the Barisan Nasionalís two-thirds parliamentary majority in the next general elections.

This is the time when all Party leaders, members and supporters should unite to give the fullest support, sympathy and solidarity to Lim Guan Eng, who may have only two  days of freedom left.

 The Amnesty International representative who will  be an observer at the Federal Court appeal has arrived in Kuala Lumpur, and other organisations like the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Bar Council, are expected to send observers to the Federal Court Appeal.
Forty non-government organisations, including ABIM, Aliran, Suaram, JUST, MTUC,  TENAGANITA, AWAM, Perak Consumersí Association, COAC, have also expressed their concern about the Federal Court hearing, expressing their disappointment and grave concern at the rejection of Guan Engís application for a nine-man bench at the Federal Court hearing on August 24, in view of the importance of the case and its far-reaching public policy implications.

Malaysians and international opinion are united in their belief  that Guan Eng is a victim of selective prosecution. On August 24, it is not only Guan Eng who will be on trial, the system of justice in Malaysia will also be on trial - not only in the eyes of Malaysians, but also in the eyes of the world.

With the day-by-day countdown for Guan Eng towards the Federal Court appeal on Monday, August 24, being transformed into an hour-by-hour countdown,  there has been a new flood  of email, from both inside and outside the country, expressing support, sympathy and solidarity for Guan Eng. Last night, party leaders, members and supporters had a deeply-touching gathering  in Malacca in Support, Sympathy and Solidarity (SSS) with  Lim Guan Eng with the theme  "Keep Justice Alive, Keep Guan Eng Free".

A sample of these emails are:

On Friday night, party leaders, members and supporters had a deeply-touching gathering  in Malacca in Support, Sympathy and Solidarity (SSS) with  Lim Guan Eng with the theme  "Keep Justice Alive, Keep Guan Eng Free".

Tomorrow night, the Lim Guan Eng Support Group is organising  a finale gathering of well-wishers to "Keep Justice Alive, Keep Guan Eng Free" at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

It is most sad and tragic that when there are such large numbers of people outside the party  and outside  Malaysia who could rally behind Guan Eng in his last few days before the Federal Court hearing which might sent him to prison, we do not have such unity of purpose and even comradeship inside the Party.

The Party Congress made decide the future of the Party. One is  to allow the turmoil and anarchy in the DAP to continue, with public confidence in the purposefulness, unity,  discipline, cohesion and  vision of the DAP leadership plunging to new depths in the coming months and  destroying all remaining public respect for the credibility and integrity of the DAP leadership.

For the sake of the DAP, the people and the country, the DAP cannot afford to continue the present party turmoils. This leaves the Party Congress with the second choice. There must be a clean and total end to the worst DAP crisis in 32 years by electing  new CEC completely united in the sense of purpose and commitment that the one and only one overriding priority of the DAP - how it could fully commit its energies and resources to create a New DAP to build a New Malaysia, the first step being the denial of  the Barisan Nasionalís two-thirds parliamentary majority in the coming general elections.


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