(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.
"But believe me, every time we act, we think about it deeply and ensure the approach is only for the peopleís benefit."
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:
2. "9 of us will be in Federal Court showing our fully suport for you. We are proud of you and your DAP party. (Tio 17.8.98)"
3. "We hope that 24th August 98 will be a day of light for Malaysia where the Throne of Justice, Fairness and Law will free Lim Guan Eng ÖSomething is indeed very wrong in our country if on 24th August 98 he is sentenced again to a jail term. Our natural justice and sense of intuition will definitely cry out that he should be a free man. (Moses 15.8.98)"
4. "Many Malaysians support you even though you hear no voices from them. .. For human rights and justice we all fully support you. You had acted wisely and had open the eyes of the publicÖ (Nelson 12.8.98)"
5. "Saudara begitu tabah. Perjuangan saudara kearah keadilan dan kebenaran amat di hargai dan akan terus di ingati. Saya berkesempatan mendengar dan menghayati temubual saudara melalui radio BBC di London. Saya berpendapat saudara seorang pejuang yang berani kerana benar. Saya berharap kebenaran akan berpihak kepada saudara pada 24 Ogos ini. Semuga berjaya dan menegakkan kebenaran. (Zaihan 12.8.98)"
6. "Yang Berhormat, there continues to remain a huge section of Rakyat who fully subscribes to fair play. In any way whatever is the outcome this 24th, your valiant and noble efforts have not been in vain and we salute you. God bless you and your family. (Stephen 5.8.98)"
7. "hI! WHAT I'VE GOT TO SAY IS JUST THIS ĎHANG IN THERE BROTHERí THEY CAN ROT YOUR BODY IN PRISON BUT THEY CANNOT LOCK UP YOUR MIND! WE IN MALACCA WILL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU NO MATER WHERE THEY PUT YOU. IF WE CANNOT BE TOGETHER IN BODY WE WILL ALWAYS BE IN SPRIT. GOD BLESS! (BERTIE SANTA MARIA 5.8.98)"
8. "I am a citizen of the United States and I wanted to send an e-mail of support in this difficult time that you must be experiencing. My Malaysian friend has informed me of the travesy you are facing, simply for trying to promote justice. Though I am many miles away, I feel the anguish and pain and wish you to know you are not aloneÖ There is little anyone can say in times like these that can bring about the change that is really needed here, like your freedom, but my thoughts and prayers for both you and your wife are constant. Be strong...you are not alone. I'm still praying for your release. (Jim Klune, USA 18.8.98)"
9. "Beliau bukan sahaja menjalankan tugas sebagai 'check and balance' kepada kerajaan, malah menjadi sebatang lilin kepada seorang gadis bawah umur yang sanggup 'membakar' diri untuk memberi 'cahaya' yang terang kepada gadis tersebut pada masa depannya. 24.8.1998 merupakan lilin ini bakal berakhir jika rakyat tidak menyokongnya dan tiada lilin lain yang dapat menggantikannya. Jika lilin ini padam, maka kita bagaikan tinggal dalam sebuah negara yang gelap dan tiada sesiapa yang sanggup 'membakar' diri demi menerangkan masa depan kita. Marilah kita bersama-sama menyokong Lim Guan Eng dengan kuat, kukuh dan berdiri teguh di belakang beliau untuk memperjuangkan keadilan untuk kita. (18.8.98 Hong)"
10. "Many people especially those non DAP members show their SSS to Lim Guan Eng. However, we are confused and shamed that some of your DAP members not even show their concerns but destroy this campaign. (Tio 18.8.98)"
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.