(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): Probably for the first time since Independence 41 years ago, Malaysians should mark rather than celebrate the National Day tomorrow - as there is not much to "celebrate" about while there are many things for Malaysians to ponder and worry about.
The 41st National Day is taking place tomorrow at a time when the country is at the crossroads of the nationís greatest crisis in the nationís history - not one crisis but a multitude of crises.
The 41st National Day, for instance, falls at a time when the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index (CI) has plunged to the decadeís lowest level of 302.91 points, with many expecting the stock market to crash through another new psychological level when trading re-opens on Tuesday to below the 300-point mark.
What is most unsettling is that there appears to be a runaway erosion of confidence despite the public announcement of the National Economic Recovery Plan (NERP) prepared by the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) by the Special Functions Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin on July 23. Although the NERP is to chart the economic salvation of Malaysia, in the five weeks since its announcement, it had not only failed to stimulate a kick-off of the Malaysian economy, it had also failed to arrest the runaway plunge of confidence in the Malaysian economy.
In the five weeks since the release of the NERP, the KLSE CI has plunged by a walloping 28.2 per cent or fallen 119 points from the 421.91 benchmark on July 22 to 302.91 points on Friday.
The Malaysian ringgit also weakened to over RM4.2 against the US dollar.
Malaysiaís real gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter was a contraction of 6.8 per cent, which means that for the first half of the year, the Malaysian economy has contracted by 4.8 per cent.
Is the second half of the year going to be better than the first half? Even if the GDP contraction for the third quarter is going to be less than the second quarter, unless the next two quarters can substantially improve on that of the first quarter, the Malaysian economy will see a negative growth of -3 per cent to -5 per cent for the whole of 1998.
The sudden resignations of the Bank Negara Governor Tan Sri Ahmad Mohd Don and the deputy governor Datuk Fong Weng Phak reflect a deepening of the twin economic and political crisis in the country - and of the two, there is no doubt that it is the latter which has the most far-reaching consequences, although it is being played out in a "wayang kulit".
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said he was not surprised by the resignations, which should have been made earlier.
The question is who are the other highly-placed officials, whether in top government or political leadership, whom Mahathir thinks should also have resigned.
It is tragic but true that 14 months into the worst economic crisis in the countryís history, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. On the contrary, the darkness seems to take on a thicker hue!
The NERP had rightly diagnosed that the biggest problem facing any economic recovery plan is confidence-restoration, but the government seems to be as impotent as in the past 14 months to restore confidence.
In the spirit of the National Day theme Our Nation, Our Responsibility, in my capacity as Parliamentary Opposition Leader, I propose to convene a National Economic Crisis Consultative Conference tentatively on 20th September 1998 for Malaysians concerned about the worsening economic crisis to pool their ideas on how best to overcome the 14-month old economic crisis.
I will seek an appointment with the Daim next week to ask for the fullest co-operation from the NEAC and the Government for the National Economic Crisis Consultative Conference, where I hope the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Daim, the NEAC members can meet with Malaysians from a cross-section of Malaysian civil society to get a grip on the runaway escalation of the economic crisis.