In the first and second part, we analysed Najib’s signature policy – 1Malaysia, People First, Performance Now. Except for the Government Transformation Plan (GTP) which has contributed to some incremental change (listen here) — the concept as a whole, one year on has been a failure.
So what exactly has Najib been doing in his first year?
Simple – consolidating power, bolstering his image both domestically and internationally and attempting to eliminate Pakatan Rakyat – Anwar Ibrahim especially as a political force. Najib figures that Malaysia is a low quality democracy with the majority of Malaysians expecting the government to deliver on “bread and butter” issues such as economic opportunities, personal safety and ‘stability’. This Najib believes can be delivered without making bold reforms in Malaysia.
- Consolidating power and improving his image
Najib’s first year has seen him attempt to consolidate his power and improve his image internationally. He has had to consolidate power to protect himself from UMNO (read here) while he has focused on the international dimension as this is the only area within which the opposition has the least influence as there are many big and middle powers (e.g. U.S, Australia) courting Malaysia for varied reasons. Compared to Mahathir’s activist foreign policy (publicly built on anti-western values and south – south cooperation rhetoric), Najib has been the opposite – as a leader without the stature of Mahathir both domestically and internationally, and with the Malaysian economy battered, he has shamelessly portrayed himself as a U.S. lackey. Malaysia’s reversal on the Iran nuclear issue (read here, here and here) being a clear case. This stance – moving publicly into the U.S. orbit – may come to haunt Malaysians (as the Brits, Spaniard and Australians have found out) as Malaysia has been a key transit point for terrorist activities (read here , here and here) but have yet to suffer any terrorist attacks itself as it is seen as a “model Islamic state”. This may now change.
- Enhancing economic relationships
Credit however must be given to Najib for attempting to enhance bilateral trade relationships with regional and key trading partners. Within the year, Najib has globe trotted to world, promoting Malaysia – promising economic reforms. At the APEC summit, Najib together with other APEC leaders promised to fend off trade protectionists’ tendencies among other things (read here, here and here) and in his recent visit to the US, reiterated Malaysia’s support for the US Trans Pacific Partnership. Najib has also talked to the upcoming superpowers – India and China and has also been attending key investor forums to promote Malaysia (read here, here and here)
However, these attempts to promote Malaysia has been done to date without undertaking the more difficult but necessary economic reforms but by providing even more incentives for foreign investors. It is unclear how Najib will square promises on substantial trade liberalisation with the required domestic economic reforms – which are being stifled by his own party. Most foreign investors have not responded positively – merely stating that they will “wait and see.”
- Handing out goodies
As for goodies, Najib has been dishing it out even as Malaysia’s fiscal deficit balloons. It is needed no doubt – both to address the global financial crisis as well as dwindling domestic investment and consumption spending but it should be done responsible, something that is not happening right now (read here and here).
- Destroying Pakatan Rakyat
As for his attacks on Pakatan Rakyat – possible because the BN controls all democratic institutions – is well documented (read here). Najib has decided that PR, specifically Anwar Ibrahim should not be given any opportunity to contribute to policymaking and hence has reduced the opposition role in Parliament to squabbling (read here and here ).
Najib is counting on the fact that as the global economy picks up, so will the Malaysian economy. His international forays are set to both prepare and stimulate Malaysia for this. He has promised economic reforms but the international community is waiting to actually see if he can deliver. On the domestic front, he has successfully managed to isolate PR legislators from any serious debate on his policies by reducing Parliament to an avenue for petty squabbles and making life difficult for opposition led state governments. At the same time, after concentrating powers to himself, he delivers ‘goodies’ to Malaysians. Najib is banking on the fact that Malaysia is a low quality democracy and that the majority of Malaysians will be happy with a government that can deliver on ‘bread and butter’ issues instead of focusing on real reforms.
Najib’s first year has been a return to Mahathirism after the apparent failure to move BN and UMNO to the middle. Najib has resorted to sloganeering, goodies for the Rakyat, some economic reforms but nothing else. Only time will tell if Malaysians will fall for this tried and tested BN strategy!
Read Najib’s first year in office, part II here
Read Najib’s first year in office, part I here