7 July 2015

Prime minister Najib says he needs several days to decide what actions to take against The Wall Street Journal.

In the Internet age, even one hour is considered too long. Let alone several days! Sluggish actions will only result in greater damage done.

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said in a recent forum that although Najib had introduced some “good policies,” his failure to respond promptly to accusations had caused the public to lose faith in him.

Wan Saiful has indeed accurately analyzed Najib’s predicament, and his aides, to a certain extent, must also bear part of the responsibility.

Former PM Tun Mahathir tossed a few questions at Najib on April 2, openly demanding for his resignation. But it took over prime minister more than a week, on April 10, to respond mildly through a televised message on TV. Comments from the public for his sluggish action was generally negative.

So, is he going to take another one week to prepare for a response to the WSJ allegations this time round?

As a matter of fact, it is a very serious matter for WSJ to accuse that some US$700 million has been channeled into Najib’s personal bank accounts. This entails not only his own reputation but the entire government’s as well.

Since Najib has also described the WSJ allegations as barbaric and malicious, he should have announced instantly to take actions against the newspaper, and not to defer his decision on consideration of chances of winning the lawsuit or other issues.

This is the first time a government leader has come under such a serious allegation from the foreign media. This has not only inflicted irreparable damage to the PM personally, but will also have serous impact on the government and country.

As such, it is imperative that the PM take immediate action to stop the negative effects lest it would erode investment and market confidence, dragging the ringgit further down with it.

On the political aspect, the WSJ allegations will deal a further blow on the PM’s integrity. The damage is already done even if the allegations against him are eventually proven to be unfounded. How is he going to lead the BN again to face the next general elections?

To be honest, the BN government’s reputation has been on the slide ever since after the 13th general elections. One after another issue has popped up, from 1MDB’s RM42 billion, the discovery of mass graves at the Thai border, Mara’s purchase of overpriced condo in Australia, to the outsourcing of Patriot vehicle number plates’ bidding campaign, the government has been so clueless how to handle these issues.

Poor efficiency and competency on the part of government officials have made it hard for Najib’s good policies to be carried out seamlessly, his 1Malaysia concept and economic transformation program crashing.

To make things worse, international oil prices have been plummeting, while the implementation of GST and subsidy rationalization program have further burdened the public.

When public confidence level is low, not even a piece of good news or two will ignite the public’s excitement, including a positive revision of the country’s sovereign debt ratings by Fitch.

These issues are more than just “political conspiracies” or who is trying to topple whom. To a very large extent, this entails the leadership and management, and how a leader handles a crisis.

As such, postponing the party elections by 18 months is never a good idea for Najib to consolidate his position. What he needs to do urgently is to defend his leadership integrity, the drain of which could have a remarkable influence on the outcome of Sarawak state elections, and the next general elections too.

Although the Umno supreme council is still with Najib at this moment, we have started to hear dissident voices within the party, including calls for full investigation of the scandal while the PM goes on leave. It remains to be seen whether a full scale factional infighting will eventually erupt in Umno.

Against the backdrop of malicious allegations against Najib, infighting within MIC and a gloomy economic outlook, the opposition camp is poised to gain, a prerequisite being the hurried establishment of a new opposition pact. A stronger opposition pact will exert some pressure on Umno, forcing it to hammer out a workable solution to deliver the country out of the current doldrums.

The rejection of bailout plan in a recent Greek referendum is poised to spark global financial turmoil. The local currency is expected to fall further. With our political leaders now concentrating on politics, do they have the ability and time to steer the country in the face of an imminent global economic crisis?

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