Sunday, March 29, 2009

Next change: What to expect from Najib as PM

With Najib Tun Razak now as the Umno president, the motion is set for him to be the next Prime Minister. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would resign on April 2 to pave the way for the leadership hand over. Once Najib is sworn in as PM, probably on April 3, we can expect Najib to make a national address where is expected to chart his directions for the country. The expected appearance on national television is unprecedented and would give us a clearer idea of his National Agenda. We will also hear more of his One Malaysia plan. The next task after that would be the unveiling of the new Cabinet where many new faces are expected to make their debut. Read On The Beat for rest of story.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Najib, Pak Lah and Dr M together - what a coup!

It's certainly a massive coup. It brought the house down at the PWTC. Just barely 24 hours ago, Dr Mahathir Mohamad had snubbed the party but suddenly, today at around 11.30am, he decided to show up at the Umno general assembly. He cancelled a function involving a relative at the last minute surprising even his aides.

There was maximum impact as he walked in just as newly elected deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin was wrapping up his speech. Loud cheers greeted Dr Mahathir as he walked into the hall, proving that the man still enjoys the support of the delegates. It was certainly a great public relations exercise, whoever it was who engineered the entire show.

There is certainly much significance from today's drama. There is now a new Umno president and a new PM soon. It's time to end the feud between Dr M and Pak Lah. There was more - Dr M said he would be rejoining Umno. The guns would now be aimed at their common nemesis - Anwar Ibrahim. We can expect plenty of fireworks from now with the combined strength.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Umno polls over - the new Cabinet list is next.

The scene at the PWTC today is obvious - the loud, boisterous campaigners have disappeared, parking is much easier, the crowd has become thinner, the stall holders have lowered the prices of their goods, at the press centre the number of reporters has dropped and certainly the attention has shifted elsewhere. The excitement is over now that the polls have been concluded.

The analysts are busy compiling the statistics to digest which winners garnered the best support. Muhyiddin and Shahrizat with over 60 per cent of the votes certainly proved themselves convincingly. The losers, especially the defeated Mentris Besar, must be licking their wounds and wondering where they had gone wrong, even if it was obvious in some cases. A few overstayed in their positions, a few over-rated themselves, a few were regarded as corrupt and some were just seen as incompetent.

But the good news in Umno is that Muhyiddin is regarded as the choice of Najib Tun Razak, even if the latter said nothing. They make a good pair with their strong background in economics. The victory of Mr Clean - Mustaph Mohamad, and getting the highest votes for the supreme council seat augurs well for Umno. Although he keeps a low profile, he gets his work done and is well regarded for being a fair person. As Higher Education Minister, he initiated the move to apppoint many non-Malays to senior positions in universiites.

Najib's next move would be to name a new Cabinet. It is likely he would only do so after the three by-elections. Several big names including those appointed by his predecessor would be dropped, particularly those who lost in the party polls. There is talk that he may break new ground - there is nothing to stop him from excluding a few of the winners. Some of the supreme council winners have tainted reputation even if they were voted in. Obvously, Najib cannot detach himself from the public sentiments in his assessment. Accomodating them, or worse, rewarding them may cause bigger damage to Umno and the Barisan Nasional.

The question is whether he may want to appoint professionals and technocrats, who are not in politics, to some portfolios that need expertise that politicians do not have. There will be plenty of lobbying over the coming days and many would have done so, even before the polls, but Najib realises that his new line up would be crucial for the survival of the party. Failure is not an option, that's for sure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Azalina and Shahrir lose supreme council posts

Azalina Othman and Shahrir Samad were the big names who lost in their bid to keep their supreme council seats. Deputy Human Resource Minister Noraini Ahmad lost in the race for the 25 elected supreme council seats. The four Mentris Besar who lost were Adnan Yaakob, Mohd Hasan, Ghani Othman and Isa Sabu.

Unofficial results: Muhyiddin has won deputy post

The unofficial results = Muhyddin Yassin 1578 and Muhammad Muhammad Taib 916 while for the veeps - Zahid Hamidi 1552, Hishamuddin 1515 and Shafie Apdal 1445. Again, these are unofficial results and the figures cannot be confirmed.

Muhyiddin has won No 2 post?

The talk at the PWTC is that Muhyiddin Yassin has won the deputy president post. There is still no indication at this point when the official results would be made. Speculations are also rife that the vice-president contenders who have made it are Zahid Hamidi, Hishamuddin Hussein Onn and Shafee Apdal.

Umno elections results at midnight

It's going to be a long wait for the results. Reporters covering the Umno general assembly have been alerted that they can expect the official results to be announced only at midnight. Beside the election of the deputy president and the three vice-president posts, the composition of the 25 elected supreme council posts would be crucial. Counting just started a little while ago. The media is, however, hoping to have early indications of the outcome.

No show by Mahathir Mohamad

Dr Mahathir Mohamad has not show up for the opening of the Umno general assembly despite saying earlier he would, The Star Online reported. His aide Sufi Yusoff was quoted as saying that he has decided to skip the function. Mahathir's snub has probably got to do with the defeat of his son, Mukhriz, last night. Despite being regarded as a front runner, Mukhriz finished third in the Umno Youth contest. He lost to Khairy Jamaluddin and Khir Toyo. Some Mukhriz's supporters took the defeat badly, staging a noisy protest at the PWTC but Mukhriz said he accepted the defeat, saying in all contests, there would be winners and defeats.

Stage set for Muyhiddin vs Mat Taib

In a short while, Umno delegates will begin voting for the number two post. Although Muhyiddin Yassin is still regarded as the front runner, no one is writing off his challenger Muhammad Muhammad Taib. Following yesterday's stunning performance by Khairy Jamaluddin, who was earlier seen as the underdog, political analysts are adopting a more cautious approach.

Most delegates and journalists said they prefer to keep an open mind today. If the intense psy-war being staged here at the PWTC is to be believed, supporters of Ali Rustam would be throwing their votes to Mat Taib. But supporters of Muhyiddin are convinced that they will pull through.

The focus will also be on the race of the vice-presidents where Zahid Hamidi, Shafie Apdal and Khaled Nordin. Last night during KJ's victory speech, he made a strong call to the youth delegates to support his predecessor Hishamuddin Hussein Onn to win a veep seat. Hishamuddin is said to be trailing in the race.

The official results are only expected around 10pm but we can expect the leaks, the bits and rumours to fly by late afternoon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stunning victory by Khairy Jamaluddin

Khairy Jamaluddin staged a stunning victory tonight proving all his critics wrong. Many in the press got their predictions wrong, too. Even as the votes were being counted, his contenders were expected as victors. In the end, KJ came out tops. Although the details of the votes were not revealed, it is said that Khir Toyo finished second and Mukhriz Mahathir last. Khir is said to have secured 254 votes against Mukhriz 232 votes but this is not confirmed.

In KJ's own words, the odds were against him but he has proven he is a fighter. He was written off as politically dead with his father in law, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, leaving office. His critics said he was strategically wrong to stress on the need for a Malaysian leader but he stuck with his decision.

Delivering a powerful speech, KJ also showed the stuff he has in getting the boys behind him and taking on the opposition. The stage is now set for KJ to achieve bigger things. A Cabinet or a deputy minister post is now possibly in hand which will allow him to prove his ability further.

Umno Youth race: KJ enters hall, hugged

Official: Khairy Jamaluddin 304 votes and Razali Ibrahim, the Muar MP, as deputy 417 votes.

KJ is seen entering hall where he has been hugged and congratulated by supporters as the names of elected exco positions being announced. More to come.

Unofficial results: Mukhriz won by 12 votes?

Update: More unofficial results have emerged with some claiming KJ has won instead.

Unofficial: After several recounts, the word in PWTC is that Mukhriz Mahathir has won the Umno Youth chief post by 12 votes. There are however conflicting reports over the outcome of the contest. The other contender is Khairy Jamaluddin, who is said to have put up a strong fight despite reportedly trailing in the contest. There is still no news as when the official results would be announced.

Unofficial results: Rosnah is Puteri Umno chief

Official: Rosnah and Shahanim won

Unofficial - Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirun from Sabah is said to have won the Puteri Umno chief post. She is the MP for Papar with Shahanim Mohd Yusuf of Sungai Petani winning the number two post. The offciial results of the Puteri contest are expected soon.

Unofficial results: Shahrizat Jalil ahead

Official results: Shahrizat Jalil 507 votes: Rafidah Aziz: 280 votes

There's still no official results at the PWTC but the word is that Shahrizat Jalil has won the Wanita Umno post. She is said to have won a comfortable margin against incumbent Rafidah Aziz. The official results are only expected at around 9.30pm.

At the Youth level, Khairy Jamaluddin is reportedly putting up a stunning fight for the Youth chief post. Counting is still on going with the tussle now between Mukhriz Mahathir and KJ. KJ was earlier said to be trailing behind Mukhriz and Khir Toyo but many delegates believed that KJ has put a good fight.

It has to be noted that all handphones are jammed at the counting centre of the PWTC. The staff involved are also not allowed to leave the centre. As thousands of delegates and observers gathered at the PWTC, handphone users are experiencing congested lines making communications even within the building almost impossible.

Dr Mahathir to attend Umno assembly

As Umno delegates wait eagerly for the results of the Youth and Wanita elections, the additional excitement in the air is that they have been told that Dr Mahathir Mohamad would be attending the general assembly tomorrow at the PWTC. His acceptance of the invitation, following his controversial resignation from Umno, would surely generate much interest. For more details, see The Star and Mstar online.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jeff Ooi quits Penang CM's Office?

Update: March 25, 4.10am - Jeff Ooi: I am staying on till the job is done
See Star Online.

The talk in Penang tonight is that Jeff Ooi (pic) has or plans to quit as the Chief of Staff of the Penang Chief Minister Office, The Star Online reported. At least one local Chinese paper in Penang has gone to town with the story. The Star managed to contact Jeff Ooi who refused to confirm nor deny the story, which has been circulating for a while. Jeff is said to have a written understanding with Lim Guan Eng that he would only hold the post for a while. It was a Penang victory on March 8 which the DAP including Jeff did not expect. When the party won, Jeff was asked to help put things in order. But it is also well known that Jeff did not have an easy time at Komtar. Some could not adjust to his professionalism in running the office, preferring the slower pace. But we will find out more when Jeff blogs about it.

High fever at PWTC but delegates keep mum

The campaigning at the PWTC has reached feverish pitch tonight. But there is no clear indication who the delegates would choose. At the vice-president level, the three favourites, among the media, are Zahid Hamidi, Shafie Apdal and Khaled Nordin but the delegates may prove the media wrong. At the Youth level, the fight is likely to be between Mukhriz Mahathir and Khir Toyo. For Wanita, no one dares to predict the fight between Rafidah Aziz and Shahrizat Jalil. But there has been various interpretations to the speech by Najib Tun Razak tonight. When he singled out the leaders of the Youth and Wanita wings, some took it to mean that it was a subtle endorsement of the leaders.

Zulkifli Nordin - PKR's headache

Controversial PKR MP Zulkifli Nordin (pic) has continued to be a thorn to the party - and to the DAP, a major partner of the Pakatan Rakyat. He has been let off the hook by the PKR despite aggressively trying to break into the Bar Council forum on religious conversion. He was given a show cause letter by the party on Sept 7 last year but he refused to apologise for his actions. In the end, as a face saving gesture, the party said it has been "settled internally" but the talk is that PKR feared he would leave the party. Essentially, he has been a headache and the party does not know what to do with him.

According to the NutGraph, the MP has tried to move four motions in Parliament to amend the Federal Constitution regarding the status of Islam. So far, he has been unsuccessful and at least one PKR MP, R.Sivarasa has distanced himself from Zulkifli's move, saying the party did not endorse Zulkifli's views and attempts in Parliament. According the the news portal, Zulkifli is also trying to move 16 other motions on religion.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

PM to announce exit date at Umno meet?

The Umno general assembly begins next week. Najib Tun Razak has already won the party presidency unopposed and once the meeting is over, he would be the country's sixth Prime Minister. But until now, there is no official announcement on when the Prime Minister would make way for Najib.

The Cabinet which met on Friday was not told of any date. Like everyone else, they are also guessing but the most speculated date is April 2. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib are expected to meet the King the same day. Najib is expected to be sworn in as new PM the next day. A new Cabinet new line up can be expected soon.

The belief is that Abdullah would use the Umno general assembly as a platform to announce his exit date. His final speech as Umno president would surely be closely followed.

Penang DCM quits finally

After weeks of intense speculations, Penang DCM I Fairus Kamaruddin has finally thrown in the towel. The PKR leader has resigned amid a cloud of allegations and suspicions. From alleged cover up of illegal quarry activities, abuses of power to poor performances, all kinds of allegations have surfaced over the past weeks.

Most of the attacks against the 32-year-old novice politician have come from his fellow PKR members - who have been eyeing the DCM post. But before that, we all had to put up with the usual denials from the Pakatan Rakyat leaders. Even Fairus himself told the press he wasn't quitting. At least, Anwar Ibrahim preferred to be coy instead of lying to the media about the position of Fairus. The same political lingo seems to have caught on with the Penang state leaders.

The MACC has already started its investigations into the allegations of two senior PKR leaders involved in covering up illegal quarry activities. Would we see the end of the probe or end of the complaints? Certain PKR leaders may feel that their objectives have been met, whatever that maybe.

Fairus has become the highest ranking state official to be hit because of internal sabotage. Selangor exco member Elizabeth Wong is widely believed to be a victim of such intra-party bickering.

Whether its BN, PKR, DAP or PAS, it's always the same. Politicians may talk about fighting for the people but at the end of the day, it's always about personal ambitions. The people, as in many cases, are often their tools to advance their agenda.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

VSS for 5,000 Dell staff in Malaysia

The reality of the global financial crisis is starting to be felt in Malaysia. It is no longer a distant problem. It is no longer something that only Americans have to worry about. The coming financial tsunami is no longer just another boring news item suitable only for the business section as we spend our time talking about politics.

Computer maker Dell is offering voluntary separation scheme (VSS) to its 5,000 Malaysian staff in Penang and Cyberjaya as part of its global restructuring exercise. VSS simply means the company will pay off workers to leave the company, preferably the less productive ones. It is less painful than retrenchments. Penang will be hit the hardest where there is a large concentration of multi national companies, particularly the electronics sector.

The reality is that demand has gone down and that means production must also go down. When that happens, companies do not need so many workers. Companies can reduce production hours or impose pay cuts but that would simply means buying time. Eventually, staff would have to be let go to reduce operating cost. Employers all over are looking at ways to cut expenses to keep their companies to stay afloat and save jobs, which is difficult to explain to staff.

Staff, especially unions, which demand pay increases as companies struggle to meet sales targets are simply ignoring the realities of the day. More bad news will come. It's time our politicians wake up and focus their attention on economics.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Poser over position of Penang DCM

Update: March 19, 12.30pm - CM: Fairus not quitting

The hottest talk in Penang tonight is that Deputy Chief Minister I Fairus Khairuddin (picture) has been asked to quit his Penang state government post. Penang PKR chief Zahrain Hashim has denied the rumours, reportedly widely spread via SMS, while CM Lim Guan Eng has refused to comment. Both The Star Online and Malaysian Insider have reported the stories.

A Penang DAP MP, when contacted, said he checked with Fairus a little while ago and was told he had no plans to quit. Guan Eng is expected to call a press conference tomorrow with all Penang Pakatan Rakyat MPs present.

Zahrain has blamed political opponents for the rumours but it looks like an internal job. Penang PKR has openly squabbled over the top positions in the state government. The feud has led to a PKR Youth exco member openly accusing two senior PKR leaders - one of whom is a state official - of allegedly covering up illegal activities run by quarry operators. The case has brought in the MACC.

Fairus' opponents in PKR has long targetted him with accusations that he was incompetent and once claiming he was absent from constituency work, resulting in Anwar Ibrahim having to step in to intervene But there has been no end to the pressure to get rid of Fairus, a thorn for Guan Eng and the DAP.

The same sabotage seemed to have also taken place in Selangor with Bukit Lanjan state assemblyman Elizabeth Wong, reportedly a victim of in-fighting. Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim is said to be fending off such internal pressure, too.

Rumble in Klang's Little India

Click on picture from Star Online for more images of Little India

The most widely read story on the Star Online isn't about Ali Rustam and the suspension of Umno leaders but the name change of a popular spot in Klang. The tracker at The Star has continuously put the story as the best read story since this morning. The decision by the Klang Municipal Council to rename Little India to Medan Kelana has created an uproar in Klang. Obviously the Klang authorities have forgotten about the public outcry over the name change of Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur.

The unpopular decision obviously suggest that the residents in Little India were not consulted. It's nothing new to Malaysians, in any case. The name change was made overnight with little considerations to the consequences. Obviously, road signs have to be replaced and for the general public, business cards and letter heads have to be renewed and all these cost money. Now, the public has got to start all over again with a new name.

Little India may have some social problems, as in all ethnic enclaves, but renaming the place won't resolve the problems of crime. The gangs would still regard themselves as trouble makers of Little India, whatever name we may call it. Can we see some common sense back in place soon? The authorities including the council and police should be more concerned with cleaning up Klang and making the town a safer place than to worry about renaming places.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Umno elections: It's over for Ali Rustam

Mohd Ali Rustam (left) is out of the Umno race for the deputy president post. He has been found guilty by the Umno disciplinary board. There is however no suspension on the Malacca Chief Minister despite being found guilty of breaking election rules. His political secretary Saadun Basirun was suspended for three years.

The race is now a straight fight between between Muhyiddin Yassin and Muhammad Muhd Taib. The question now is whether supporters of Rustam would throw their support for Muhyiddin as the race enters the last lap. Muhd Taib has reportedly told the press and members that he has no intention of pulling out. Just weeks ago, Umno delegates were expecting a photo finish between Rustam and Muhyiddin.

As speculation broke out in the last 48 hours of the board's decision, there was talk of resistance from Rustam but the likelihood is that Rustam would not go against the party leadership. He risked losing the Chief Minister's position if he pushes too far. With the disciplinary board decision, his image has already been dented. Although he has not been suspended from the party, his political career would now be written off.

The other big name was Umno Youth chief aspirant Khairy Jamaluddin, who was let off with a warning. He is still in the fight with Khir Toyo and Mukhriz Mahathir.

Senior Penang official implicated in quarry probe

It's one headache that Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng can do without. His PKR partner has given him endless problems with their infighting, which is reminiscent of Umno. The PKR Deputy Chief Minister has long been a target of Penang PKR squabbling and power grab attempts. The Penang PKR is now in the news again with a PKR Youth exco member claiming that senior PKR leaders are involved with local quarries in illegal activities. That's a serious allegation.

The Penang PKR is conducting a domestic inquiry but the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission is stepping in following the open allegations. The issue is this - why should political parties, whether Umno or PKR, restrict these cases only within the party? If corruption has been found, for example, in Umno, then suspension alone would be insufficient. The file should also go to the MACC since it involves corruption. In this case, a senior member of the Penang state government has been implicated.

The PKR recently closed the case on lawyer Zulkifli Nordin despite his aggressive and outlandish behaviour at a Bar Council forum to discuss conversion. He was not even given a slap on the wrist. He was left off scot free. Again, the PKR did not want the public to remember the case. The word is that the PKR feared taking action against him because he may quit the party.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Money politics - spotlight on Ali Rustam

The spotlight is on Umno deputy president aspirant Mohd Ali Rustam as the rumour mongers worked over time tonight on his position in the Umno elections. The talk for the last 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya is that the Malacca Chief Minister would face action from the party disciplinary board. If the speculations are correct, Ali could end up being disqualified from the race. The names of several other top contenders have also been mentioned.

But tonight at the Blue Wave Hotel in Shah Alam, where Selangor Umno is playing host to the contenders, Ali put on a brave front but evaded questions from reporters on talk that he had been hauled up. He kept telling reporters to ask the disciplinary board that is expected to call for a press conference at the PWTC tomorrow.

The reporters had asked him point blank on these speculations but he provided no answers. His supporters have dismissed these speculations, claiming they were part of a psy-war before the polls next week. They pointed out that Ali Rustam was still campaigning as evident by his presence tonight at the hotel. His detractors have however said the polls would now be between Muhyiddin Yassin and Muhammad Taib.

Dr Khir Toyo, who is contesting the Umno Youth chief post, is also said to have been asked to explain to the disciplinary board headed by Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen. He told the press tonight that he would leave it to the board to make a statement.

Big fish to be hauled up by Umno?

Update: From Rocky's Bru - "Is there a letter for Ali Rustam?"

The Utusan Malaysia, in its front page story "Pemimpin Umno disiasat" today, tried to provide hints that a big fish would be suspended for money politics but with legal and political issues to consider, the newspaper has chosen to play the guessing game - but leaving the readers confused. The newspaper reported that there is plenty of talk that a high-level candidate may have to be disqualified for money politics. Umno disciplinary committee chief Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen, when contacted, refused to comment.

MStar went a step further, saying that 26 contenders including high-profile candidates would appear before the board this week to answer charges of money politics. Again, no names yet. Supporters of certain leaders implicated have insisted that the speculation was part of a psy-war before the party polls next week.

But over the last 48 hours, the name of a top contender - the so-called big fish - has been widely speculated by Umno members and the media. As the campaign enters the final lap, it can only get hotter. Watch this space for more details.

Maths and Science: Back to Bahasa Malaysia?

The word is that the teaching of Maths and Science in primary schools will go back to Bahasa Malaysia but English would be used at secondary school level. No decision has been officially made as the Education Minister is only expected to table a paper on the issue this Friday. A decision has to be made and announced soon but the word is that the Cabinet is expected to agree to the use of Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil or Chinese in primary schools.

The issue has been hotly debated with Malay nationalist groups, together with PAS leaders, going to the streets to protest against the continued used of English to teach Maths and Science. Chinese educationist groups had also insisted the same, saying the use of Mandarin was a more effective way of teaching the two subjects, especially Maths.

It is not clear whether the Ministry would increase the teaching hours of English in schools as a compromise. If the Malay and Chinese groups claimed they, too, support the need to improve the proficiency of English among our children, then they should push for more hours to teach English in schools. Many of those who joined the street protest were products of MCE and HSC. Some would have even sent their children for their education in UK or US

It is sad that when the statistics showed that more of our children preferred to use English to answer their exam questions, we have to submit to the pressure of these groups. Surely they are not the only stake holders in this issue.

Kudos to Selangor state government

Credit must be given to the Selangor state government. The decision to post the income and assets of Pakatan Rakyat elected representatives online should be emulated by other state governments. As public officials, they should not worry if they have nothing to hide. This decision has put the Pakatan Rakyat one up. There is little point for politicians to talk about transparency if they do not do anything about it. The question now is would the Barisan Nasional dare to do so?

Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim has declared that he gets a RM47,222 monthly salary. I believe this is a fair sum for a MB. In fact, Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers should get more if they can perform competently and do not put their hands on dirty money. But still, Khalid should have declared his assets such as homes and cars such as his Lexus. No one will fault him because as a former chief executive officer, he could afford what he owned.

Interestingly, Bukit Lanjan assemblywoman Elizabeth Wong has gone one step further - she declared chalking up credit card bills amounting RM16,811.69 and pays RM2,000 a month for the credit bills. She has to watch her spending habits! Wong has said she earns RM17,222.08 a month from her salary and allowances as a state assemblyman and a state exco member.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ex Universiti Industri Selangor don to be charged

A former deputy vice chancellor of Universiti Industri Selangor is expected to be charged in court on Monday for forging his boss' signature. He had allegedly falsified documents to obtain an extension of his service contract. The man was detained yesterday when he went to the Malaysian Anti Corruption Agency to have his statement recorded. His alleged cheating resulted in the university's human resources department putting him back on the payroll. Unisel is wholly owned and operated by the Selangor state government. It was set up in 1999. Expect the former don to be at the Klang's Magistrate's Court on Monday.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Former political secretary to be charged?

Update: Norza pleads not guilty to two charges.

Updates: March 13, 9.30am - FT Youth chief Norza Zakaria to be charged.

A former political secretary to a Cabinet Minister is expected to be charged for money politics tomorrow. The Umno Youth leader, who is contesting a supreme council seat, is believed to have been contacted by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission and told to turn up in court tomorrow to hear the charges. Today, Tourism Minister Azalina Othman, whose office was visited by the MACC yesterday, said she would cooperate with the investigators.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Azalina Othman's office raided by MACC

This must be the hottest news item in tomorrow's newspapers. The Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission visited the office of Tourism Minister Azalina Othman this morning, where they spent three hours and took away some files. This comes after the arrest of her political secretary recently by the MACC, where he was found with RM75,000 on him. Azalina was reportedly not in the office at that time but the talk is that the visit is in relation to investigations on the award of contracts. The visit and the arrest of her aide at the last lap of the Umno polls is likely to have an impact on her contest. The political damage is enormous even though her office has issued a statement, saying they would cooperate with the MACC. In short, we have nothing to hide. The former Puteri Umno chief is seeking a supreme council seat. It has been reported that the MACC is expected to haul in more Umno leaders ahead of the elections, where money politics has become a serious problem.

The Coming Great Recession

The forecast from the International Monetary Fund is out - world growth will be below zero this year. It would probably be the worst performance in most of our life times, according to IMF managing director Dominique Strauss Kahn. He has given a new term to the global financial crisis- the Great Recession.

Just two months ago, the IMF had forecasted the global economy would expand 0.5% this year. But the uncertainties seemed to have move very fast, at the speed of a tsunami, because every nation has now changed their forecast. Poliiticians are no longer saying all is fine and that a recession can be avoided.

The reality is that international economy would shrink for the first time since World World II and trade will decline by most in 80 years. I think Malaysians should brace themselves a long haul. The grim statistics are there and we should start to adjust to the coming scenario. There are fears that some countries would slipped into depression - any country with contraction of more than 10% from peak to trough is said to have fall into this category. Latvia is the first to enter that category. See my comment The Coming Great Recession.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Get ready for the gloomy times ahead.

News Updates: DPM announces mini budget worth RM60bil over two years

It's time to be honest. An honest assessment of the Malaysian economy with no need for a positive spin from anyone. The Malaysian economy is tied up with the global economy and until the United States recovers, there is really nothing the world can do. That is a fact and certainly a lesson to those who talk about boycotting American products. I think the coming financial tsunami is a reminder that we should not go overboard with our "Malaysia Boleh" slogan.

Our exports are expected to fall, as much as 50%, with dropping orders for our rubber, palm oil and crude oil as global production falls. Our stock prices have declined and so has foreign direct investments. All these have serious impact on our economy. What the mini-budget can do is to arrest our economy from heading towards a recession. And after spending the money, said to be up to RM50bil for the next two years, it's essentially still a touch and go situation. That means we are not even sure Malaysia would not go into a recession. No one can be sure now, with businessman Warren Buffet saying the American economy has fallen off the cliff. It's on a free fall and everyone is being dragged down.

The Singaporean leaders have gone further, warning its people that the negative growth could be a double digit, possibly minus 10%, as its workers continued to be retrenched while those holding jobs have been told to be ready for pay cuts. From Japan to South Korea to China, everyone is gearing for the most difficult year of the century. In the US, the financial crisis has been described as the worst since the Second World War, with massive losses in jobs.

What Malaysians hope to see would be incentives in the form of grants or subsidies for our young to pursue post graduate studies so they do not exert pressure in the job market. In short, continue studying and learn new skills, do not look for jobs. Employers should be encouraged to absorb the retrenched with incentives. These measures would help to reduce the burdens of ordinary Malaysians.

Obviously, there is a need to find new instruments to help the people. Pensioners, for example, cannot hope to use their bank interest from their savings as it drops to 2% and the cost of living going up, as the ringgit weakens against the US dollar. Government bonds could be offered as an alternative. Possibly dividends from the EPF could be paid off in cash. We are not sure there whether there will be tax breaks for the middle class but this group has been affected the most, especially the salary workers. The rich can ride through the crisis but the middle class has often suffered the most.

More importantly, when the Deputy Prime Minister, table the mini budget today, he needs to impress upon Malaysians that it is time to reduce the politicking as this is a time to save jobs, put food on the table and keep the economy from going down under. This is a global problem, that is beyond the control of anyone, and the priority now is to ensure the money from the second package is not wasted, quickly disposed, stimulate the economy, jobs created, money is circulated and productivity increased. While the gloomy news would shocked many Malaysians, there is a need to remind ourselves many of us have gone through this 10 year cycle before. This is the time to re-invent and re-shape ourselves.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ringgit gets weaker against the US dollar

The US is in a financial deep hole but it has continued to remain a safe haven. It is still regarded as the best exchange by the world, even as if its economy is near bankrupt. The continued trading for the US dollar, unfortunately, has weakened the ringgit. Last week, the ringgit was at a three year low against the dollar when it closed at 3.7175. The ringgit has fallen 16% from the decade high of 3.13 hit last April, The Star reported.

The prediction is that the ringgit would weaken further and slid to the 3.80 level in the near term. Translated that means parents with children studying the US would have to fork out more money, our purchases of American products, such as computers, would be costlier and those having to travel to the US would be more expensive. For Malaysian factories, the cost of production would be heavier when bosses are already facing a slump in orders. The weaker currency is certainly not an advantage for exports, says manufacturers. It's another bitter blow.

But Malaysia is not an exception as other currencies have been hit as well. The good news is that our foreign exchange reserves is stable at US$91.1bil. The disturbing news is that while the dollar is an international currency, it is not comfortable to learn that printing more green backs is hardly rational economics.

We can expect some serious bad news this year, with the World Bank predicting the economy crisis is the worst since the Second World War. With developed countries in financial ICU, the poor nations in Africa would be hit the most with financial aid virtually dried up. Hand outs from NGOs and aid agencies are over. That's the grim news.

At home, our politicians, the media, the bloggers and people should be spending their time talking about the economy and nothing else. Unfortunately, the financial stituation has failed to get the same emotional response as in politics. Bloggers can tell you that economic related postings evoked little response.

The unfortunate reality in Malaysia is that the political tsunami is not over after a year. The entire nation seems to be still in campaign mode. Umno is too busy with its party polls. Pakatan Rakyat is in full swing making preparations for a bigger political tsunami. The coming economy tsunami - leave it to the bankers, businessmen, economists and employers. Yes, Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, thanks for your tight regulating of the bank industry, now we are seeing the results. But can we get back to the Democracy Tree in Perak, which is more interesting?

Some of us are wondering how much space would be devoted to the financial crisis at the Umno general assembly. As the biggest ruling party, we expect to hear in depth speeches on how we intend to grapple with the situation. It must go beyond the PM, DPM and Finance Minister II. From the People's Congress Meeting in China to the Singapore Parliament, the main agenda remains the economy. Can we hear speeches with substance on the economy and less on race from the delegates? That should be Umno's biggest agenda.

It is no longer about which ethnic community gets what when the cake is fast disappearing. But a question of putting food on the table for all races. Umno delegates should never lose sight of that because it means nothing to Umno if the economy worsens. All the oil, rubber and palm oil won't help us if there is no demand. The small holders in Felda would be affected, please remember, and they wouldn't care about what the economists says. The bottom line is that their pockets would be hit and BN would be blamed. That is the political crisis faced by ruling parties worldwide as they become casulties of the financial tsunami.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watch out for the financial tsunami!

Today is the first anniversary of the political tsunami that hit Malaysia. There are plenty of lessons our politicians should have been learned by now but in many cases, especially the Umno politicians, they are still in denial mode. Every thing has still remained the same after one year. In some cases, they have become even more insular and racist, believing that the race card is the only way to win back the votes. They have failed to notice that in many protests, it is the Malays who are out in the front, not the Chinese and Indians. In past elections, it was the non-Malays who threw the lifeline to Umno because they could not accept PAS.

For the Pakatan Rakyat, the loafty principles which they preached have been compromised by them long ago. They pushed for mass defections and hope to seize a democratically elected government. So, they set the Sept 16 deadline and many were indeed fooled into believing. A year later, the patch work has surfaced as in Penang, where below par politicians were put into offices and they seemed unable to live up to expectations. In Perak, two PKR exco members were arrested for corruption. In the case of Elizabeth Wong, the theory has continued that she was a victim of internal politics. But is this all important when the financial tsunami is coming our way? See my column on what the politicians have ignored.

Haven't we done enough damage to our kids?

The protest by Malay groups protesting against the use of English to teach Maths and Science in schools has made Malaysia a top news item. Today, the protest was among the headlines of the BBC news. It was also a major news item in many international newspapers. As expected, the protest were led by several prominent nationalists but the participation of top PAS leaders such as its president Hadi Awang and other MPs have raised many eye-brows. Didn't the pro-Pakatan Rakyat supporters say they are now liberal and reasonable politicians?

The crowd was massive with estimates ranging from 8,000 in Malaysiakini to 2,000 in Malaysian Insider. It would appear that this protest has been organised ahead of the Umno general assembly, in a move to embarass the party. It was clear the organisers wanted to show they were real champions of the Malays. The groups have a right to protest but they should not be allowed to intimidate or exert undue pressure on the government. No decision has been made but the fact is that most students prefer to answer the questions in English. That is a fact.

The results have showed that the use of English has not affected their performances in these two subjects, again, that is a fact. English is a global language. It is also the language of the Internet. We do not need to go through the merits of using English. Enough has been said. The reality is that the standard of English among our children has dropped drastically. They cannot cope with the language in universities. Many fail to get past interviews because of their poor command of the language.

Well, what is the stand of the non-Malay MPs from PKR on this issue? So, do we give in to the Malay and Chinese extremists? At the end of the day, communalism is still the order of the day in Malaysian politics but the moderates must speak up. The advocates of English must also speak up. This is not about politics. This is about the future of our children, haven't we done enough damage to our kids in schools?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Political secretary arrested by MACC

The word in the grapevine is that a political secretary of a Cabinet Minister has been arrested by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission for graft. So far, the press reports have identified the person only as a senior aide of the minister. But the senior aide is said to be a political secretary. Money amounting RM70,000 was found on him with the MACC investigating whether it was used for the coming Umno elections. The boss of the aide is believed to be contesting a supreme council seat. The arrest has created a buzz in the party with speculations that more would be arrested in the weeks to come. Umno contenders are entering the last lap of the party polls, where the stakes are high. Money politics, as Umno leaders, like to call corruption has long been a problem in the party. Its leaders have openly acknowledged the disease but has failed to tackle it. Lip service instead has been the order of the day and no one, wo wants to get elected, dare to speak up. The party itself has received up to 900 reports on various allegations of irregularities. Malaysians would certainly want to see some big sharks being caught before the party polls. The question is whether the MACC can deliver us these political jaws?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Malaysian condom makers doing well during stiff times

The American pornography industry wants a bail out like the financial and car industries, claiming they too serve Americans and is part of the vital US exports. It's a multi-million dollar industry, they said. Sex experts in Europe, meanwhile, claimed that there is a strong decline in sex as people grapple with the depressive economic crunch. But The Star Business has reported that condom sales have gone up! Takaso Resources Snd Bhd managing director Francis Tee was quoted as saying that people were unwilling to forego the pleasure of having sex but unwilling to shoulder additional commitments such as having children, which would blow the budget. The story was appropriately titled "Things looking up for condom makers during stiff times."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tension building up in Perak

Surely a first, not only in Malaysia, but in the world, as the Speaker V Sivakumar puts on his official robe to preside over the assembly sitting held under the shade of a raintree.

The tension is building up between supporters of the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat, where at least three scuffles are said to have broken out, following the showdown between the two sides this morning. Speaker V. Sivakumar convened an emergency meeting of the state assembly under the shade of a raintree, just a short distance away from the state secretariat.

The meeting reportedly ended after the PR assemblymen agreed to motions to declare support for Nizar as Mentri Besar and for the assembly to be dissolved. Nizar also said he will seek an audience with Sultan Azlan Shah to ask for the dissolution of the assembly. The validity of the state assembly meeting called by the Speaker is being challenged by the Barisan Nasional.

At the High Court this morning, the Barisan scored a pyschological victory when the lawyers assembled by Pakatan were denied the right to appear on behalf of the Speaker after the Judicial Commissioner Ridwan Ibrahim ruled that the Speaker should be represented by the state legal advisor or someone appointed by him.

More to follow:

Monday, March 2, 2009

High political drama in Perak

It's high drama in Perak again. The police have started to station FRU personnel near the State Secretariat building ahead of the political fight tomorrow. Road blocks have been set up. The Perak State Secretary office has issued a circular informing all staff to cancel all appointments at the building tomorrow as the doors would be shut. The state secretariat, in short, is as good as shut tomorrow. Perak exco member Mohd Zahir has served notice on Speaker Sivakumar, accusing him of abusing his power to commit contempt by showing disloyalty to the Sultan while the MB is seeking a court ruling that the Speaker's suspension against him and the exco members is unconstitutional. The Speaker has called for an emergency state assembly meeting which the BN is saying is illegal. The political showdown is certainly going to put the state administration to a stand still. Expect plenty of fireworks in Ipoh tomorrow.