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Of Mahathirism, debates and inflation

FROM 11 to 16 Oct, three major issues were spotlighted in the Chinese media: the impact of Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s decision to relinquish his presidency; the debate between the MCA candidates; and the problem of high inflation despite lower petrol prices.

Lum Chih Feng’s Oriental Daily article on 13 Oct titled The Return of Mahathirism discussed former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s role in lobbying to get rid of Abdullah while rallying support for Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak to take over.

Lum said it looked as though Mahathir was playing a balancing game, by pushing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to stand for the deputy’s position, as a counterweight to Najib’s power.

“Mahathir is talented in the art of balancing. He was the one who has been promoting Najib and Muhyiddin as the future prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively; as a result, there is high possibility that Mahathirism will be returning,” he said, implying that the wily retired politician wants to be the power behind the throne.

Lum noted that the March 2008 general election and the 26 Aug Permatang Pauh by-election results presented Mahathir with the golden opportunity to force Abdullah to step down. For Lum, Mahathir is the prime mover behind Abdullah’s decision not to contest for the presidency in the Umno polls in March 2009.

“Umno is still and always was under the grip of Mahathir,” said Lum.

Debating for the future

Kwong Wah Yit Poh‘s 16 Oct editorial, titled Debate is a Competition for Political Attainment, said the recently concluded debate by candidates for the top posts in the MCA was not only a contest of the politicians’ speaking ability, but also pitted their personalities and reputations against each other.

The editorial said Datuk Ong Tee Keat, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and Datuk Donald Lim were well-known politicians who had said many things throughout their career. “The public will examine their statements to ensure that the candidates are trustworthy and effective, and only then [will they] determine [which candidate is] eligible to be elected,” said the editorial.

“Speech is the first step of democracy, and it starts with debate.  After the [political consciousness of the] Chinese Malaysians was awakened by the March 2008 general election results, they know that apart from being eloquent speakers, politicians need to have credibility.

“The Chinese Malaysians were promised [by the politicians] that the MCA was in the Barisan Nasional to rectify the faults within the coalition, but this remained an empty promise,” it said. 

“And there were politicians who claimed that being part of the ruling party meant they could help solve issues, but [this has proven to be] just a dream.  Credibility and capability should be the main subject of public concern now.”

The editorial said the most regrettable part was the absence of important candidates (such as Ong, who claimed he was too busy to take part in the debate), and the interference of those in government who hampered efforts to telecast the debates live on ntv7.

Although studies on the impact of televised debates have not been concluded, such debates are still beneficial to the democratic process and for the political knowledge of voters, it said.  Since all the candidates have presented their manifestoes, they should have had the chance to explain their stands on institutional reform, leadership and strategies, it added.

“The public wants to see the candidates put on a better political performance during the debates; they do not want to see politicians acting in front of them,” said the editorial.

Time to cut costs

Zhou Jian Wei’s article in Sin Chew Daily, titled The Low Crude Oil Price Crisis on 16 Oct, said the decline in global oil prices meant the country’s income was dropping. As such, he urged the government to start cutting down its expenditure.

“For a country with a population of about 26 million to have a million civil servants is a heavy burden. The government should gradually cut down the number of civil servants, and keep it at about 500,000 as promised in the 1980s.

“Besides this, the government should ensure the independence and transparency of the Anti-Corruption Agency, and ensure it is empowered to keep a check on wastage of public funds,” said Zhou.

Zhou said as oil prices may be dropping further, Malaysia may find itself caught in the midst of another financial crisis if we are not prudent in our spending.

Also in Sin Chew Daily on 16 Oct, Ping Xing’s article titled Is the Price Control Mechanism Timely? argued that despite the fall in petrol prices, there has not been a corresponding decrease in the price of services.

For instance, he said, Tenaga Nasional has not lowered its tariff despite the fact that petrol prices have been dropping steadily.

“Low petrol prices along with high inflation is a reflection of the government’s failure to ensure a comprehensive plan was in place when they initially decided to hike petrol prices by 40% in June 2008.  This decision has caused unnecessary suffering to the people,” said Ping.

Some quarters have suggested that in order to protect the people from spiraling prices, the government should increase the number of price-controlled items. However, it is doubtful how long such a mechanism can survive, and the shortage of cooking oil in early 2008 proved that there are weaknesses in the system, Ping explained.

Instead of controlling prices, the government should seriously consider studying the need to set up policies to encourage businesses and implement minimum wage, he said.

Ping said this would benefit both businesses and consumers from the lower-income group.

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