COME 3 April 2010, Malaysians would have spent exactly one calendar year with Datuk Seri Najib Razak as prime minister. The year can hardly be described as a honeymoon — after all, there was unprecedented opposition from civil society and politicians from both sides of the divide to Najib’s ascendance.
The new premier, in turn, wasted no time in building “Brand Najib”. Almost immediately, Malaysians were introduced to his 1Malaysia slogan, with its tagline People First, Performance Now. This was followed by the Government Transformation Programme (GTP). On the eve of his first anniversary as prime minister, Najib unveiled the New Economic Model (NEM) and promised to turn Malaysia into a high-income nation. This will in turn feed into the 10th Malaysia Plan, another thrust in Najib’s agenda. Najib also promised to keep tabs on government performance, through his ministerial Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and National Key Results Areas (NKRAs).
Indeed, the Najib brand is one of crisp acronyms. But to build a successful brand, consumers must be convinced that the brand delivers what it promises. The thing is, Najib has made some pretty awesome promises during his first year in office, but what exactly has he delivered?
Perhaps it would help to look at three broad areas to assess what has worked or could have worked better over the past year: macro-economics; governance; and civil and political rights. After all, from the beginning, Brand Najib promised to lift Malaysia out of economic recession, deliver effective services to all, and even review the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite state detention without trial.
“I will be steadfast in my commitment to meet the needs, aspirations and concerns of all Malaysians,” Najib said, exactly one year ago.
Has he demonstrated that commitment? And have all Malaysians’ needs, aspirations and concerns been met? To answer that question, here are some highlights from Najib’s first year in office:
Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 1.7% in 2009 amid the global economic downturn, compared to a growth of 4.6% in 2008. Experts forecast a 4.5% growth in 2010, while the government is confident of a 5% increase.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Malaysia shrank by 66.6% in 2009, the biggest contraction in the region. Indonesia’s shrank by 36.0% while Singapore’s shrank by 19.5%. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Southeast Asia’s FDI inflows shrank by 31.8% on average.
The GTP, launched in 2009, covers six NKRAs: reducing crime; fighting corruption; improving student outcomes; raising living standards of low-income households; improving rural basic infrastructure; and improving urban public transport.
In December 2009, Najib said he was satisfied with achievements in the six NKRAs. In February 2010, the police claimed they were well on their way to reducing street crimes by the year’s end according to the NKRA’s requirements.
Civil and political rights
Apart from his initial goodwill gesture in releasing ISA detainees and lifting suspensions on opposition newspapers, Najib’s administration has been continually marred by tension.
In May 2009, Najib initiated his first mass crackdown on political dissenters — academics, Members of Parliament and activists — albeit without using the ISA. These citizens were all opposed to the way in which Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) toppled the elected Perak Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government earlier in February.
Candlelight vigil performance for Teoh Beng Hock, December 2009 (© Lainie Yeoh)
In July 2009, political aide Teoh Beng Hock died mysteriously while being held by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. This highlighted the question of the safety of those called in by enforcement bodies for questioning.
In August 2009, the police used excessive force to disrupt a massive anti-ISA demonstration in Kuala Lumpur. The police also arrested nearly 600 people including 44 juveniles, likely the highest ever number of people arrested at a public rally in Malaysia.
In August 2009, the infamous cow-head protest — in which Muslim protesters threatened bloodshed over the planned relocation of a Hindu temple — made international headlines.
The cow-head protesters were beaten by the church arsonists in terms of media coverage, though. Malaysia made international headlines in January 2010 as a result of violence in the midst of the “Allah” controversy.
But of course, if there was a winner for best international media coverage in this category, it would be Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for his second sodomy trial, which commenced in February 2010.
At least, however, Anwar was not caned in secrecy the way three Muslim women were the same month under syariah law, for “illicit sex”.
Najib had also repeatedly stressed over the year that there was media freedom in Malaysia, even if actions by his administration proved the opposite.
This list is only a sampling of the many civil and political issues that were centre stage under Najib.
Nevertheless, Brand Najib appears to be quite resilient. In February 2009, Najib enjoyed the approval of only 41% of Malaysians polled by independent think tank Merdeka Centre. By June, however, approval for Najib stood at 45%. In October, he enjoyed a 56% approval rating.
In this edition of Six Words, The Nut Graph invites readers to share their thoughts on Najib’s first year in office. Are you hopeful? Cynical? Satisfied? Unconvinced? Let us know your thoughts in six words only. To start off, here are some of the newsroom’s contributions:
Good intentions but will they happen?
Saying the right things so far!
Smart PM. Just remove surrounding sycophants.
Is it really him on Facebook?
Stop underhanded tactics and govern properly.
Get rid of corrupt, greedy politicians.
Scrap racist members and incompetent ministers.
Focus on principle, not on popularity.
Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Action?
Jacqueline Ann Surin:
One year later, what has changed?
Big on acronyms, small on action.
Smarter and savvier. But any better?
Kenapa tak tukar menteri yang buruk?
Kenapa tak nak hormat hak asasi?
Bila lagi nak mempertahankan wanita Islam?
Stop leaving Malaysians out of 1Malaysia.
Bikin mesti serupa cakap, baru betul.
He came. He ascended. He flounders?
Fix predecessors’ mistakes first. Celebrate later.
Articulate PM. Strange cabinet. Frustrated citizens.
Good sound-bites do not democracy maketh.
The Nut Graph works for democracy.
Patrick Kratzenstein did research for this piece.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway‘s genius, the Six Words On… section challenges readers to give us their comments about a current issue, contemporary personality or significant event in just six words. The idea is to get readers engaged in an issue, while having fun and being creatively disciplined.