Prime Minister Najib absence in the Dewan Rakyat had a round of golf with Krishna making political pawns of ‘reform’

The Rakyat has to decide whether they want to continue with the Devil who has plundered the nation or support an Angel that will transform Malaysia into an economic powerhouse in the future. The choice is the Rakyat’s & 55 years with the Devil is enough! Time to change

We seem to be reluctant even to begin an informed debate which draws our attention to rising inequalities, the continued impoverishment of weaker sections of society, or the destruction of the environment. For that to happen we need to reclaim the other meanings of words like ‘reform’ and desist from using the aam admi like an inert pawn in our grand scheme of things.

But this idea of ‘reform’ is also changing; especially since the financial system collapsed in 2008, which still has the world bleeding from its devastating impact. In recent times, in a wealthy country like Germany, a study sponsored by Bertelsmann Stiftung revealed that eight out of ten Germans are in favour of a new economic order, with more importance being placed on social indicators. Clearly, the consensus on ‘reforms’ and what is good for ‘the people’ has broken down in the countries where it originated in the first place.
The frenetic overuse of words like ‘reform’has stripped them of any worthwhile meaning. In their present denuded form, they are made to stand in for so much that they represent almost nothing.

Let’s take, for instance, ‘reform’. A historical overview shows reform wasn’t originally supposed to stand only for economic liberalization or restructuring of the economy. Its dictionary meaning has a much wider reference ambit, relating to the ‘improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory etc’. That, logically, would extend beyond the economy to political, social and cultural relationships.

The present debate around ‘reform’ has attributed each and every ill that has befallen this country to a single source: an outdated economy. From the arguments it would seem that the panacea to every economic malaise is the same: reforming all sectors of the economy. This uncomplicated assumption is hardly any different from the vulgar Marxist tenet which holds that reforming the base — that is the economy —automatically creates a vibrant superstructure on which rests a country’s cultural and social edifice. Implicit in this ‘economic fundamentalism’ is the belief that all other relations in society —gender, caste or region— are secondary to economic ones, or can be transcended by them.

This tendency to suggest that a gamut of different problems has only one main solution has pushed to the margins interventions that were once believed to be crucial for an energetic renewal of society. How did the word reform enter popular consciousness in the first place? One of its early uses was in the 18th century, during Christopher Wyvill’s Association movement, which believed in the importance of ‘parliamentary reform’. An English cleric and landowner, Wyvill’s moderate movement for reforms is believed to have had an influence on the 19th century Great Reform Act, Penal Reform League and the Chartist movement. Being a ‘reformer’ in 19th century England meant being part of a certain political group, campaigning for enfranchisement, liberty and better social conditions.

An effective economic policy is subject to “reasonable and realistic” forecasts based on real data, and not dishonest figures for political mileage, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said.

The opposition leader told Parliament today the effectiveness of a country’s economic policy, “whether through budget or periodic economic planning”, is to generate growth and improve the socio-economic standing of its people.

“It is subjected to reasonable forecasts based on real figures and data, and is then re-evaluated after scrutiny to see if its target has been achieved,” Anwar(picture) said.

“If not, the process of structuring a budget and economic plan is nothing but cheap political gimmicks,” he added.

He said the failure of meeting an economic growth forecast results in detrimental effects on the country’s economic status and welfare of its people, as well as an increased deficit problem.

“The failure to achieve the target of six per cent economic growth means between the years 2011 to 2013, the cumulative national revenue lost from tax collection has reached RM8.8 billion,” he said.

“This is the additional tax that can be collected by the government if the economy grows at a six per cent rate, not the four to five per cent rate it’s at now,” he explained.

Anwar also pointed out the federal government’s total expenditure this year to date amounts to RM21.6 billion — 9.4 per cent more than its approved spending in Budget 2012.

“Not all that amount is caused by pay rise for civil servants or subsidies announced, because supply spending has exceeded the approved budget by RM1.5 billion,” he said.

“With the country facing an increasing deficit, the government should be careful in displaying savings from a transparent procurement process, instead RM1.5 billion was spent beyond the approved amount,” he added.

Last week, Anwar said PR’s budget would present a more “realistic” picture of Malaysia’s economic situation next year, forecasting the size of the Malaysian economy at RM1,064 billion with an economic growth rate of 5.2 per cent, inflation rate of three per cent and a budget deficit ease of 3.5 per cent.

“BN has never fulfilled any of their economic forecasts. They have never been honest about their figures,” he said, pointing out that Putrajaya had failed to register the targeted growth of six per cent for eight consecutive quarters from Q3 2010 onwards.

“PR will be honest about the figures and, in turn, present a more realistic forecast on the direction of the economy.”

 

Would Krishna have made a good golf caddie for Arjuna? The question might not be as frivolous – or as disparaging – as it may first sound.

Many – if not most – would agree that the central tenet of the Bhagwad Gita, the true dharma that it embodies, is that of action without attachment. In this world, we must act; there is no escape from action, for even inaction is a form – and perhaps worse form – of action. But if we are constrained to act, how do we rise above the necessity of action, how do we make our actions free not only of the negative emotions of fear and hate but also of the positive emotions of joy and love? In other words, as that literary man of action, Ernest Hemingway would have put it, how do we find grace under pressure?

On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Krishna tells Arjuna that the key to finding spiritual grace under the pressure of combat lies in detached action: performing an act without seeking the fruits of its outcome. This is another way of saying that overcoming one’s ego – that illusory bundle of conflicting devices and desires – is the prerequisite for purity of action. The ‘I’ of the ego separates the act from that which is being acted upon; the singer sings a song, the dancer dances a dance. When the ‘I’ of the ego vanishes the singer becomes the song, the dancer the dance; they are not two but one.

What’s good advice for a would-be singer, or dancer – the setting aside of that fretful, clumsy creation called ‘I” – is also good advice for a warrior. Or a golfer. Golf of course is not war, though the way some golfers agonise over their game one might be led to believe that it was in fact warfare being conducted by other means.

And perhaps in a way it is. But the battle by other means that is golf is not an exterior or outward battle against an external adversary but an internal battle against the interloping ‘I’ of the ego which separates the golfer from golf instead of allowing them to be one.

The first time I  picked  up a golf club, over 30 years ago, I hit the perfect shot, and almost scored a hole-in-one. It was a pure fluke. But perhaps there was something else besides random chance involved. As I’d never played golf before I had no expectations of hitting a good shot, or indeed hitting a shot at all. With the result that the swing of the golf club was unforced and free from tension; it was action without attachment.

You always know when you’ve hit what in golf is called the ‘sweet spot’ on the ball. There is an inimitable  ‘click’ and the elation of flight as the perfectly hit ball soars effortlessly away towards the distant flutter of the flag on the green. So how do you achieve hitting the perfect shot,  getting the ‘sweet spot’ on the ball? That’s where the tricky part comes in.

As any golfer – or caddie – worth their name will tell you, the only way you can achieve hitting the perfect shot is by not trying to achieve it. This of course doesn’t mean that you not try to hit the perfect shot by standing on your head and wielding the golf club with your toes, or some such contortionist stratagem.

No, as your caddie will tell you, you must take up the approved stance, feet apart, knees flexed, body relaxed, make the backswing smoothly with your eyes constantly on the ball, bring the club down swiftly without forcing it, and DON’T lift your head at the crucial moment of impact when the face of the club strikes the ball. Because if you do lift your head, in the expectation of seeing the ball lifting up in a perfect arc, the chances are you’ll miss hitting the darn thing altogether.

Don’t try to hit the ball in the expectation of becoming the next Tiger Woods. Don’t let the ‘I’ of  hope of victory and fear of failure come between the club, the ball, and the hole. Let the ball be hit by the club, let the hole receive the ball. Keep the ‘I’ out of it, as Tiger would say. Or Krishna.

So, do I still play golf? No, I gave it up years ago when I realised I’d never be able to overcome my biggest handicap: myself, aka ‘I’ the ego.

Like Turkey, Malaysia can regain its economic lustre within a short period only through comprehensive political and government reform, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said today in debating Budget 2013.

The opposition leader blamed Malaysia’s blunted competitive edge on the Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s failure to redress the lopsided economic policies awarded to “cronies and rich parties with interests”, leading to a protracted Budget deficit for the last 15 years.

 

Anwar said Malaysia now faced the risk of being left further behind by other Asian countries. — File pic

“Turkey’s success under Reccip Tayeb Erdogan, for example, gives us confidence that economic policy and governance that is based on social justice, transparency, trust and recognising the potential talent of its people can boost the country’s economic prosperity within a short period.

 

“That is why Pakatan Rakyat has from early on stressed that change and economic improvements cannot happen without political and government reform,” he said in his Budget speech.

Using Turkey as an example, the former finance minister said in the 10 years since Erdogan became its prime minister, the latter had managed to transform the secular Muslim country’s economy that had contracted in 2002 to become a “new economic miracle”.

Turkey’s gross domestic product (GDP) had tripled in nine years, he said, from US$233 billion (RM722 billion) in 2002 to US$773 billion last year. Its projected economic growth for this year is estimated to be more than 11 per cent, based on the first-quarter figures, which Anwar said topped China’s and every other developed country worldwide.

He pointed out too that Turkey’s economy had grown an average of between seven and nine per cent a year during Erdogan’s administration and, more notably, the country would have offset its €1 billion (RM4 billion) sovereign debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by next April, the shortest-ever repayment considering the amount owed.

The Permatang Pauh MP said Malaysia was now facing the risk of being left further behind by other Asian countries that used to lag behind it in the 1970s and 1980s, like South Korea which had succeeded in forging ahead with measures to combat corruption and level the economic playing field to raise the competitive edge for business entrepreneurs.

But he believed that Malaysia, which had a higher economic potential due to its oil reserves, still stood a strong chance of surging ahead by overhauling the existing economic structure.

“Barisan Nasional’s failure to end the Budget deficit for 15 consecutive years while Malaysia has oil reserves shows there is a structural economic problem that it has neglected and allowed to spread like a cancerous tumour, for resolving the economic imbalance means touching cronies and the rich parties with interests,” he said.

The recent uncorroborated, shameful and absolutely baseless allegations about international conspiracies and takeover plots illustrate one simple situation – sheer desperation.

And it is clear that those politically-owned media unethically concocting and sensationalising these allegations would not have dared to make such allegations had they not been owned and controlled by their BN political masters.

Thus, we can safely assume that hidden hands were – and still are – at play. Indeed, as one of their shameless spinners put it on Friday: Nothing personal, as any politician would say, purely the business of politics.

But why the desperation? Indeed, after dishing out millions of OUR money in the form of BR1M, cash handouts to students and pensioners – and even more being dished out in Friday’s Budget – why, indeed, is this regime still scared of facing the rakyat in the 13th general election?

So scared that, despite declaring and bragging that it is a democracy, it hits out at genuine pro-democracy civil society organisations with much-prouder records than the regime has ever had.

Well, perhaps now is a good time to remind ourselves – and those who are still unsure – why this regime is, indeed, feeling desperate. First, in the March 2008 elections, it lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament and also saw five states (until Perak was ‘recaptured’ under dubious circumstances) and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur fall to the Pakatan coalition.

Now, that was a bitter pill to swallow. And, certainly, there was hell to pay, as the then-Prime Minister, (Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (right), soon found out. Indeed, about a year later, he was not so much shown the door as he was virtually booted out by the same men and women who, after the virtual landslide victory for BN in 2004, had seen Pak Lah as their saviour.

With the possible exception of that wily old fox, Dr Mahathir, of course. Dr M was always rather lukewarm towards Pak Lah as PM and, by the end of Pak Lah’s short tenure, was already laying into him, blaming him for virtually everything that had gone wrong with BN and UMNO.

Work cut out for him

So, when Najib  was handed the post of Prime Minister in 2009, he really had his work cut out for him. He had inherited a coalition that was very much lopsided in nature, with a virtually decimated Gerakan and MIC limping badly, and an MCA that, equally, was having its fair share of internal problems.

And, of course, within his own party, UMNO, the numerous warlords needed appeasing, evidently led by, you guessed it, that old doctor who always seems to be in the house.

Top of the wish list for virtually all of these interested parties within UMNO and the BN was – is –  a return to the good ol’ days of having a two-thirds (or above) majority in the Dewan.

Najib knows that. He knows that anything less will, most likely, see his neck on the chopping block.  Many believe that he’s been putting off the GE or, indeed, telling us all exactly when it will be held, precisely because he has thus far not received one single assurance, from inside or outside the party, that Barisan Nasional will get back the two-thirds majority.

Next, of course, is the intense political rivalry and the ambitions, especially within UMNO. It’s widely believed that Najib and his Deputy both covet the top post. Number two, Muhyiddin (left), now, apparently, has that old doctor and party reactionaries and conservatives backing him and a narrow ‘I-am-a-Malay-first’ agenda.

Again, the age-old question of dynasty comes into play, with the old doctor wanting to see his son follow in his footsteps and seeing Muhyiddin as the perfect patsy  to allow him to do so. So, with the old man, number two and the chosen son waiting impatiently to nudge him off the edge, the stakes are, indeed, very high for Najib.

Hence the need to be janus-faced, the need for hypocrisy. That is, the need to talk of 1Malaysia and Transformation, on the one hand, to appeal to a more aware, worldly-wise and growing Malaysian middle class.

And, on the other, to play on old, racist sentiments, warning the Malays, as he did on Malaysia Day, that “the 13th general election is not an ordinary election. Instead, it will determine the survival of the Malays.”

Yet again, revealing the desperation. Such desperation is also noticeable among the also-rans, the no-hopers, in the BN. Which is why we see the MCA, evidently devoid of anything of substance, reduced to a father and son act of… desperation.

The senior Chua Soi Lek (right), like a broken record, seems totally obsessed with two things – well, actually three, but this is a family-oriented column – the DAP and hudud.  Day in and day out, his favourite newspaper (The Star), the one that his party owns, repeats his rants about voting for the DAP and getting parts of your anatomy chopped off as a consequence.

His son, on the other hand, evidently has a fixation for the Selangor Menteri Besar when, perhaps, as Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based industries Minister, he could serve us better by looking more into the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal.

Answers still not forthcoming

Speaking of scandals, the financial mismanagement ones really are the bugbears increasing the desperation of the regime. There are, of course, so many that have not been resolved, where answers are still forthcoming.

But, straight off the top of our heads, we can think of at least two – the NFC cows, cars and condos scandal and the more expensive, possibly more damaging, Scorpene submarines scandal.

Many times previously, the regime has depended on a compliant, self-censoring mainstream media and the rakyat collectively having a short memory to, somehow, minimise, even eliminate, the implications of these misappropriation of public funds.

This time around, however, this strategy doesn’t appear to have succeeded. Some argue that it’s because of the existence of the alternative Internet news media and social media.

Others credit the work of resilient whistleblowers, such as PKR’s Rafizi Ramli (left), and the regime’s current punching bag, SUARAM, for bringing these alleged abuses out into the open.

While all this may be true, like a small group of film students at my university, a group with a warped sense of humour, I think it’s the imagery that has made these two scandals stick in our minds.

The imagery, that is, of cows living in condos and driving to the farm in luxury cars. The imagery also of submarines that can’t dive.

Whatever it may be, these ‘irritants’, these ‘noises’ are extremely difficult for the regime to shut off, leading to much consternation and increasing desperation.

So, the regime’s ‘strategic team’ – what, I think, in the days of the Cold War and even Watergate they called the ‘dirty tricks department’ – is called up. They, in turn, dig not so deep into their mouldy bag of tricks and come up with what they believe will scare the living daylights out of all us – especially those of us who have no access to the outside world, beyond that provided by newspapers like Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian and TV stations like the Media Prima quartet of TV3, NTV7, TV8 and TV9 and that dinosaur, RTM.

And, of course, although many of us would probably have never bumped into a Jew in our lives, most likely won’t, and wouldn’t know that we had done so even if we did, the Jewish bogey is pulled out of the bag. I did say it was a mouldy old bag, didn’t I?

Okay, so it’s quite obvious that I don’t buy all that Jewish conspiracy nonsense. But I’ll share a little secret with you, strategic team: even my 86 year-old mother down South doesn’t believe you.

She, too, thinks that you’re getting extremely desperate and that it’s making you act like a bunch of nincompoops. You must forgive my mother; she’s old school, indeed a retired school teacher, and tends to use more halus words instead of ‘moron’ and ‘bangang’.

No longer works now

But, the point here, I guess, is that there’s a pretty unoriginal team of spinners at work here. What may have worked 20, even 10, years ago no longer works now. Even on the ‘ignorant masses’ in the hinterland.

If it did, March 2008, despite all the reported fraud taking place – all the phantom voters, the dead 100-plus year-olds rising up from their graves just to vote – would not have happened. If it did, the makciks and pakciks would not have been there, marching on the streets of KL, asking for clean and fair elections.

If it did, the 13th general elections would have been announced – and possibly held – ages ago. If it did, such desperation on the part of the regime would no longer be necessary.

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