Saturday, May 4, 2013

The True Reformer: Najib Razak for Prime Minister

GE 13 is tomorrow. Malaysia will finally choose. For us the choice is clear. We hope the rakyat will join us in choosing to vote for Barisan Nasional and for Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The economy is strong and Najib deserves major credit for keeping us on the road to fully developed nation status and for steering our nation through the turbulence of a global financial crisis in rceent years.
But our endorsement of Najib arises from just one word: reform. That word has a charged meaning in modern politics, so it is important to understand what it means.
It does not mean opportunistic calls for a complete and radical change to our national politics and economy, as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim used to call for while being ousted as Deputy Prime Minister, and as he still does today, employing the rhetoric of 1998. It does not mean change for change's sake.
It means being a transformational leader who actually introduces carefully planned and digestible step-by-step reforms that do not create shock and trauma but help to truly modernise a nation with more opportunity and with greater equity for the youth, and in fact for people of all ages, social-economic groups, races and religions.
That is why Najib is the true reformer, meaning he is a transformational leader who delivers and implements reforms rather than shouting slogans in a demagogic and old-fashioned manner.
True reform means measures taken to improve life in the cities and the kampung, to bring Malaysia to the forefront of nations, to improve the relationship between the citizen and the government – but most importantly, it means to do all of these things in a stable and lasting way so that the entire effort does not come undone.
Thus, Najib introduced the Government Transformation Programme and the Economic Transformation Programme early on. These are attempts to make government more transparent and accountable.
Every government programme, Najib is arguing, should be open to the rakyat and made so that its results can be checked. Now everything from crime to student employment to corruption to roads to economic growth can be assigned numbers.
This sounds terribly dry. It is not. It is a fundamental transformation in the way the government speaks to the rakyat. In Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's day, a government pronouncement that a policy was working was considered sufficient. Today, that pronouncement cannot be made without the KPI data to support it.
The people are no longer passive followers, but active participants in government.
Najib has shown himself a man who listens to the rakyat, and then takes action.
In the last eighteen months, Najib has changed not just how the government speaks to the people, but how it relates to them. Beginning in late 2011, he embarked on a series of reforms to end a legal regime that dates to the colonial period. The Internal Security Act, the Banishment Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Sedition Act, and smaller laws that ran with them, have been repealed or replaced with liberalised laws encouraging popular participation in government.
Taking a page from the Pakatan-Rakyat-aligned Bersih movement - and stealing much of their thunder as a result - Najib also pushed through a series of electoral reforms unimaginable a mere five years ago.
Tomorrow's elections will be freer and fairer than any that have come before.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has been overhauled since its days as a mere political weapon under governments that also included Deputy Prime Minister Anwar. Now, it is an increasingly independent body, investigating Menteris Besar and Chief Ministers as well as ordinary citizens.
Najib has also worked hard to reform the government's approach to subsidies for those in need. His 1Malaysia project is not merely good branding. It is an aspiration and a promise: that those in need, no matter their race or religion, can expect government assistance.
1Malaysia Clinics will be available in the Malay heartland and in Chinese-heavy cities, and will turn aside no one. BR1M will be given regardless of religion.
Iskandar Malaysia was created as a special zone in which Bumiputera privileges do not apply.
Note well that these reforms are not merely unbridled change. Each reform was made to the limits of what the nation would tolerate. Step by step.
This shows a canny understanding by Najib that reform must reflect the people's desires, but cannot move far in front of those desires.
Reform that seems too extreme – or worse, that leads to chaos, economic damage and social disorder – not only does not work, it discourages further reform. Transformation, however, means guiding us to a better future.
For all of the protests from Pakatan Rakyat, the latest Merdeka poll shows Najib's popularity has remained high precisely because he is not only showcasing reform, but listening carefully to the rakyat's concerns about reform that comes too quickly.
The Merdeka poll shows 50 per cent of people in Peninsular Malaysia have a positive opinion of BN, while only 34 per cent have a positive opinion of the opposition. Moreover, Najib's approval rating is 61 per cent, and 58 per cent say the country is on the right track.
Clearly Najib is now seen as the true reformer. He is also the leader who has shown a stronger commitment to the youth, many of them first-time voters. It is oddly enough, the other fellow who now looks old-school, and Najib who has made sure he connects with the aspirations of the youth.
Najib deserves a mandate because of the way he has shifted the national conversation toward reform, to the extent that even Umno now embraces this idea.
Umno now talks of statistics and KPI metrics, of transformation and reform, of growth and a responsibility by the Malay majority to aid the non-Malay minority.
Umno leaders and the new and younger candidates can see the virtues of reform and growth in making Malaysia a modern democratic state. In the past they just didn't get it. Now, thanks to Najib, they do.
A victory for Najib will strengthen his hand to pursue the reforms already underway, and to introduce even more.
The time for choosing has come. We strongly endorse the choice of Najib Razak, at the head of a larger Barisan Nasional majority, for Prime Minister of Malaysia.

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