AFTER every by-election, the temperature on the political thermometer goes up a notch for Barisan Nasional. This is especially so in the last eight by-elections where the coalition party won seven -- five with increased majority, two wrested from the opposition and one lost.
The mercury is slowly rising.Some political observers said this augurs well for Datuk Seri Najib Razak to seek a fresh mandate from the rakyat, his own after he was sworn in as prime minister two years ago this April, especially after Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud delivers a handsome win of the state election on April 16.
The infighting within the opposition also lends support to this conviction. The prime minister has been laying down the groundwork to, among others, restore the confidence of the majority of the voting rakyat and the foreign investors.
The string of back-to-back by-election victories showed that most Malays and Indians have returned to the fold, with a slight increase in Chinese approval. This was not so much because of BN or even of their own leaders in the coalition but more on the promising quality and sincerity of Najib's leadership and economic acumen.
The foreign investors have also put Malaysia back on their radar. Last year alone, the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida) approved investments in the manufacturing sector totalling RM47.2 billion. The ringgit has increased in value by 44 points from RM3.52 to RM3.08 against the greenback, the Kuala Lumpur Composite Index has risen from 966 to 1,521 points, and the equity market capitalisation has increased by RM221 billion.
All these are the positive outcomes of Najib's economic policies and personal supervision. First, there was the stimulus packages to the tune of RM60 billion, introduced in the first quarter of 2009, which saw the economic environment positively enhanced, especially in the construction sector.
Then came the New Economic Model (NEM), meant to transform Malaysia into a high income country by increasing productivity and investments from abroad by the year 2020. There was also the economic liberalisation measures, which lowered the minimum quota for Malay ownership in traded companies in various sectors from 30 per cent to 12.5 per cent.
It also allowed foreign investors to maintain majority holdings in most ventures, with the exception of utility firms and banks. In addition, government subsidies were reformed to better serve only the deserving instead of spreading it across the board and benefiting even the wealthy.
Those which were revised were primarily for sugar and fuel. The revision was two-pronged; one, to promote a healthy lifestyle for the rakyat and the other, targeting financial assistance to the rightful beneficiaries to government aid. Although the reforms save the government approximately RM1 billion, it is still spending RM8 billion annually subsidising the rakyat.
The government also reached out to the young by announcing a housing scheme for fresh graduates. It enables those earning less than RM3,000 a month to obtain a 100 per cent loan from certain financial institutions for houses ranging between RM100,000 to RM220,000 over 30 years.
Furthermore, in appreciation for the loyal service of civil servants, free medical facilities at government hospitals are provided for those who retire under the Employees Provident Fund scheme and their dependents.
Najib also announced a full gratuity payment for those opting for early retirement under the same scheme. Last Sunday, he shared with the rakyat the first annual report of the Government Transformation Programme he introduced last year to enhance the performance of the government machinery. His ministers, their ministries and the civil service were introduced to the National Key Result Areas (NKRAs) and Key Performance Indicators.
In the first annual report, Najib said the GTP "had ignited a new passion and enthusiasm among many civil servants as well as challenged others to realise their full potential and responsibility to the rakyat". He was proud of his "product", saying that it delivered many positive outcomes. "The GTP has registered many 'firsts' that have directly or indirectly, enhanced the lives of millions. We have broken new ground and are on the verge of greater accomplishments. However, we are also mindful that we should not declare victory before achieving our goal of becoming a developed country and as such, will strive to set higher goals for ourselves moving forward. "I am positive that through the GTP roadmap, the NKRAs, the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) which has at its core the National Key Economic Activities (NKEAs) to drive economic growth and the Strategic Reform Initiatives (SRIs) to enable growth, as well as a host of other initiatives, we will be on track to achieve the aspirations of Vision 2020. The journey forward will undoubtedly be challenging, perhaps even more so than the last one year, but we are up to the task - ready and willing to champion the cause of bringing tangible and positive outcomes to the rakyat," he had said in the annual report launched last Sunday.
The positive political and economic environment augurs well for us but it needs to be sustained for the country to prosper and grow to greater heights. We are in a position to help our leaders get the fresh mandate they need to follow through the progress thus far.
Those in BN, especially the local Umno leaders in the opposition states of Selangor and the three other states should shake off their arrogance, roll up their sleeves and work with one another to complement the exceptional work by the federal leaders and return these states to the BN fold.
We must certainly work hard and right for this to happen as the rakyat deserves only the best.
The Writer Is The Vice Chief of Pulai UMNO Division.
This article appeared in The New Sunday Times today, 3rd April 2011