Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Najib’s ‘botched’ handling of Bersih shows timid reforms, says Bloomberg columnist

July 13, 2011
The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, July 13 — A senior financial columnist with Bloomberg blasted Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s handling of the Bersih rally saying it’s a public relations disaster and underlined his lacklustre reform agenda.

William Pesek’s column, which will likely be widely read by decision makers around the globe due to the reach of the influential financial newswire, could further taint the image of Malaysia among investors.

“What can we make of a leader who promised reform and moderation and now sounds like a Roman emperor?,” questioned Pesek in his column.

“Can a nation that arrests almost 1,700 people, some just for wearing yellow shirts, still be called a democracy? Najib’s response even had Malaysians feeling sorry for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was injured by flying tear gas canisters.”

He also added that the Najib administration’s crackdown turned what should have been a ho-hum political-reform rally of little note by the international news media into a top news story and also enraged Malaysians who weren’t all that interested in rallying before Saturday.

The crackdown also refocused attention on Najib’s reforms with Pesek saying Najib (picture) is offering vague intentions without meaningful or specific goals even though investors want clarity.

The Bloomberg columnist attributed the pace of reforms to the ruling party’s desire to hold on to power which could ultimately hold Malaysia back in a competitive global marketplace.

“It’s no mystery why,” wrote Pesek. “All that matters to Umno is clinging to its five-decade hold on power.

“Such misplaced priorities explain why Malaysia has been slow to streamline the economy and encourage the kind of entrepreneurialism that creates well-paid jobs. It’s also why leaders are timid about scrapping productivity-killing policies that only benefit portions of the population. “

He also noted that the rally may have delayed Najib’s pledge to dismantle a 40- year preferential programme that favours the Malay majority which makes it harder for non-Malays to find good jobs and deters investors with quotas.

Pesek warned that the potential for upheaval shouldn’t be underestimated and that there really is a “bull market in the desire for political change” in the region.

He pointed out rising calls for political change in countries ranging from Thailand to China and even Singapore which saw its ruling party win its narrowest election victory since independence, during the recent May elections.

“The question now is which way Najib turns,” said Pesek.

“At this point, he may avoid calling an early election this year — there’s just too much risk for him. Which direction he takes in changing policy is an even bigger unknown.”

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