Anas, we hear you

MARCH 8 - Anas Zubedy's letter calling for a political truce last week resonated with many Malaysians.

Scores of ordinary citizens and their families are starting to feel the pinch of the economic crisis as wages are cut, jobs are lost and houses are repossessed. I can understand why they feel that politics is distracting the elected representatives from what should be their main task at hand: leading Malaysia forward through the crisis.

Anas, we hear you.

It was incredibly moving when he wrote about how four of his employees, Saedah, Alicia, Samsuri and Sudesh are struggling just to get by. These are the people that the leaders of Malaysia should be helping. And you know what? They are -- at least in Selangor and the other Pakatan Rakyat states.

Since Pakatan Rakyat came to power in Selangor, we have implemented the Economy for the Rakyat Program to give the people a stake in Malaysia's biggest economy. What would this mean for Anas' employees if they live in Selangor?

If Saedah has an individual water meter, this would mean that she would get 20 m3 of free water each month. This might seem little to some, but for many ordinary Malaysians coping with rising costs of living, this provides some relief. If she has any kids going to a recognised institute of higher learning, her child will receive a university-admissions stipend.

For Alicia, she can sign her father up to the Mesra Usia Emas scheme. Currently, this entitles her father to be covered with life-takaful -- regardless of what his ethnicity or religion is. We are looking at expanding this scheme to cover benefits for the father while he is still alive.

I agree that more needs to be done for them as well as Samsuri and Sudesh. I have seen hundreds of them in my constituency - many of them living not far from Samsuri's neighbourhood. The solution lies in two approaches - promoting economic growth to make it easier for people such as Anas to do business and employ people; while providing a safety net to ensure that all Malaysians get a decent living no matter how bad things are.

The state has gone all out to woo investments to drive the economy.

Last year, Selangor attracted nearly RM12 billion in investments, the highest figure in over nine years. This resulted in 30,000 new jobs in the state. The state is trying to make it more predictable and transparent to do business in Selangor, which drives down costs.

In January this year, the Menteri Besar Tan Sri Dato' Abdul Khalid Ibrahim has formed a special committee on retrenchment involving the State Government, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress and other authorities to keep regular tabs on the growing problem of unemployment as a result from the global economic crisis. It is also more than willing to hear the grouses of businessmen like Anas through bodies like the Selangor Business Council.

In fact, on the 4th of March, while announcing several strategic initiatives that Selangor is exploring to stimulate the economy, Khalid has offered to work together with the Federal Government, proclaiming that "economic development must transcend all political differences in order to safeguard the welfare of the people".

In the United States, President Barack Obama has recognised the magnitude of the economic crisis that America and the world is facing and has signed the US$787 billion(RM2,833 billion) American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to deal with it.

Whether one agrees with this economic stimulus plan or not, Obama has accepted that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. The Singapore government has also announced an S$20 billion(RM46 billion) stimulus package of its own.

While the Federal Government has announced some stimulus initiatives, with a mini budget to be announced next week, it is worrying how they seem to be in denial with regards to the economic crisis.

Both Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop have consistently denied that Malaysia is facing a recession to the point of maintaining the earlier estimation of a GDP growth rate of 3.5 per cent until the last possible moment.

Just this week, the respected Malaysian Institute of Economic Research think-tank forecasted negative growth for first half of the year. Much of the billions spent have yet to reach the pockets of the average Malaysian - if it ever will.

The bottom line is that, as Anas had written; one does not need to be an economist to know that our economy is in trouble.

As the state assemblyman for Seri Setia, I witness these issues first-hand as my constituents come to meet me during my weekly sessions with them. Many families with modest incomes are struggling not only to pay their loans and bills, but to even put food on the table. There are many electronic and other manufacturing factories in my constituency- I am haunted by the thought that I will be witnessing the collapse of our economy with my own eyes as they close or lay-off workers, one by one.

But when you get down to the nitty-gritty the actual party in government does matter when it comes to how we deal with the economy.

As much as politics can seem to be a game about who gets power, just as economics can seem to be a game about who becomes richer - at the end of the day the former involves the people deciding how their government should be run. This includes how we deal with the crisis, assuming the government acknowledges there is a crisis in the first place.

Being part of the State Assembly of Selangor means that I am responsible for ensuring that the State Government is run for the benefit of the people. I have to make sure that we devise laws and approve budgets that take the interest of the ordinary Selangorians at heart. Similarly, other legislators irrespective of their parties are responsible to hold their respective governments to account on behalf of the people they represent.

Our country now is in the midst of change. The government had tried to prevent this for so many years, but the election last year had opened a Pandora's Box. We cannot turn back the clock. For the first time for so long, the different communities came together to reclaim politics back for the people. It wasn't Pakatan Rakyat that won on March 8th, but the rakyat as a whole.

It's easy to look at the petty politicking and end up becoming disillusioned with politics in general. I don't blame anyone for that.

Even I find it tiring sometimes when everyone keeps talking about the latest political twists and turns, to the point that my relatives pester my mother for the latest snippets from me, only to find out that I don't talk about politics that much at home.

Nevertheless, it is important that ordinary Malaysians do not succumb to apathy again. Malaysians need to be able to decide the direction of the country. While I agree many politicians leave much to be desired, we are only a reflection of society.

Before the elections, it was tough to find many Malaysians who were willing to be openly involved in politics in this side of the aisle, with many preferring a wait-and-see attitude by the sidelines.

Not many of the best and brightest wanted to have anything to do with politics other than being armchair critics while pundits played down our chances. This has definitely got to stop.

We get the politicians we deserve. We get the governments we deserve. Malaysians definitely deserve better, but they have to make the change first as our leaders can only come from our own ranks.

We must be worthy of our citizenship, by contributing to the nourishing of our civil liberties and political freedoms. Malaysia can never have true economic prosperity without those other two pillars.

If you feel disgusted at the level of politics we see today, this is not the time to give up and back down. Speak up, like Anas. You may not agree with him but his courage deserves to be commended.

The politicians need to know about what the people think. Drive some common sense into them if they seem nonsensical. If they don't get the picture, replace them with those who can get it. If Malaysians give up on politics now, we will be up for more of the same.

Thankfully, after March 8th it seems increasingly difficult to silence Malaysians. Our public discourse is now healthier.

Debate should be welcomed so that the government can arrive at the best policy to move forward. Pakatan needs to provide the check and balance at the Federal level, to offer alternative strategies that the government might ignore.

Malaysians can rest assured that Pakatan is willing to participate within the constitutional and democratic framework for the sake of the people. Yes, we have made mistakes, as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim admitted in his address to the PKR's elected representatives last Saturday, and we need to work hard to fulfil the expectations of the people.

There are also politicians across the aisle such as Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Zaid Ibrahim who have shown the strength of character to say the right thing. There is also a new generation of young politicians on both sides who have less baggage from the previous partisan battles who work tirelessly for a better Malaysia every single day. I can speak with confidence on their behalf that what we want is not politics for the sake of politics, but politics for the people.

In fact, when a BN MP's motion to debate on Gaza was rejected by the Dewan Rakyat Speaker in November, Pakatan MPs rallied around him to criticise the latter and urge that the motion be debated.

When the Parliament finally convened a special session on the matter in the midst of the Kuala Terengganu by-election, Pakatan MPs fully supported the Prime Minister's motion to condemn the aggression in Gaza.

I am confident that if the BN is willing to allow many of the institutions under their control - including the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission, the Police and the mainstream media - to be just as professional in their conduct, then we can rise above the gutter politics that is hogging today's headlines.

We pray that more in BN can stand up to the racial rhetoric that always seems to be their last resort for short term political gain, as it creates new problems without solving the ones we already have.

Unfortunately, just as we grapple in trying to find the best ways to help the people, there are some quarters who continue to try to derail it for short-term political gain.

From the Federal Government's rejection of the Selangor State Government's efforts to take over our water concession in order to avert a 30 per cent hike in the tariff to the prohibition by Federal Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to all Federal officers from attending meetings with the Perak State Government (prior to the coup in Perak), they seem at a loss on how to deal with the emerging two-party system in a maturing democracy.

Much as we would like them to close ranks with us for the sake of Malaysia, the chances of this are growing increasingly remote.

The people, however, should not be at a loss. We should not postpone change only for our children to have to undergo the same turmoil and uncertainty. Delaying the inevitable may result in an outcome that none of us find desirable. Giving up now is not an option.

We hear you Anas, and that is why we are fighting for change.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD, is the Political Secretary to the Selangor Menteri Besar and State Assemblyman for Seri Setia. He was the youngest elected representative in Malaysia's 2008 General Elections and blogs at www.niknazmi.com.

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