On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Focus on the economy, please




THE year will go down as a roller-coaster in history with extraordinary dramas that have altered the country’s political landscape.

It has left many of us in the media exhausted and dazed. With days before the year finally closes, it won’t be a surprise if there are more dramas waiting to unfold.

The year opened with the resignation of MCA senior politician Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek from all party posts for his involvement in the sex DVD scandal.

It was one of the biggest scandals to hit the country but it was more stunning when Dr Chua made a strong comeback as MCA deputy president after his political obituary was written.

It appears that the story hasn’t quite ended and political analysts peering into their crystal balls have not ruled out related political turbulence in 2009.

Ringing in changes

The year saw the election of a new MCA president, Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat. History was also created when his predecessor Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting stepped down under a system which limits the tenure of a party chief.

Tee Keat, who is known for his outspokenness, is expected to bring dynamic changes to the party.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was another big newsmaker for 2008. He found himself embroiled in yet another sex controversy but got himself elected and returned to Parlia­ment in spite of it.

The comeback kid had led an opposition coalition in the March 8 general election, winning an impressive number of seats in Parlia­ment, with his Pakatan Rakyat capturing Penang, Selangor, Perak, Kedah and Kelantan.

For the first time in the country’s history, the Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat. Even during the 1969 election, the results were not this bad for the ruling party.

This year’s general election witnessed the booting out of many big names, in some cases by mere unknowns from the Opposition.

The biggest victors were our democracy and electoral system. Despite questions raised by the Opposition against the Elections Com­mission, the results showed that any party can win an election and that outcomes can be accepted, no matter how painful.

Like it or not, Anwar is certainly a dominant force in Malaysian politics today. But his political fortune and future will be on the edge in 2009 when the trial for his alleged homo­sexual acts begins.

It will certainly be one of the most explosive court dramas. Malaysians will be looking out to see whether the prosecution can put up a stronger and tighter case against the opposition leader in Round Two of the battle. The stakes are high because it could mean Anwar going back to jail.

If the prosecution fails and he walks away, the political backlash would be disastrous for the Barisan.

Passing the baton

The 2008 political tsunami also signalled the premature exit of the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. In a case of hero to zero, he led the coalition to its worst results despite having won the biggest victory for the Barisan in 2004.

Pressure mounted within the ranks of Umno and 2009 will see the leadership baton passed on to his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Najib is expected to take over the helm in April after Umno’s general assembly in March. The results of the party’s polls will also reflect Umno’s new leadership profile.

A new Cabinet line-up is also expected when Najib becomes the Prime Minister. Eyebrows won’t be raised if certain personalities make way for new appointees.

But it waits to be seen whether he will cut down the size of the administration as it would not be easy.

Battling crisis

The main story for 2009 will be the impact of the global financial crisis on Malaysians. No other issues, however much they grab the headlines, deserve more attention.

Malaysians are already feeling the effects of the shocking oil price hikes and the subprime mortgage fallouts that led to the financial crisis in 2008, The impact will certainly be felt much harder in 2009.

Jobs will be cut along with retrenchment of workers in the electronic sector. Many employers are also expected to give only mini­mal increments or none at all, as they brace for the tough year ahead.

But taking strong decisions to cut wastage will help keep companies intact and save jobs during hard times.

As we celebrate the year end, let’s reflect and review its lessons. If 2008 was a nerve-wracking year, 2009 looks like a year for which we need plenty of prayers.

It should be a year for Malaysians to put aside political trivialities and focus on economic issues.

More than ever before, political stability is of paramount importance to the survival of Malaysia.

With the elections of the major parties set to be concluded by the first quarter of 2009, let’s hope that we can finally see the end of communal heroes who are only good at playing to the gallery.

It’s time that political leaders focus on what matters most – enabling ordinary Malaysians to put food on the table for their families.