Monday, March 9, 2009

Annual National Address by Anwar Ibrahim

We gather today not only to celebrate an auspicious anniversary, but to hail the triumph of an idea, an idea so sublime that people throughout history were willing to give their lives for it.

Its force was so great that we have to be reminded by Victor Hugo of its strength. This great French writer said: “Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.”

On March 8th last year, an idea with the force of a tsunami landed by way of the ballot box in Malaysia.

This idea was that the people are sovereign, that they are the masters of their political destiny. Their destiny is not decided by autocrats or elites; plutocracies and a controlled media; neither the army, the police, nor by corrupt judges.

Their fate is decided by the free exercise of their choice registered through the power of their vote.

By no means was this choice exercised completely free of fetters. But given the constraints of a not independent Election Commission, a not free mainstream media, and a curtailed campaigning period, Malaysian voters rose to the occasion to register their choice.

And what were the consequences of that historic choice? The previously invincible Barisan Nasional was denied its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

In addition, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat gained control of four state legislatures and retained and extended its control of another state. Only the shortness of the campaign period prevented the political tsunami from rolling into other states considered bastions of BN rule.

Today, a year later, we stand humbled by that expression of people’s sovereignty. In this last year, we have given the people in Selangor, Perak, Penang, Kedah and Kelantan a taste of the kind of government we ought to have when the people are sovereign.

We have started to implement a Malaysian Economic Agenda for the nation that is truly Malaysian. Our aim is to build a prosperous country by establishing a stable and clean business environment that is competitive in the global economy. We believe in free markets, but our pro-growth policies are tempered with a dose of state intervention and an emphasis on good governance and social justice. This would ensure that the poorest segments of society including the Malays and bumiputeras have access to economic opportunities and aid that trickles all the way down instead of disappearing long before it reaches them.

The Coalition has grown stronger and our partners have worked in unison to govern in the states. After two by-elections our mandate from the people is stronger than ever.

BN’s fear of facing us in another election is most clearly visible in Perak. The illegitimate tactics they employed to attempt a hostile takeover of that State’s government backfired. In so doing they have alienated the public, which has issued strident calls from over 75% of its population for a fresh election. Petrified of an outcome that would swing the balance in our favour, the BN has abused its power and launched an all out attack on our elected representatives, making a mockery of itself and of the institutions of governance.

Our policies do not seek short-term political mileage nor are they calculated to win headlines. Our struggle is neither to fulfil the ambition of one man nor to settle old vendettas.

We have a comprehensive vision for leading Malaysia and our leadership is rooted in sound economic planning as well as reinstating the principles of democracy, socio-economic justice, equal economic opportunities and religious freedom.

We invest in education. We create jobs and bring foreign investment into our states, and we give everyone an opportunity to benefit from the newly created wealth. From what we earn we share with those less fortunate. And we fought the increase in petrol prices until the BN conceded to reduce the burden it had foisted upon the people.

To rebuild a nation after fifty years of decay and decadence is no simple task. Despite setbacks and false starts we promise that our commitment to the principles of justice, freedom and the Rule of Law will not waver, and we will always take the Constitution as our guide. I promise you that we will not relent and we will not rest until the job is done.

We pose the question to those watching today. Has the BN government fulfilled its promise?

After March 8th, we were told that they understood why the people rejected them. They admitted they had fallen out of the Rakyat’s grace and lost touch with their hopes and aspirations. They admitted that without reform, the people would give them the final boot from office.

But since that moment of reckoning has anything really changed? Have the reforms that were promised been implemented? As Umno muddles through a power transition in which it plans to anoint a new Prime Minister, has its course been righted?

Hardly. The Umno-dominated BN is caught in a warp of its own making. They talk about reform but cannot walk the talk. This is what a half-century in power does to you. It is unable to reform, immune to change, deaf to criticism.

Billions of dollars of public funds are poured into wasteful projects and the unnecessary purchases of military goods. Exorbitant commissions are paid while the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished.

While the rest of the world braced for the impact of a deep and difficult recession, the Finance Minister seemed oblivious to the imminent economic challenges. While other nations geared for the calamitous conditions we now face, this man watched from the sidelines. In his most decisive act he issued bailouts for a few corporations using money plucked from the retirement savings of the Malaysian people. The earlier stimulus package has gotten stuck in the quicksand of bureaucracy, causing extraordinary delays in the disbursement of funds. The second one, which arrives belatedly in Parliament this week, may be a case of too little too late.

On the issue of justice, there remain two standards in Malaysia – one for those who wield power, and another for those who seek justice and call for the Rule of Law.

After much anticipation and hype we have a new Commission to fight corruption. But it has already proven its true colours. The MACC is no different from its predecessor, pursuing frivolous attacks against the Pakatan Rakyat whilst ignoring the endless supply of abhorrent corruption taking place in the BN government’s own backyard.

Has the judiciary shown any sign of redress? Do Malaysians feel confident that the scales of justice are more balanced and the dispensation of justice more fair? On the contrary, a superficial attempt to restore credibility to the process of appointing judges has fallen flat. The courts remain cluttered with judges whose records speak volumes as to their lack of impartiality and pervasive influence peddling.

Is the Election Commission a fair and impartial arbiter of elections? Or does it plot and scheme against the people and try to stack the odds in favour of the BN?

We have seen the darkest and most evil abuses of power take place at the hands of the police – an institution that has for many years resisted calls for reform. We condemn the tragedy of Abu Ghraib, and yet in our own prison cells victims are tortured and left to die. How manifestly unjust is it that the people of Malaysia must live in fear of those who are entrusted with their protection?

Those whose responsibility it was to safeguard this nation have failed. Years of their polices have left Malaysia at great risk. A lagging economy is on the brink of recession. Crime runs rampant and our streets are not safe to walk. The education that our children receive is substandard and many of our schools lack funding for basic infrastructure. The police and the judiciary are feared for their ruthlessness and their disdain for justice and human rights.

Despite our nation’s abundant natural resources, we see that the rich grow wealthier while the gap widens between them and the vast majority of Malaysians. The poor, the majority of whom are still the Malays and bumiputeras of Sabah and Sarawak and the Indians in the estates, are scarcely better off today than they were ten years ago. Behind the fa├žade of a first world country we reflect the tendencies of Third World development.

A new Prime Minister waits in the ranks, not as a reformer, but to continue to take this nation down the same destructive path.

I am humbled by your support and your faith in us to set right what has been afoul for so many years in this nation. I promise you that the tenacity of our resolve has never been stronger and no impediment, no matter how great, will deny us our final objective.

The days and months ahead will not be easy.

Our economy is buckling under the pressure of a global recession. Every month that passes more factories are closed and more jobs are lost. 55,000 Malaysians lost their jobs since October alone. Some groups have predicted nearly 400,000 more are at risk in 2009.

The economy stopped growing at the end of 2008 and is now expected to contract at least 2 percent in the coming year. Manufacturing sales slumped over 20 percent in December 2008, a sector of our economy that has lost 68 thousand jobs in just one year.

Not surprisingly the export market has also been battered, registering its largest decline in 15 years. In January alone it contracted 32 percent from the same time a year earlier. It is easy to understand why, when our primary export markets in Singapore, the US and the EU warned of recession months ago.

The question arises then – why did we not act sooner?

The government is encumbered by divisive politics and the underhanded tactics of the ruling party; a party that has placed its own self-preservation ahead of the interests of the people.

Religion and race are manipulated by the powers that be to sow divisions in the country and pit Malaysian against Malaysian. Democracy is itself subverted and the rights of the people are trampled and trodden with no respect for the Rule of Law.

With an open hand and good intentions we in Pakatan Rakyat have reached out to our adversaries in government. Our brightest minds have offered solutions to the problems facing Malaysia and we have shared these openly in Parliament.

We have offered a detailed budget recommendation with sound proposals to create jobs, retrain workers and stimulate sectors of the economy that will contribute most efficiently to growth in the short term.

Sadly our efforts have been rebuffed. We have encountered in Umno politicians who are insecure and paranoid, desperate to hang onto power and oblivious of their responsibility to the people.

The Federal Government has been an unwilling partner to our states. Projects have been cancelled or delayed and development funds withheld. Efforts to limit the power of monopolies so that the people may have cheaper access to basic utilities have been thwarted. The attempts to undermine our leadership continue unabated.

We are not surprised by their intransigence. A party that has grown so out of touch with the plight of ordinary Malaysians can easily and without guilt abandon them in this moment of their greatest need.

But we have not allowed these selfish actions to dampen our resolve. Our Menteris Besar and Chief Minister have met to discuss avenues of cooperation among our states and our members of Parliament are vigilant in watching over the Rakyat’s wealth. Pakatan Leaders will soon announce shadow committees to monitor and report on the BN government’s spending and to evaluate the impact of its policies. Our policy committees will articulate more clearly the Pakatan Rakyat position on key areas including land reform, education, youth development and Sabah and Sarawak.

We believe it is not too late to act boldly to address the challenges of the global economic crisis. Our government must spend money to stimulate growth and create jobs – but the question of how much we spend is superseded by the question of how we spend. If we allow more bailouts for crony companies and look the other way as billions of dollars in economic stimulus are funnelled back to these companies then our nation faces serious peril.

It is imperative that with any economic stimulus package, a strong and impartial regimen of oversight and public disclosure also be implemented. This government has a dismal track record in disbursing funds – every year according to Morgan Stanley an estimated USD 10 billion is lost to corruption. We have every reason to believe that unless monitored carefully the money will once again end up in the wrong hands, and the country and the people will suffer the consequences.

If we address the crisis of confidence in our judiciary and take real steps to combat corruption, ensure the professionalism of the police and make our villages and streets safe, foreign investors will again find Malaysia an attractive destination. With continued investment in education, infrastructure and health care we can create the jobs we need and emerge from this recession stronger than before.

Our commitment to good governance is sacrosanct and the signs of its implementation can be seen throughout our states. Contracts are awarded more efficiently and with open tenders. Zero tolerance of corruption has saved us 100s of millions already, while giving small businesses and entrepreneurs the confidence to invest and create jobs knowing that the system works for them.

The benefits of an accountable and efficient government guided by prudent management, such as the one which has been in place in Kelantan under Tok Guru Nik Aziz, is now being seen throughout the Pakatan States. Kedah, which like Kelantan is one of the more economically challenged regions of the country, has dramatically increased its savings through greater efficiency and transparency, freeing up much needed resources to allocate to development projects and social welfare activities.

This has also created an environment more attractive to foreign investment, which in Penang doubled in just one year and in Perak increased to RM 3.4 billion. In Selangor it has reached its highest point in nine years, RM 11.87 billion, creating 30,000 new jobs for Malaysians.

Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has announced a bold agenda in Selangor to create thousands more jobs and to attract billions of investment focusing on the restoration of affordable housing and improving public transportation to alleviate the increasing problem of traffic congestion.

His administration has allocated energy and resources towards developing more liveable cities and Green Zones within Selangor and has, following the example of Kelantan, launched a first-ever senior citizens insurance scheme. RM 40 million has been allocated to facilitate medical care for 365 thousand of the state’s elderly citizens.

Under the Tawas scheme in Selangor all newborn children will be guaranteed insurance through the age of 18. A number of programs have been implemented to award low-income families with grants to aid in the cost of education and health-care.

In Penang, foreign investment in 2008 totalled RM 10.2 billion, a 117 percent increase from the previous BN government. This is a remarkable achievement given that the recession has already begun in other parts of the world last year. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s stewardship of the Penang economy, guided by the principles of Competency, Accountability and Transparency is credited with creating programs to retrain and employ thousands of Penangites. Knowing that it takes time for these investments to increase incomes – the Pakatan Leadership in Penang has already awarded RM 17 million in water grants to over 170,000 households to provide direct relief to low-income families during these difficult times.

Selangor and Perak have done their part in reducing the burden of the recession by granting free water to the poorest households. The Perak government has provided land titles to deserving families in the state, including Malay, Orang Asli and Chinese, a credit to Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin’s visionary leadership and his tenacity in defending the rights of the poor and marginalized.

And we promise that in Selangor we will remain firm in defending the rights of the people against the monopolies and conglomerates. Now is not the time to sacrifice the welfare of the people in the interests of excess profits or political gamesmanship. In our negotiations with the water companies we will maintain our ground and not repeat the historic blunders that were made in dealing with the IPPs.

We believe that the most important contribution we can make is to ensure that our children receive a good education. We want the future generations of Malaysians to compete regionally and in a global economy. Selangor has invested in the development and infrastructure of schools that cater to all the ethnic communities. In Perak 1,000 hectares of land has been granted to the religious schools (SAR) and to National type Chinese schools.

Pakatan States are redrawing programmes aimed at lessening the pain the inevitable economic slowdown will bring. Our priorities are to create jobs and combat poverty. Housing projects, particularly for lower-income groups will be announced. These developments will be liveable and affordable, and we will also identify ways to improve the living standards in existing low-income residential areas.

What was a year ago described as a marriage of convenience has proven to be much more than that. This Coalition is strong and has proven its resolve time and again against a formidable opponent. The time has come to strengthen the bonds amongst our parties. Greater confidence in the Pakatan Rakyat’s ability to govern is achieved not only through the implementation of sound public policy in the states but also in cementing our cooperation in the form of a Common Agenda.

March 8th restored hope to many who had given up on our government. Throughout the country I meet Malaysians inspired by that day. They envision a future that is more prosperous and a nation more united. With the Pakatan Rakyat they envision a time when schools will be better, where cities and villages will be safer and where good jobs will be plentiful and where honest people can earn a decent living.

If you voted for us in 2008 you were a part of history. Know that in the next election your vote will determine the future course of this nation. Don’t let that opportunity pass. I ask of all Malaysians who share in this dream to be part of the movement for change.

To the brave members of Keadilan, we are embarking on a major exercise to reorganize and refocus the party. Our mission, and that of our partners in the Pakatan Rakyat, is simple. Show the people what we have accomplished. Invite them to join us in this effort.

Call the people to be a part of this new birth of nationalism; to build this nation upon the principles of justice, fair play and opportunities for all.

Call them to join us in Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau, and Batang Ai where we will once again show that the people of Malaysia are united for change.

To our brothers and sisters in Sabah and Sarawak, I know that this belief and hope for a better tomorrow is hard for you. Your hopes and aspirations have been betrayed many times already. Give us a chance. This Coalition has proven it has much to offer you and that together we can build a better Malaysia.

To the bumiputeras – this nation is our home and in Malaysia our customs and traditions are secure. We believe that the best way to safeguard our values is to reject socially divisive approaches and uphold Constitutional guarantees. In doing so we will work to ensure that you remain pillars of this society and that your contributions in all fields are recognised and your excellence rewarded.

This spirit of togetherness was rediscovered on March 8th and it is a reflection of what our founding fathers envisioned when they secured our independence years ago. It is manifest in businesses and factories where Malaysians work together to build the goods that are exported to countries around the world. It is visible throughout this country in schools where Malays, Chinese, Indian, Dayak and Kadazan students learn side by side.

The spirit lies at the heart of the great civilisations that make up the fabric of this land. Muslims adhere to the Qur’anic injunction, li-ta’arafu, that we must recognise God’s wisdom in understanding our differences and showing compassion and care for all. The Chinese have a saying that conveys a similar message: si hai zhi nie jie xiong di; that within the four seas all men are brothers, a sentiment equally reflected in the Tamil proverb ontre kulam oruvane thevan, one humanity one spirit.

Let it therefore be known that on this day, when we celebrated the victory of March 8th, we came together and in one sovereign voice declared that we will together write a lasting chapter of peace and prosperity in our nation’s history.

My fellow Malaysians, we are all travellers on the same road, striving towards one dream. This is the road that has not yet been travelled by in the history of our nation. It is long and winding and fraught with the greatest of hazards and impediments. We will be waylaid and abducted from our journey but yet we shall not be strayed.

And no matter what we must keep our faith and our resolve with the greatest of patience and fortitude. By God’s grace we shall succeed.

Thank you

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