Harapan strategists act as an early warning signal

The last thing anyone should do is to shoot the messenger.

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Published by Malaysiakini, images from Malaysiakini.

The word 2020, or “Wawasan 2020”, was coined by the likes of the late Nordin Sopiee and Allahyarham Rustam Sani.

The former has a PhD from London School of Economics in political science, the latter the same but from Yale University. Both were top brains that Malaysia lost too early.

They coined Wawasan 2020 in 1990, with one vision in mind – to give Malaysia a ‘perfect’ vision forward. Regardless of which partisan divide, all Malaysians embraced it. Be it MCA or DAP, there was nary a dissent against such a view; as articulated by then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in a speech at the Malaysian Business Council.

Among the list of goals was a GDP growth of 7.5 percent each year to double the size of the Malaysian GDP every decade. Malaysia did not double in size every decade between 1990 and 2000, let alone triple in size by next year. Which is why Wawasan 2020 or “Vision 2020” has to be pushed back to 2025 no thanks to the kleptocracy of former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak that has had Malaysia hammered to the wall of debt that has crossed the ceiling of US$290 billion and still growing.

Regardless of the ‘tsunami’ that wrested the power from the hands of Umno and BN, the grip of the old government was strong. It needed policy-preneurs and strategists across all parties that formed Pakatan Harapan and, more importantly, their deep connections to civil society organisations and even overseas Malaysians who had never renounced their ties and sentiments to Malaysia be they in Hong Kong, Hanoi or Hannover.

Take footballer Lim Tiong Kim. He could have made his bread, forever, in Bayern Munich. But the Malacca-born Lim returned to Malaysia to spearhead the growth of Malaysian youth football. Why would the likes of Lim Tiong Kim return? The word is “Malaysia”. We feel at home to serve the country well.

When the likes of me anticipated the groundswell against Harapan after losing the by-elections in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih, we were doing it out of a sheer passion for the country to set the country right.

Blockchain technology, for example, is not just cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum which Bank Negara banned. Blockchain technology – which is increasingly favoured in Japan, the land where Malaysia is supposed to “Look East” to – is gaining in prominence in China and South Korea.

All exports, be they bird nests or the certificates of education or even Bahasa Malaysia or khat, can be blockchained and certified by keying in a series of alphabets. Malaysia is still stuck in the mindset of 4G when the world has moved to 5G; with the caveat of whether we want to put all our faith in Huawei or something else.

The point is simple – countries don’t grow unless there are strategists from all shades and background putting their minds together. As a policy strategist of Bersatu, my job is to provide critical and brutal truths on steering the country forward.

The seven academicians who once helped Emir Research, which I founded, to get the electoral analysis for 2018 right, can get the election analysis for 2023, or for one sooner, right again. Privacy and exclusivity do not allow me to name them individually. But one day, history will name them as visionaries too. 

There are countless of other Malaysians who put on their thinking caps to create Bersih 1 to 5 to tilt the balance against Umno and PAS. No one leader did it on his own. It was a team effort since 1998 or 1970 if the focus is on the National Economic Policy. Even earlier when the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Cheng Lock and VT Sambathan went to London to lay the ground for independence. Even Lee Kuan Yew, prior to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965, played a role.

But Harapan is in trouble when the leaders do not do three things – ignore the manifesto conceived by strategists through laborious constructive engagements with all stakeholders and research; form parliamentary select committees mapped out by the forward-looking thinkers and when they do not listen to their presidential councils. Indeed for the last, some intentionally absent themselves from the meetings, either at the coalition or party level.

All strategists, according to Carl Von Clausewitz, a German military expert in the 19th century, will find that their “strategies” will face what in German is called fritchon, or “friction” in English. One of “frictions” is the difficulty of operationalising the strategies when the top or middle management does not listen fully. Thus, what was a strategy becomes a document that faces enormous resistance even from the word “go”.

Bersatu has that problem as does DAP. Liew Chin Tong, a top strategist of the party, affirmed clearly that there was a “swing” of 20 percent of the votes against BN and Umno in 2018. But he finally admitted that these votes were not due to love for Harapan but for the loathing of the “First Couple” in the previous administration.

Bersatu is a party that seems to want to move Malaysia forward, on freedom of speech, contestation of ideas, a new manifesto and a solid “Vision 2025” forward. But it would not be correct to have the top leaders of Bersatu chastising people who are sensing doom. When Nouriel Roubini from New York University foresaw the Asian Financial Crisis, he was not dismissed as a quack. When Urjit Patel, the Central Bank of India governor, was dismissed by PM Narendra Modi in December last year, he left quietly.

Professor KS Jomo in Malaysia is also warning of the headwinds to be faced by Malaysia. The same goes with Lim Guan Eng, the minister of finance, who warned of an erosion of support for Harapan; and also Wong Chen, the PKR MP for Subang.

Thus, there is a constant need for an optical correction by speaking the truth; even if this has to be spoken to the powers-that-be within the ranks of the government. In all, this is for the good of Malaysia especially when we are celebrating our Merdeka today.

The fact that many have started asking tough questions on the direction of this nation is a sign that many are not in favour of the “new Malaysia” which Harapan is trying to create. I have delivered a wake-up call that is inchoate in the mind of many. The last thing anyone should do is to shoot the messenger. 

Strategists are the early warning predictors. And if we have got it right before against the grain of all political scientists, we will get it right again as our methods are numerically and methodologically rigorous.

Happy 62nd Independence Day!

Dr. Rais Hussin is President & CEO of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on data-driven policy research, centered around principles of Engagement, Moderation, Innovation, and Rigour.

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