PM Najib heads to UMNO party conference on the back of strong economy. Source: Wikimedia
Prime Minister Najib Razak, ahead of his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party’s annual general assembly, appears to be weathering domestic scandals, riding high on strong economic achievements and basking in the attention that came with hosting US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and his fellow Asean leaders last month.
The economy continues to grow at 5% a year, boosted by a low unemployment rate of 3% and enjoying high levels of savings. October trade figures showed exports rose year-on-year by 16.7 per cent, largely helped by a weaker ringgit. They gained pace during the month, widely beating market expectations, as strong shipments of electronic products to China and advanced economies helped boost exports for five months in a row.
On the domestic front, the embattled Najib hit back at former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his estranged deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin over their accusations. “I was angry, my blood boiled but I remained calm,” he said, referring to the speeches made by Mahathir and Muhyiddin at the Sultan Sulaiman Club on December 7. The two party officials had attacked him over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, which Najib has shrugged off as “malicious innuendo spread by his political opponents”.
So far, a rally by Najib’s opponents appears to have had limited impact on party leaders in Malaysia, who largely rallied around their prime minister, helping to ensure a smooth annual general assembly this week. Addressing delegates at a closed-door session ahead of the Umno general assembly, Najib made an electronic presentation of strong economic facts and figures.
He pointed out that foreign direct investment reached a new high in 2013 of RM38.2 billion (US$9 billion), and that gross domestic product soared by 61 per cent from US$202 billion in 2012 to US$326 billion last year. Other sources also imply Malaysia’s economy is looking solid. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2015-16 released by the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, Malaysia moved up two places to 18th, from 20th last year, among 144 countries.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin did not attend the closed meeting, leaving an empty chair to Najib’s right at the Putra World Trade Centre. A delegate said the crowd was attentive. “He went straight to the point and started his speech by addressing allegations made by Muhyiddin and Mahathir. “Nobody booed him and there was no uneasiness,” said the delegate. He told Umno members there were more important matters to focus on.
Umno delegates who attended the late-night briefing by Najib said the audience applauded the president when he replied to allegations raised at Muhyiddin’s rally in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. Delegates said it now seemed unlikely that voices of dissent would be heard at the rally.
Shipments to China in October were 25.9 per cent higher than a year earlier, and those to the United States surged 30.9 per cent, according to this month’s data. Wellian Wiranto, economist at OCBC in Singapore, said an increase in electronics and electrical item exports “shows some strength in Malaysia’s economy”. He said Malaysia was successfully producing technologically “hot items”, such as sensors. “If Malaysia’s exporters continue to focus on this, they’re heading in the right direction,” he said.
On the international stage, Malaysia helped reinforce its image as a progressive Muslim state when it received its first batch of Syrian refugees out of a total of 3,000 it plans to house within the federation. The eight arrivals reportedly have relatives working in Malaysia who had appealed to authorities for help. Malaysia’s move prompted the Philippines to announce that they too will accept Syrians fleeing conflict. Najib confirmed that the predominately Muslim country would accept the migrants over the next three years. The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, confirmed it was in discussions with Kuala Lumpur on the future arrivals of migrants.
Buoyed by strong economic performances, low unemployment rates, and thanks to its tight partnership with the West, Kuala Lumpur is perfectly aligned within the Southeast Asian region to reap the benefits of the incoming ASEAN Economic Community, slated to start on December 31st.