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Mahatir; a fading hope

15 May 2019 42

LAHORE: (Web Desk) A year ago, Malaysian land surveyor Muhammad Nur Aliff had high hopes that a shock election victory by 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad could be the catalyst for reform and revival in a country hobbled by sky-high public debt and corruption.
But polls show that such optimism has been steadily eroded since the election upset, in which the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was removed from power for the first time in 60 years and replaced by Mahathir and the patchwork Pakatan Harapan coalition.
Mahathir, who inherited a debt-laden economy, has focused much of his administration’s attention on cleaning up public finances following a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal involving state fund 1MDB and former prime minister Najib Razak.
Najib is facing charges but denies any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, deep divisions within the ruling coalition have curbed efforts to boost government revenue, attract investment or create jobs.
Support for the government fell to just 39 per cent in March, sharply down from the 66pc rating in August 2018, according to a survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center.
Mahathir also saw his popularity plunge to 46pc from 71pc over the same period, although he says he doesn’t put much faith in these numbers.
“Many young people placed a lot of hope in this new government, but we haven’t seen anything that we had hoped for,” said Aliff, 28, protesting in the capital last week with hundreds of other Malays.
In order to overcome economic problems, Mahathir has mended ties with China, reaching a cut-price $11 billion rail link deal, which is a welcome investment boost.
But with Malaysia’s debt-to-GDP ratio around 50pc, public support waning and an unstable ruling coalition, it will become increasingly difficult for Mahathir to boost economic growth and win back disillusioned voters.
“With exports likely to remain in the doldrums, GDP growth in Malaysia looks set to slow to a post-financial crisis low this year. The government’s recent policies will make the downturn even worse,” Capital Economics said in a research note on Wednesday.

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