Sunday, December 14, 2008

[The Malaysian Insider] Government is considering to launch a year-long campaign to perk up patriotism

Article taken from The Malaysian Insider.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 - With the Malaysian economy expected to slow; unemployment set to hit a historic high and gloom the order of the day, the government is considering launching a year-long campaign in 2009 to perk up the national spirit, and patriotism.

Called Malaysia Perkasa or Mighty Malaysia, the campaign by the Information Ministry will also send the unmistakable message that those who stir trouble in the country and cause hardship by creating instability should be rejected by Malaysians.

Government officials told the Malaysian Insider that there will be another element to Malaysia Perkasa, preparing the ground for the power transition between Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The segment could witness a series of news reports to introduce Najib to Malaysia and highlight his strengths.

It is unclear if the year-long campaign has been approved by Cabinet but sources said that the Malaysia Perkasa programme was conceived after the March 8 general elections and when it became apparent that the global economic turmoil was worse than predicted and it would have a deeper impact on the Malaysian economy than expected.

The Malaysian government expects the economy to grow by 3.5 per cent next year, down from the 5.4 per cent this year. The main assumption of this downward revision is that the government's RM7 billion stimulus package would be implemented by the first quarter of 2009.

Economists and analysts do not believe that the multiplier effect from the stimulus package will reach the ground in a speedy fashion and are forecasting the economy to grow by as low as 1.5 per cent next year, the lowest growth expansion since the Asian Financial Crisis 10 years ago.

The contraction of the economy will most certainly lead to a spike in retrenchments. As yet, the country's Economic Council have not seen a sharp increase in the number of lay-offs but based latest economic indicators it believes that the unemployment rate will increase by the first quarter of next year.

Officials estimate that the number of retrenchments will surpass the 80,000 workers who were laid off during the peak of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998.

The Malaysian Insider has learnt that officials from the Ministry of Human Resource are in the final stages of working on a package of retraining modules.

This will include retrenched workers having their skills upgraded as well as being paid a monthly allowance.

Against this backdrop of gloom, the Malaysia Perkasa campaign will be launched to keep the national spirits high. Ironically, 20 years ago, the

Information Ministry under Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat launched the successful Semarak campaign to inject a sense of loyalty and love for the country among Malaysians.

There are a couple of parallels between then and now. Malaysia in 1988 was in the grip of an economic downturn and political crisis.

Umno was split right down the centre after the then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had narrowly defeated Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah for the top position in Umno in a particularly bruising election campaign.

Historians say that the Semarak campaign, complete with a nationwide road show, was successful in helping Dr Mahathir regain the affection of the Malays and creating a feeling of unity among Malaysians.

But the main difference between then and now is that the Opposition is in a much stronger position today. Close to 48 per cent of the electorate voted for the Opposition in March 2008 and they would view any information campaign as government propaganda.

The Opposition and their supporters would also reject any attempt to demonise them as trouble-makers or characterize love for the country and patriotism as support for the government of the day.

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