It's not the economy, stupid

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A foreign fund manager asked me this question last month: “What exactly are Malaysians unhappy with?” After all, the country grew by 5.6% in 2012 compared to a lethargic 1.2% for Singapore for the same year. Investment, measured by gross fixed capital formation, grew by an astounding 25% in 2012 compared to a lacklustre 10.2% in 2011.

As a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP - the sum of goods and services produced in a year) investment was approximately 26% in 2012 compared to only 18% in 2009. Foreign direct investment in 2012 reached RM34.8 billion, a significant improvement on the abysmal RM5 billion in 2009.

The government seems to have a clear plan of action in putting the country back on track via the Economic and Government Transformation Plans (ETP and GTP). The shopping malls and hotels are bustling in Kuala Lumpur. New buildings and hotels are sprouting up all around the Klang Valley area.

The LRT and MRT projects will address the congestion problems in the Greater KL area and increase property values and development opportunities around their vicinity. Malaysia also had the second and third largest public listing in the world after Facebook via Felda Global Ventures Holding (FGVH) and IHH Healthcare.

Things seem to be looking pretty good for the country. But why is there still talk of the Barisan Nasional losing power in the upcoming general election?

A similar puzzle confronted George Bush Senior in the run up to his 1992 presidential campaign. He enjoyed approval ratings exceeding 90% during the successful Operation Desert Storm in 1991 where Saddam Hussein’s troops were routed after trying to invade Kuwait. A year later, his approval ratings tanked over the perception that he was mishandling the economy which led to Bill Clinton’s now infamous tagline - “It’s the economy, stupid”.

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