Reuters: Abdullah’s Spin Doctors at work

The spin doctors failed to fool most people with their ‘feel good factor’ headlines for the past week, the working class just have to look at their bonus and they’ll know the economy is not good.

They will try again as they have received orders from the government as reported below. But with Reuters report, it will be harder for them to fool anyone.

Malaysian spin on economy sparks poll talk
Mon Feb 12, 2007 2:31 PM IST

By Jalil Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s media has been trumpeting good news about the economy, and that is stoking speculation of an early election this year.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi does not need to hold an election until early 2009, and insists he is in no hurry following the big mandate that he won in 2004.

But political analysts do not rule out snap polls this year.

“The PM is likely to give more candies, including the promised review of civil service’s salary, if he decides to go for polls this year,” said political analyst Yahaya Ismail.

At the weekend, Abdullah’s ruling party revved up its election machinery to try to regain power in the northeastern state of Kelantan, ruled by the conservative Islamic party PAS since 1990.

PAS, or Parti Islam se-Malaysia, is also gearing up for the polls. “We expect the election this year,” one official told Reuters.

Analysts say the climate appears favourable to Abdullah.

Malaysia’s opposition parties remain relatively muted, and the economy, the government says, is on a roll.

The mainstream media, which generally cheers the administration, went to town last week with a slew of upbeat stories ranging from a record 2006 trade volume to rocketing share prices, a stronger ringgit and rising foreign reserves.

“Good times are back,” blared one headline in the best-selling Star newspaper, summing up comments by Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

“The feel good factor is clear. Retailers are enjoying better business and restaurants are packed,” the minister said.

“Economy now more resilient than ever,” was the headline in the New Straits Times, a daily controlled by Abdullah’s ruling party.

More such stories are on the cards, said one editor, who attended a government briefing recently.

OLD BOSS AND BLOGGERS

The PR drive and promises of higher spending on state projects could help Abdullah fend off challenges posed by two big thorns in his side — bloggers and his outspoken old boss, Mahathir Mohamad.

The former premier has called Abdullah’s government “gutless”, giving vent to a host of bloggers who have often targeted Abdullah personally, accusing him of pampering himself while raising living costs.

“The PM is now on the offensive,” said one media strategist who advises several ministers. “With the feel good factor, Mahathir will have no or the slightest impact on voters.”

Abdullah, 67, has kept the election card close to his chest. “What I’m thinking now is about work,” he said last week after announcing the record trade volume figures. “There’s a lot of work now.”

Abdullah won the last election in 2004 by a landslide on a pledge to fight corruption and carry out reforms. He can choose to delay the polls until mid-2008.

But that could present a new danger.

Opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim, freed from jail in 2004, is banned from standing for parliament until April 2008. But if the polls are held after that, the 59-year-old could emerge from his political wilderness.

Despite the government spin, the real economic picture is not that rosy and Abdullah’s promises of reform remain largely unfulfilled, critics say.

Private economists only expect growth of 5.5 percent this year, against an official forecast of six percent, largely because of weaker U.S. demand for Malaysian exports.

Car sales are unlikely to pick up sharply this year while property sales are sluggish as consumers, concerned about job security, remain wary of big-ticket purchases.

“We have to tighten our belt. There are not many jobs around, and there is less purchasing power,” said Lokman Mohamad, a building contractor. “Some firms also face cashflow problems.”

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