It was a spectacular U-turn, after all the hype about the government planning to take over Hadi’s bill. When it came to the crunch, the moment of truth, Najib, Umno and the government blinked.
Some have suggested that BN component parties especially in East Malaysia – and other opposition parties – may have played a part in the retreat. Perhaps, like Mujahid Yusof Rawa suggested, Najib and Umno were never serious about the bill, which served as a convenient distraction from the 1MBD scandal and international investigations.
For me (and I suspect, many within the ruling parties), equally important is the economic angle. The country is in the midst of an economic slowdown, facing stiff competition for foreign investment in our nation, which is heavily reliant on such investments.
Would foreign investors be rushing to invest in a country that was paving the way for harsh religious laws? What would the many Chinese state-owned companies and private firms from that country make of such laws?
And what of the property overhang? It is no secret that there is a glut in commercial and retail space in many parts of the country, which makes the major developers even more focused on securing foreign buyers. With China already trying to restrict capital outflow for purchases of foreign property by their nationals.. what would be the impact of Hadi’s bill on such potential buyers if Parliament passes the bill?
Massive land reclamation projects around the country seem largely aimed at overseas buyers. This sector would be the hardest hit by any move to introduce harsher religious laws. New MM2H buyers of expensive property too would slow to a trickle.
Don’t forget, the substantial shareholders of some of the major developers include state-run investment or savings funds and government-linked companies and agencies.
Already, a few of the major banks are finding conditions tough. What more if the bill is passed…
And then there are the universities and private colleges that are now admitting thousands of foreign students. Would these students still want to come?
So let’s not ignore the economic angle and impact of Hadi’s bill. After all, the Malaysian economy is still a very open one reliant on foreign investors – and increasingly foreign property buyers.
That is why I was never convinced that Hadi’s bill would go through even if Pas and Umno had the numbers. Don’t underestimate the corporate, business and investors lobby – and the corporate shareholders with connections to Umno.