IF this, Barisan wins ELSE Pakatan… so let’s sack the messenger

Azrul Azwar: a modest proposal

Azrul Azwar: a modest proposal

Economist Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajuddin, the now-controversial “If…Then…Else” analyst, won the rapt attention of a Penang audience last Tuesday when he presented his modest proposal of three possible general election outcomes.

Modest or not, it has left him suspended as chief economist at Bank Islam, facing the possible sack.

Yet he had presented essentially the same analysis without controversy in Malaysia before (at least in Penang at a forum by what was then the Socio-Economic Research Institute). It was not until the Singapore Regional Outlook Forum in January that his employer reacted with fury.

How much of Bank Islam’s reaction came as a result of the breathless news reporting of his analyses, or the fact that it took place in Singapore, or the fact that he is a member of Parti Keadilan Nasional, or all three, is difficult to tell.

Certainly the hyperbole must have had some bearing in the explosion. Former NST editor Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, for example, decrying heroic depictions of Azrul, said in a recent piece at Free Malaysia Today:

According to news reports, Azrul Azwar made a “knowledgeable forecast” at a forum in Singapore last week that Pakatan would narrowly beat Barisan Nasional in the general election. His expert view, according to the reports, was that a fallout would result from the Pakatan victory with the stock market set to respond in knee-jerk fashion as well as an extended period of perceived instability.

If that was typical of the reporting, it was certainly misleading.

Facing sack for ‘telling the truth’ – not quite

Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng in his introductory remarks at the Penang Institute economic forum also raised the level of bombast by saying that Azrul was, more or less, being crucified by Bank Islam “for telling the truth”. Even by the usual overblown propagandistic style of opposition politicians, that was stretching the truth a fair bit.

We can take it that Azrul, a professional economist, made his analysis in all honesty. But he wasn’t there to “tell the truth” about a Pakatan Rakyat victory (as the chief minister and DAP leader would have wanted the audience to believe).

He was, in the fashion of all economists, presenting three sets of outcomes based on a certain set of factors. In other words, IF we take into account A,B,C D and other factors THEN Barisan may win ELSE Pakatan may win OR Barisan may lose big.

Barisan could win (likely, the best-case scenario), Pakatan could win (more likely, the base-case scenario) or Barisan may lose badly (less likely, the worst-case scenario).

You don’t need an expert economist to say that. But you need an expert analyst to put together the factors that will produce such results AND THEN say how business and share markets will react to these results. They go together. That was his paper.

News reporters, though, generally prefer something more definite, more dramatic. Just give us the answer, not “maybe this” or “maybe that”. And politicians, like sensational supermarket tabloids, prefer the overdramatic. “Elvis spotted at downtown nightclub!” “Michael Jackson alive!” “Pakatan will win! Azrul says so!” Not quite. If only.

So what did he say? Don’t panic

Azrul made no outright “prediction” of a Pakatan victory, but set out how a possible Pakatan victory was one of three results based on certain factors. (If you used different factors, you would get different results. Garbage in, garbage out.)

Slight of figure and modest in tone, Azrul cut an unimposing presence in contrast to the expansiveness of fellow panellists Prof Woo Wing Thye, Prof Ahmad Nasution and Dr Wong Chin Huat at the Penang forum, though he drew quizzical glances when he ended his salaams with “Bonjour”, needing an explanation that he spoke French. Ah, well, that’s all right then.

It was his slides that captured attention, with cameras popping up to record each densely-packed frame — obviously too much to absorb at a glance and needing more study at home.

Or for some, perhaps just to back up their own versions of “Azrul says we’ll win! I’ve got proof!” and then to produce the magical slide at the right time.

The rest of what he had to say was also fairly uncontroversial — it’s been five years, everybody’s got used to having Pakatan people running governments, the world hasn’t collapsed, if Pakatan takes over, the world won’t collapse because businessmen have had time to figure what’s best for them, and after elections it’s always business as usual.

So there you are, then. Don’t panic. The world isn’t about to end. Azrul says so.

The so-called prediction:

Three possible outcomes - Azrul Azwar's analysis

Three possible outcomes – Azrul Azwar’s analysis

The factors he took into account:

Factors that Azrul used to determine his analysis

Factors that Azrul used to determine his analysis


6 thoughts on “IF this, Barisan wins ELSE Pakatan… so let’s sack the messenger

  1. If the bank did not have him sacked they will not be granted the right to continue operating in Malaysia this is yet another one of Umno’s ways of running the country. Where is then the transformation Najib is talking about or he is just talking because it is near election time ? What will happen if one of his prediction comes true ? Will he then be reinstated and be paid, back dated from the day he was fired, by the bank that had him sacked. and will the incoming regime ensure that will happen when they get elected ?

  2. Pakatan and BN are only coalitions of parties, not single parties. Therefore, following a close election outcome, parties from within those two coalitions can still make pacts with each other to form a new government. Israeli PM Netanyahu took 40 days to cobble together a new coalition government after negotiating with different potential partners. In a close election outcome, a desperate Umno may decide to get Pas to help it form the new government, for example. Or Pakatan may woo a BN component party to jump ship. Such scenarios are all possible and should also be considered.

    • Agreed. Azrul Azwar’s analysis takes into account only the two coalitions as is, and takes into account only the possible general election results. What you have postulated are possible post-election variables, whch are out of voters’ hands. After all, Hassan Ali was one of those who tried to move PAS into forming an all-Malay government with Umno in Selangor. And Sabah and Sarawak parties, have also been wooed to move across.

  3. These 2013 elections is a close one between the BN and the opposition. The assessment is generally basing on previous outcomes and voter movements in the past few by-elections results. Voting is a whole process that has many opportunities to manipulate the outcome. The closer the voting results are, the more the opportunity that a subtle manipulation can swing the vote one way or the other. BN has previous experiences and are good at fraud and manipulation. They might work this black magic and turn the results to their favour.

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