As reported by The Choice, Barisan Nasional launched its GE13 manifesto Saturday in a much-anticipated event. Commentary on specific items has already begun in print and online media. Lost in much of this analysis is how Datuk Seri Najib Razak has placed his fingerprints on his party, his coalition, and his manifesto. With this document, Najib is both claiming the present of Barisan Nasional and its future – and gambling that the rakyat will join him.
Much of the analysis of BN’s manifesto to date has focussed on comparisons with Pakatan Rakyat’s manifesto and on its impact on the election. This is understandable; it is after all an election document. But it is much more than that. It is a recounting of BN’s successes and achievements, and a promise of more to come should Barisan Nasional be returned to Putrajaya.
Yet this is not merely about BN’s past; it is about the Barisan Nasional Najib is working to create. It is about four years of transformation programmes, historic reforms, and policy initiatives to create a modern, progressive, stable, racially harmonious Malaysia.
In retrospect, it is clear that Najib has been driving toward this moment since he ascended to the office of Prime Minister four years ago, and has driven home the themes of moderation, reform, transformation and racial harmony since.
One of Najib’s key themes as Prime Minister has been the need for the government to be accountable and transparent, and so this manifesto, unlike Pakatan’s, is heavy on detail. Where Pakatan Rakyat has recently claimed, through Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, that a manifesto is not a promise, Najib is clearly making promises to which he expects his party to be held.
Najib has also stressed the importance of a racially harmonious Malaysia, and has worked to that end more than any Prime Minister since his late father, Tun Abdul Razak. Although he has taken brickbats from some in his party and in Perkasa (and when they feel it appropriate, PAS and PKR), he has been clear that while Bumiputra privileges are enshrined in the constitution, for Malaysia to progress, its government must be a government for all of Malaysia’s races and religions.
The manifesto reflects this; indeed it is adamant on these counts, stressing the BN formula of respect for the majority as a complement to tolerance of and protection of the minority. The importance of racial and religious harmony – and the moral ill of inciting racial and religious discord – are repeated eight times, in eight different sections of the manifesto, including the promises to help advance government service, government employment and government interaction with Malaysians of all races and religions.
Thus it is that NCR lands will be gazetted, and civil service – long perceived as the exclusive province of the Malays – will be made more open to all.
It is also clear that Najib has delayed polls as long as he has so that he could go not just to Malays, but to Chinese, Indians, other Bumiputra, and all Malaysians, and show them the results of his reforms and programmes, and their future in a Malaysia governed by a reformed BN.
This in itself is a gamble, as there were times before this when he could have maximised the Malay vote and taken his chances with a strong Umno and weak MCA, MIC, and Gerakan. As his father’s son, Najib clearly understands the danger of a racially polarised Malaysia, and has been willing to gamble that a stronger BN and a stronger Malaysia are worth risking internal strength in Umno. He is determined to leverage his favourable ratings across racial groups for the good of his party.
The importance of moderation – Najib’s favourite theme – is also heavily on display. It is not merely present in his discussion of his internationally-lauded Global Movement of Moderates and the manner in which Malaysia’s reputation for moderation has enhanced and will enhance its international stature. It is not only present in the discussion of the 1Malaysia concept for all Malaysians, and in promoting racial and religious growth and harmony.
It is how Najib is casting BN’s past and its future, as a party. “Movement in Moderation” is the subheading of part of the description of Barisan Nasional, and Najib seeks to gather and hold the centre ground here. “We respect and accept religious and racial diversity – we build bridges; we do not erect walls,” the manifesto says, another promise of what BN has been under Najib and will be if he is returned as Prime Minister.
It is a canny offer to his party and the rakyat. Vote for BN, it says, and there will be reform; not reckless change for change’s sake, not upending decades of tradition amidst chaos and racial unrest. For the youth and for those who wish to see change, he says that change is coming and has come, boldly reminding them of the historic reforms he pushed through Parliament and promising more. For the old guard in his party, he is reminding them that BN alone has brought stability, and that peaceful stability can only survive where there is growth and reform.
On that count, the manifesto also promises continued efforts against corruption, another of Najib’s priorities. Noting BN’s history of empowering the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and aiding its independence by making it answerable to an Independent Parliamentary Committee, the manifesto promises to empower “MACC through the establishment of a Service Commission whereby the power of recruitment and service matters will lie entirely with the Commission.”
This too is a gamble of a very different sort. Barisan Nasional politicians have not been immune to MACC investigations and even prosecutions. Here, Najib’s tactic is different. He is telling the rakyat that he understands that no parties should be free of the law, and that if he is returned as Prime Minister, his hand in BN will be strengthened to continue the fight against corruption in all areas of politics and commerce.
This manifesto is nothing less than Najib’s offer to the rakyat, to embrace his philosophy and to both enjoy the growth and development of the past while taking the best reforms of the future. Speaking to a gathering of police in Putrajaya Sunday, Najib laid out his governing philosophy in brief. “This is very challenging as it is not easy. If we choose the easy way, we will not be carrying out transformation.
“But if we don’t do transformation while the people demand it, there will be conflict between the people and government, which is not healthy,” he added.
The BN manifesto is Najib’s tenure and promise all at once. It is now to be seen if Malaysia will embrace them both.