Economic Policy: Najib Offers Substance, Pakatan Offers Populism

Economic Policy: Najib Offers Substance, Pakatan Offers Populism

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is once again demanding a debate with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

There is no Manifesto yet from Pakatan, as promised ahead of the Alor Setar convention.

There is no Shadow Cabinet yet.

There is no coherent statement of economic policy yet. Just promises of higher subsidies, lower fuel prices and a balanced budget. Populism, not substance.

But Anwar has demanded a debate.

Having found plenty of time lately to criticise the Government in mat salleh interviews including the BBC, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, Anwar has not yet found the time to sit down with Hadi Awang and Lim Kit Siang or Karpal Singh and thrash out an economic policy platform for Pakatan.

He wants a debate, but so far he has produced neither a Manifesto nor a Shadow Cabinet, both of which Pakatan has promised for months.

After claiming to the Wall Street Journal that Najib’s economic reform programme is heavily tilted toward cronyism, Anwar was apparently surprised to find the Prime Minister mocking his populist electioneering, exemplified by his claim that he would reduce the fuel price at a time of rising global energy prices.

“We will not ruin the country’s future just to win support during elections. Our approach has always been to have detailed planning and long term strategies for the benefit of the country and this has proven to be successful,” Najib recently said when addressing about 15,000 people at a meet-the-people function in Simpang Empat.

He continued: “The fuel price has been going up in the whole world but they (the Opposition) are promising they would bring it down.

“Now they say they will write off RM40 billion of the PTPTN loans. It just does not make sense… is this what a responsible government would do… have they thought of the long-term effects on the future generations?”

Like the demagogic Shadow Budget presented by Pakatan last October, which would have sent our budget deficit soaring, Anwar wants to debate but he has only offered demagogic slogans about economic policy, not a platform. So far we are lacking a clear statement of coherent economic policy agreed among PAS, DAP and PKR.

At a ceramah on Friday night, Selangor’s chief economic adviser offered, “So I say, let’s have a dialogue. He can speak for 20 minutes, I will speak for 10. He can reply for 20 minutes, and then I will reply in 10.”

Najib has so far demurred, holding to his position that the parties and policies are more important than the personalities in play, especially the personality of the sort of fellow who runs one campaign in the foreign press, and another to domestic audiences.

The dualism of Anwar’s policy pronouncements to the mat salleh press and at home is now clear, whether in response to questions about gay rights, the security of the state of Israel or economic policy.

As Anwar told the Financial Times on Saturday: “I quote Shakespeare in Kuala Lumpur and the Koran in the Muslim villages but the message is consistent – and coherent.”

Beyond the dualism, however, there is a much larger issue looming for GE13: The country’s economic performance and economic future. Whatever else may be said of Najib and the Government, they both have a clear economic record on which to run, and a carefully laid-out economic plan for the country’s future. The Government can boast of phenomenal economic growth unbroken for years on end, and its New Economic Model is highly detailed and in the early phases of implementation.

Pakatan Rakyat is in the peculiar position of complaining (from the mansions and five-star hotels in which their leaders spend their time) that we are in the midst of an economic ruin. That we are bankrupt. And that is populism.

Furthermore, because of their continuing failure to offer a joint manifesto at the national level, everyone, including Pakatan’s faithful, is left guessing about their economic policies. Do they still support their “Buku Jingga” (Orange Book)? It is only a little over a year old, but getting a formal statement of support is nearly impossible. Are they relying on Anwar’s vague (and, as noted at The Choiceunworkable and economically illiterate) policies?

On this critical issue, Pakatan cannot be bothered to commit. This is perhaps why more Malaysians trust Najib’s economic plans than Anwar’s.

It is also undoubtedly why Anwar wants this debate so badly. He thinks he will look good on stage, be more dynamic than Najib, and catch out the PM. In other words, he would rely on a telegenic performance to take the place of a Manifesto or a Shadow Cabinet.

On the most important issue facing Malaysians in their day-to-day life, Pakatan cannot even internally agree enough to offer a binding policy statement. Anwar has to gamble that he can make the election about Anwar and Najib, thus confusing the Rakyat into ignoring the absence of clear policy.

But the voters want substance. They want policies. They want details.

It may be permissible to fudge a policy gap here or a shortfall there, but economic policy cannot be made with vague promises. As anyone who has slogged through the Bukka Jingga or listened to Anwar’s tossed-off bromides can attest, there is very little detailed policy in place, just generalities about subsidies and free money, with no explanation of how these things are financed.

The economic health of our nation is far too important to be left to tossed-off populism, as Anwar is smart enough to know. Like every developed and developing nation we need a master plan, a roadmap, and pragmatic pro-growth economic policy. The Government is providing that right now. Pakatan has not yet set out an economic policy at all, let alone one worth debating.

Najib is too polite to say so, but he should respond to Anwar’s taunts with this: “Once you deign to grace the people with a joint manifesto that lays out clear policies, come back to me with your talk of debates.”