At long last, GE13 is truly upon us. The Election Commission has set April 20 for nomination day, and May 5 for polls. Campaigning, already constant, will reach a fever pitch. This will be for many Malaysians their first election, and for all, one of the most exciting.
In the excitement to come, many will focus on personalities, on the figures standing for their seats, on general feelings about candidates and parties. These are valuable things to consider, and should be considered.
But The Choice was founded on the principle that every Malaysian has to choose – and an uninformed choice is no choice at all. We have worked hard to highlight the issues themselves, so that the rakyat will better understand not merely who would be the best Prime Minister, but which party’s ideas and policies will better guide the nation as a whole.
With that in mind, we should like to discuss the issues themselves.
In all major polling, in our daily lives, and in the actions of the parties and their leaders, it is clear that the foremost issue before the rakyat is the economy. While this is in some ways a concept that consumes many others, until recently there was a consensus across all parties that the goal of Government economic policy should be the achievement of developed-nation status by 2020.
Whilst Pakatan Rakyat have departed from this formula – their policy goals appear to be more toward recreating pre-Thatcher Great Britain than toward broadly-shared prosperity – the Barisan Nasional formula holds essentially to what Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad promised with Vision2020 – that achieving a high-income status, with a safety net for the poor, will yield both economic growth and prosperity into the future.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has expanded on this formula in two specific ways. The Economic Transformation Programme is a combination of Najib’s signature love of technocratic, people-focussed policies and his determination that his Government’s policies should be testable, verifiable and accountable. Through this, Najib proposes that a combination of targeted government policies and a dynamic private sector can yield economic growth sufficient to reach fully-developed status.
Najib also proposes that in addition to raising the well-being at all income levels, we should also make certain that the cost of living does not crush those at the lower tiers, regardless of race. The application of the 1Malaysia concept – most notably in the 1Malaysia Clinics and the BR1M stipends – is an attempt to make certain that as the economic ceiling rises, the floor keeps pace as well.
With Malaysia’s explosive economic growth in spite of the worldwide downturn, there is support for his approach.
Where Barisan Nasional offers that we still have growth left to achieve, Pakatan Rakyat implicitly argue that we are done growing, and it is time to share the spoils. Their manifesto and policy pronouncements, while not exactly models of specificity, seem to suggest that economic growth will happen unaided, and that the most important thing the Government can do is to make certain that enough giveaways are done to make the rakyat comfortable. Subsidies for petrol and electricity, subsidy payments, greater economic distribution, higher minimum wages – these are the signs of a pact that believe that Malaysia is already wealthy.
In terms of performance, Pakatan Rakyat’s formula has more mixed results. Kedah and Kelantan have seen poor growth since the Opposition took those states. Selangor has – it would appear – seen economic growth largely in line with its status as the national economic powerhouse, though by some accounts this has fallen of late. Penang began life under the DAP with roaring economic output, which has not merely slowed but has all but stopped, as investment and economic activity has slowed.
Corruption has been a by-word for Pakatan Rakyat (when they are not denouncing the latest revelation of corruption in Selangor or PKR by iconoclast blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin), to the point at which the Opposition has promised that it will fund its lavish welfare state on reducing corruption and waste. (This is a time-honoured promise made by oppositions the world over, one that invariably ends with little reduction in corruption and higher taxes.)
Barisan Nasional under Najib has also made corruption one of the coalition’s key focusses, and his administration can point to reforms designed to make the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission stronger and more independent. This is in fact a critical area under BN’s manifesto, which 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.”
The results to which the parties may point are more mixed. The Government can legitimately show a trend toward better scores on corruption indices since Najib’s administration took over. While some indices are roughly at parity, the broad trend is an improvement, in line with the recent announcement by Reducing Corruption NKRA director Datuk Hisham Nordin that Malaysia has cleared its milestones in eliminating corruption as per the target Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) defined under the terms of the Reducing Corruption National Key Results Area (NKRA). Transparency International, an internationally-respected body, has recognised the same progress by Malaysia.
Pakatan’s record is more opaque. Penang made a great show of transparency until 2012, when many of their efforts came under fire, including deals for developers at the cost of affordable housing, the now-infamous Penang tunnel project, and more. Kelantan is opaque. Kedah is too consumed with in-fighting in PAS to demonstrate anything tangible. Selangor is widely perceived to be fairly corrupt, but again, this is hard to determine as the PKR government made transparency a condition to avoid.
They nevertheless promise that should they take Putrajaya, they will eliminate corruption. One might note the wisdom Najib showed on that score: “Prostitution and corruption are two things that mankind has had to live with for so long,” he recently told London’s Financial Times.
“But we are determined to tackle it.”
By most measures, Malaysia has a very good educational system – in 2012, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index ranked the quality of our education system at number 14 out of 142 countries ahead of the United Kingdom, Germany and the USA. Both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat have nevertheless understood for some time that education is a critical issue. Their approaches have differed, however, and reveal a great deal about their respective policies.
One must begin by noting that Pakatan’s policies are not well-described. Aside from abolishing PTPTN, free tertiary education, and integrating those who leave the educational system into the economy, their manifesto is silent except to say that they will appoint a Royal Commission of Inquiry to address school reform.
This is neither terribly specific nor is it clear how it will be costed, but those criticisms of Pakatan’s manifesto are now well-established.
Barisan Nasional by contrast has been terribly specific on this count, doubtless reflection of Najib’s time as Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s dual role as Education Minister. Barisan Nasional introduced the National Education Blueprint (NEB) in September, and though it came under predictable criticism from Pakatan, it also echoes Najib’s proclivity to technocratic improvement and transparent goals.
The NEB is a multi-stage process, which includes reforms of curriculum, an emphasis on proficiency in English and Bahasa Malaysia, renewed emphasis on science and maths, and opportunities for the best students to flourish and the lesser performers to remain engaged in the system. The manifesto expands on this, promising specific goals for both the Peninsular and Borneo, with an emphasis on improving, rather than destroying and rebuilding, the current educational system. As with many Barisan projects, it is both a ground-breaking reform and a slow phase-in, allowing changes to be made as needed.
Peace and Security
Here we are left with a somewhat confusing situation. To this point, we have attempted to lay out what the parties have on offer in each policy area; however, it is hard to know Pakatan Rakyat’s stands on international relations and domestic security, as these have been afterthoughts to the Opposition pact for some time.
Depending on the day and whether the Wall Street Journal is in earshot, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim may or may not be committed to a policy with regard to Palestine roughly equivalent to Najib’s; he may also be Israel’s staunchest defender. On most other foreign affairs and domestic security issues, Pakatan has treated things such as defence as afterthoughts to be cut to expand domestic welfare programmes.
At worst, they are prone to allegedly suggesting that the terrorist invasion in Sabah was staged by Umno. At best, their complete indifference to what happens in Asean and the world suggests that they may continue the BN government’s policies out of inertia, until they find they need to gut defence and foreign affairs in favour of free petrol.
Long years have taught BN that such indifference can be dangerous. Malaysia’s rise past middle-income status is dependent on generating demand for goods and services inside the country; but its rise to developed-nation status is dependent as well on trading with a peaceful and harmonious world. Courting foreign direct investment; brokering peace deals with neighbouring countries; and raising Malaysia’s international stature are critical aspects of this approach.
Najib has made all three vital components of his foreign policy, and the results speak for themselves. His internationally-acclaimed Global Movement of Moderates is thematically tied to his 1Malaysia vision of a nation of progressive, moderate Islam bound by tolerance and peace. His outreach for FDI has been remarkable by any standard. Malaysia is now known as a perfect moderator for intractable fights, such as Myanmar’s time in international isolation and the end of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front conflict in the Philippines.
So successful has he been that the BN manifesto pledge to seek a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council seems well within reach.
BN’s stature has itself grown in the wake of the invasion by Suluk terrorists Najib’s attempt to peacefully resolve the matter was praised across the world, and when resolution became impossible, he dedicated his government to ending the attack. Najib’s personal attention to the wounded and dead, a reflection of his view of the government’s role to the police and armed forces, has also raised BN’s and his own approval ratings on this matter – and rightfully so.
Each party has promised that it is ready to govern. Each has an array of statistics and arguments. We ask that every Malaysian choose carefully by weighing these arguments, and considering for whom they will vote before approaching the polls.
However, we would add a point of consideration. We make no secret of our admiration for Barisan Nasional’s manifesto, even where we might offer some changes, because it is a document that demonstrates transparency and a fundamental trust of the rakyat. It is terribly specific, so that should a promise not be kept, BN will be held accountable. It is extensive, it is comprehensive, and it reflects an integrated policy approach that appears feasible, and is surely costed.
By contrast, we have grave concerns about Pakatan Rakyat. The old battles over hudud law, the so-called ‘Allah’ issue, and a thousand smaller fights – most recently in seat allocation – are significant. Our greater concern is in their manifesto, which is full of sweeping promises with no detail, no specificity, and indeed, little beyond very large orange letters and a line or two beneath. It is a bare handful of pages, constantly amended, and implicitly suggests that the rakyat simply want to hear nice promises; the details are irrelevant. (We also must note PKR’s stance that a manifesto is not a promise, a contrast to BN’s theme of “promises fulfilled.”)
One treats Malaysians as partners in governing, citizens whose voices and hopes and aspirations are worth hearing and respecting. The other treats Malaysians as mere subjects, who will take goodies and gleefully vote for whomever can give the most, and who do not care about accountability.
We would submit that this issue reflects all of the others.