Once again, we’re witnessing inconsistency and contradiction among the Opposition coalition, this time in the debate over the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN).
After being caught out by young professionals in Subang Jaya last month on how to fund his proposal to abolish the PTPTN, admitting that he had not thought through the details, de facto Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim finally proclaimed that Pakatan would use oil revenues to cancel the debt owed by students and remove the loan scheme.
Not only was this idea widely panned by experts and the public alike as an irresponsible populist move that could “ruin” the country, but it also came to light that PTPTN was, in fact, set up when Anwar was deputy prime minister and finance minister.
This awkward revelation further illustrated to what lengths Pakatan will go to win over Malays in their 20s, who make up one-sixth of the voting population. Reversing his past co-ownership of PTPTN in a pre-GE 13 electoral gambit was revealed to be pure populism rather than policy coherence on the part of Dr M’s former right-hand man.
Now, as though matters were not awkward enough, Anwar has been contradicted in public by PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who has announced that PTPTN cannot simply be abolished.
As far as direct internal contradictions in Pakatan go, they don’t get any more direct.
“PTPTN cannot simply be abolished just like that,” said Hadi. “There has to be a process, a fair process, which is not burdensome to the poor and one where the more privileged must bear responsibility.”
Meanwhile, PKR unveiled a framework for a proposed free education policy that would replace the loan scheme and pledged that it would bear the tuition fees at public institutes and provide interest-free living cost allowances for qualified students.
PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli said the estimated RM 3 billion annual budget for this proposed scheme would be paid by abolishing highway toll concessions, which would allegedly save as much as RM 5 billion.
While it is refreshing to see actual ideas from PKR for a change, they clearly have not been synched with coalition partners nor are the numbers likely adding up.
The cost of higher education has skyrocketed over the last two decades and while the idea of free education certainly has a nice ring to it, especially in the lead up to general elections, the reality of implementing this promise will be near-impossible.
Currently, students who take PTPTN loans pay a minimum of the course fees and bear their own living costs while studying. Once they get a job they start re-paying their low-interest loans.
The Government has said abolishing PTPTN would cost the economy RM 43 billion and that the Opposition would have to raise taxes in order to cover this financial shortfall.
This, rather than the dream world Pakatan promises, would likely be the reality on the ground if the Opposition would ever achieve its goal of taking over Putrajaya.
Given the incoherence and conflict within the coalition, and Pakatan’s populist antics, Hadi’s weekend statement: “Give it (Putrajaya) to us (to rule) we will know what to do,” is not exactly a compelling argument for undecided voters.
In the end, running a country is not a game.