Because Every Malaysian Has to Choose

Because Every Malaysian Has to Choose

When we launched this site four months ago, we did so because we truly believe that every Malaysian has and deserves a real choice in selecting our Government and the kind of policies and reforms that will make us stronger as a nation.

We believed that GE13 would be a policy election, a real choice between two contrasting visions for Malaysia, and we were determined to bring that policy conflict and contrast to our readers and let them choose.

There was much to give us hope. Election fever was already rising. The Government had announced and launched a series of further reform programmes; the Opposition was finally promising a manifesto at Alor Setar in January and hinting at a shadow cabinet; the parties were holding their general assemblies; and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s trial was approaching its finale, one way or another clearing the way for Pakatan Rakyat to move on to bigger things.

At the time, we harboured dreams of policy talk and discussions of the real problems and challenges facing Malaysia. We were reasonably certain that very soon, the rakyat would receive a real choice between the two coalitions, a choice defined by contrasting policy on critical issues.

We wanted then, and we still want today, as we believe you do as well, to read and hear about alternative and competing visions of our country’s future, on social policies, on economic policies, on foreign policies, on housing, on petrol subsidies, on education, on a range of issues. Because it is our responsibility and our destiny as a nation to choose our own future; because, as our motto goes, every Malaysian has to choose.

Whatever one thinks of Barisan Nasional of the past, it is hard to deny that in 2012 Datuk Seri Najib Razak is working hard at reforming Umno, BN, and the Government; and that he has put forward clear policies on almost every issue imaginable. This was clear in December, and remains clear now.

For example, he really did listen to the concerns of Berish 2.0 and last September he announced a range of reforms, from electoral reforms to media and press reforms to finally repealing the ISA.

Meanwhile, over at Pakatan, we still do not see a clear manifesto of policies that are jointly agreed and announced by PKR, DAP and PAS.

In recent months, as PAS has been stumbling through the aftershocks of its welfare state/hudud law internal conflict, and worrying about Kedah and Hasan Ali, we have looked at DAP and hoped this would be the most serious opposition party. We wanted to see beyond the old guard of Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh, to a younger generation of technocrats who could — and would — produce substantial policy vision. We are not there yet.

We looked out and we saw younger elements of PKR struggling out from under Anwar to act as more than a bridge between PAS and DAP, to put forward meaningful ideas into our discourse. But we ended up with more of the same at PKR, more of a one-man party still playing the victim rather than offering an alternative and substantive and detailed vision of government and set of specific published policies.

In December, we were certain that GE13, when called, it would be an exciting time, with a real choice between contrasting visions and policies for Malaysia. Today, we are not so sure. Too much is personalised. Too much is about ego or family inside both DAP and PKR. And PAS looks like it has lost its way and is suffering something of an identity crisis.

In January, with Anwar’s acquittal in Sodomy II, Pakatan had a golden moment to talk policy, to put forth a manifesto and a raft of policy proposals, to give Malaysia what it deserves and has deserved since GE12: a serious opposition that offers a coordinated and coherent set of opposition policies, as one would expect in any parliamentary democracy.

Were we to compile Pakatan’s policy proposals since then, based purely on their recent public pronouncements, the comprehensive list would look something like this:

• Criticise the Government’s ETP, ignore the fact that unemployment is low and foreign direct investment is high, and GDP growth continues at around 4 or 5 percent at a time when the rest of the world is in slowdown mode, and offer no substantive alternative economic growth policies.

• Review or repeal “archaic” laws such as the sodomy laws, definitely, no, maybe.

• Normalise relations and trade with Israel, no, maybe.

• Call for a minimum wage but when the Government seems to be implementing one then complain it might hurt small businesses.

• Do not institute a minimum wage because that would be bad for employment, maybe.

• Imprison every officer of the National Feedlot Corporation for life and presume everyone is guilty. Use NFC as a stick to beat the Government.

• Agree with Najib’s plan to repeal the ISA but don’t offer any new and more restricted laws against terrorism as every other democracy does these days.

• Say something about hudud law, but no one quite knows what because PAS and PKR and DAP do not seem to have any agreement on hudud.

• Offer free or cheaper petrol and electricity, somehow, maybe, but offer no explanation of where the funds will come to pay for increased susbsidy.

• Try to frighten everybody that Malaysia is turning into Greece and will go bankrupt, someday, maybe, and use fallacious economic arguments in flawed economic analysis.

• Ignore the GST debate completely.

• Accuse the Government side of cronyism but stay silent on allegations of cronyism when they come back at you.

We at The Choice sincerely believe that every Malaysian deserves an informed choice, and we believe it is our duty to lay out the competing visions. If only there were some more competing visions.

Pakatan’s treatment of the rakyat is not at this point worthy of the kind of opposition one might see in Britain or Germany or Australia or even India where in a democracy the opposition tells the voters what it stands for, in a clear set of policy pronouncements.

Pakatan seems to offer genuine discourse occasionally when Rafizi Ramli or Tony Pua or Lim Guan Eng says something interesting and proactive. And that happens about one third of the time. At least it happens occasionally. But most of the time we get bombastic statements from Lim Kit Siang, occasional demagogy from family member Lim Guan Eng (as often as he says something right he gets it wrong, especially when he talks racism), sometimes reasonable and sometimes exaggerated statements by Azmin Ali, sometimes serious and sometimes populist statements from Tony Pua, crazy stuff from Hasan Ali and almost nothing from the invisible, shrinking political leader of PAS, Hadi Awang.

The contrast with Najib, his party, his coalition, and his Government simply could not be more profound. Whether one favours BN or opposes them or is simply undecided, the point is that Najib has pushed his coalition and his Government to put forward meaningful policy on every issue facing Malaysia. Rising costs and expanding social needs in urban areas; extending the medical safety net into the cities; advancing economic growth and development so that young people can put their talents to work and reap the rewards; reforming or repealing laws too draconian for our times; improving government efficiency; advancing foreign direct investment; the list goes on for some time.

This is not to minimise Umno’s, and BN’s, shortcomings. There are still Old Guard Umno people we think are just out of touch with the younger rakyat and who do not like reforms. We agree on the need for more young politicians with younger ideas and we hope that is the meaning of “winnable candidates.”

On balance, as of today, there is not enough of a choice in front of our electorate. We need a clear manifesto and we need to know what PAS and DAP can agree on. At least we know that Najib is trying to push through reforms and economic growth through multiple initiatives and programmes, some which will succeed and others not. What we don’t know in any detail is what Anwar is prescribing in policy terms yet.

In our country the battle of ideas is far from over – in fact, it has just begun. The decisions we take now will determine what Malaysia achieves in the 21st century. It’s all about people just like you taking action based on your beliefs, your aspirations and your values. Making key choices comes from well argued debate and that’s where we at The Choice sincerely want to help.

We say this because it is our view that when it comes to GE 13, and to deciding our nation’s destiny in the 21st century, every Malaysian has to choose.