The “What Malaysia Wants” survey put Bread and Butter issues as the most important issue for voters. Surprisingly Pakatan Harapan message has been extremely uncoordinated, trying to convince voters to reject Dato Seri Najib and/or the UMNO led Government without making a coordinated attempt to address this glaring issue.
Previously, Pakatan Rakyat, the predecessor of Pakatan Harapan, had put out an election manifesto termed “Buku Jingga” (Orange Book) in the run up to the 2013 General Election (GE -13) which attempted to address some of the economic issues faced by the public. Even though it was a good idea, Pakatan Rakyat still lost the election as BN held on to its rural heartlands, Sabah and Sarawak.
However, as the saying goes – “If you fail, try, try again.” After all, the U.S. Presidential elections revealed that the previously Blue Dog Democrats in the U.S. Midwest backed Donald Trump’s candidacy because he had promised bringing back jobs to the United States and voters believed that he had the right economic credentials.
The polling data and general perception is that the population has endured economic hardships brought about by the GST, inflation in goods and services, stagnant wages and a depreciating Ringgit. This has been most felt by the Malays, especially those who are on a Government pension or dependent on agriculture such as Felda settlers. Though the standing of Dr Mahathir has taken a knock because of his association with the DAP, voters aged 30 and above still remember the good times when he was Prime Minister.
Thus, Pakatan Harapan should capitalise on this issue with a theme centred on – “Kembalikan zaman kegemilangan Malaysia”, or “Return to Malaysia’s Greatness”. This message is strong on hope and with a Dr Mahathir – Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim combination may still evoke memories of the good times enjoyed by voters in years past.
Additionally, Pakatan Harapan should begin to offer populist policies. ‘No brainers’ measures include complete debt forgiveness for Felda settlers for all debts owing to Felda and going forward, free replanting of palm oil plantations. Currently, Felda settlers owe approximately RM 5 billion in various debts to Felda. For some individuals, the debt could be as high as RM 100,000 due to replanting expenses, which could work out to RM 20,000 per hectare. This debt is highly unsustainable and Pakatan Harapan should make the offer to completely wipe-out theses debts and offer free replanting of palm oil estates.
The second grouse has to do with the GST. Pakatan Harapan should go and offer GST rebate, up to a certain amount, to all households with an income level below a certain threshold. Through the use of the MyKad, GST collected at the point of sale could be transferred as electronic cash or credited into a bank account.
There are actually a whole host of populist policies that should be championed by Pakatan Harapan. Whilst many may no longer see Dr Mahathir as a strong defender of Malay rights, his economic credentials are still impeccable. One story even described the time in the early 2000s, when Dr Mahathir was Finance Minister and chaired a pre-budget committee meeting from morning till evening. Such was his tenacity.
Another populist policy will be to build a third link to Singapore to open up economic developments along the Eastern Johor – Southern Pahang corridor. Donald Trump had the “Build the Wall” campaign, and any good campaign must have some ambitious project. These cover the Parliamentary constituencies of Pasir Gudang, Pengerang, Kota Tinggi, Mersing and even Tenggara. Other populist policies could be reducing the price of Gas, offering discounts for student loans, the sky is the limit on this.
We live in the age of populism and Populist policies should be championed relentlessly in the run-up to the election. Pakatan Harapan needs discipline to stay focused on a consistent message and avoid all the issues deemed irrelevant to voters.