With one move, the Prime Minister regained some political momentum when he announced a slew of measures that benefits Felda settlers. Speaking at the Felda Settlers Day at Putrajaya, the Prime Minister announced six measures which included include debt forgiveness, incentive payment, the setting up of a special fund and grant, debt reduction plans as well as a housing incentive.
“With a total allocation of RM474.78 million, the payment will commence at the end of August, 2017,” he said to the applause of over 5,000 settlers attending the national level Felda Settlers Day 2017 celebration at Putrajaya.
The Rembau Times had long been campaigning for some measure of debt forgiveness for Felda Settlers and the Prime Minister did not disappoint in this regard. Each settler could stand to benefit from as little as RM 1,800 to as much as RM 7,000 to RM 8,000, depending on factors.
With this the Prime Minister at one swoop makes it clear to Felda settlers that their voices matter and he is sensitive to the feeling of discontentment that had been simmering under the surface. Even though the Rembau Times thought the Prime Minister may had done an RM 1 billion ‘package’, nonetheless the Prime Minister and his advisors must have felt sufficiently confident that the same effect could have been obtained at half the price.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister announced that the payments will start next month in August, which will coincide with the SEA Games and culminate in Merdeka Day celebrations. If the Prime Minister follows up this announcement with another BRIM payment to the masses, then it is a virtual certainty that Parliament will be dissolved in September and elections held soon after that. Delaying it any further will be disastrous as the Prime Ministers advisers know only too well that ‘goodwill’ engendered by measures like BRIM and Felda incentive payments evaporates quickly over time and gives more time for Pakatan Harapan to gel under a Dr Mahathir’s leadership.
However, by that it means that the Prime Minister is willing to square up to the challenge to face Tun Dr Mahathir, while he is still alive and capable of providing strong leadership to the Opposition. A more conservative approach would be to wait until the next year as Tun Dr Mahathir is now firmly in his nineties and may be forced to slowdown due to his advanced age.
That is the big risk the Prime Minister is taking. Delay calling the election, and the feel good factor evaporates; call the election right now and face one the man many people regardless of race regard as being the greatest Prime Minister of Malaysia and an Opposition that is slowly beginning to gel as a team.
This is because beyond the 90,000 settlers and their families, the 7 to 8 million BRIM recipients may already have factored this payment into their monthly budgets as a form of rebate to the GST and not be as ‘grateful’ as expected. Furthermore, most of the people above the age of 35 remember the economic progress and ‘good life’ enjoyed under Dr Mahathir’s administration. Tun Dr Mahathir may be ninety, but right now he still looks fit and in command.