As the 14th General Election (GE14) nears, with polling set for May 9, parties, people and political junkies, pollsters and professors rightly scrutinise the pledges and counter-promises of politicians as espoused in their manifestos.
No sooner had Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched the Barisan Nasional manifesto on April 7, scrutiny had already begun, often tempered with disinformation, counter-claims and promises by the opposition. If it strays into wanton fake news, then political parties, like any citizen, will have recourse to the Anti-Fake News Act passed by the Dewan Rakyat last month.
Scrolling Google on the BN manifesto, the exercise becomes self-fulfilling.
“BN Manifesto Short on Structural Reforms” said one headline. “BN Manifesto realistic and forward-looking, say economists,” stressed another. “Malaysia’s ruling BN Coalition promises three million new jobs and bigger cash handouts in election manifesto,” said one from a foreign newspaper.
BN’s 220-page manifesto, published in six languages and themed, “With BN for a Greater Malaysia”, contains 364 pledges to be delivered over five years, targeting almost every community and segment in the country.
No wonder some pundits hailed it as BN’s “most inclusive general election manifesto to date”. The manifesto, as Najib maintains, should be considered with the 11th Malaysia Plan, TN50, and the annual national budgets that have been implemented and will be proposed.
“The future of this country belongs to all of us, regardless of our ethnicity, religious beliefs or geographical location,” he reminded in the manifesto, echoing the sentiments from the founding fathers of post-independence Malaysia, including Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister, and his successor Tunku Abdul Razak, Najib’s father, who stressed that the “future of our country depends on one important thing, that is on the unity of our people of various races”.
This catch-all approach is a wise move, given the nature of the composition of the BN coalition and the country’s political culture. To further consolidate inclusiveness, BN proposes to establish a special non-Muslim unit in the Prime Minister’s Department to promote dialogue on equality and mutual understanding between races.
The first recorded political manifesto in history is the Baghdad Manifesto of 1011 when the Abbasid Caliph Al-Qadir recorded testimony to cast doubt on the Fatamid claim that they were descended from Ali. This was followed five centuries later by the Act of Abjuration in 1581 when Dutch provinces revolted and declared independence from Spain, and subsequently by the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789 during the French Revolution. The list is endless.
The ethos of a successful manifesto should be as one pundit declared: “If you can’t do it, don’t pledge to do it.” Just as well that BN has a decent track record in delivering on its manifesto pledges. As Najib said at the launch, in the last five years BN had managed to fulfil 99.4 per cent of its GE13 manifesto pledges. Since 2009, according to BN, the coalition has delivered on a cornucopia of pledges relating to 18 sectors, including women’s participation, the economy, religious harmony, public transport, the environment, housing, cost of living and infrastructure development.
These are “work in progress”, but, enhanced in the 2018 manifesto. Women’s empowerment, for instance, is centred on establishing a women’s economic council, to be chaired by the prime minister, and tasked with ensuring that attention is given to the development of women’s economic agenda. BN also proposes to amend the Constitution to guarantee that women comprise a minimum 30 per cent of the Dewan Negara, and of decision-makers in all sectors. It will also enact the Sexual Harassment Act.
These are not only gender inclusive, but progressive. So are the new provisions in the manifesto, among them:
THE TN50 Public Transport Pass, which gives unlimited monthly access to public transport to students, working youths, senior citizens and the disabled. This is far more ambitious than the United Kingdom’s free local public transport Freedom Pass for over 60s;
ACCELERATING a sustainable forest economy; and,
AFFORDABLE housing with affordable mortgages and rents agenda through the establishment of two one-stop shops to synchronise and monitor all housing initiatives and to ensure quality and fitness for occupation.
BN’s commitment to the digital economy ecosystem is arguably the most proactive in Asean, which includes reducing broadband subscription costs, increasing speed by twofold, directing foreign direct investments to high-tech industries, financing start-ups and smart partnerships, and creating one million digital entrepreneurs within five years.
In economic management BN has surpassed expectations. Pledging to raise the minimum wage in phases to at least RM1,500 within five years is a defining pledge, although some would like the government to commit to adopting a living wage down the line. No BN government would extricate itself from its duty to enhance the role of Bumiputeras in the country’s economic development. Hence, the urgency of the government’s Bumiputera Economic Transformation 2.0 agenda.
The challenge for the next BN government is to ensure that its pledges are not merely a manifesto of parties, but a manifesto of the people and their dreams of peace and prosperity, and the roadmap to their realisation.
Najib concurs that BN “is not a perfect government free of any faults. But, we have brought about many improvements and changes that are in accordance with the people’s wishes”.
Malaysian voters, since independence, surely know which side their bread is buttered on!
Mushtak Parker is an independent London-based economist and writer.