COMMENT | Both the BN and Pakatan Harapan manifestos are bright with promises but will the delivery of these attractive promises be actually fulfilled and delivered to the rakyat?
While most Malaysians welcome these large and varied goodies that have been liberally promised, there is considerable doubt as to whether these political promises are realistic, feasible and financeable by the national budget.
Budget proposals are announced in Parliament and are backed by legislation. But manifestos are publicised politically without legal backing and can and indeed be forgotten as in the past once the elections are over.
Public memory is short and many political leaders take advantage and also forget their promises easily.
Scrapping the GST and road tolls are attractive proposals that can win votes for the opposition Harapan Similarly, the proposed significant increases in BR1M, the big rise in the salaries and allowances of the over 1.6 million civil servants and pensioners, can win huge voter support.
But the burning public question will remain. Can the future budgets take the new budgetary strains imposed by either the BN manifesto’s 364 initiatives under 14 major thrusts or the Harapan manifesto's wide concessions?
It would have been more reassuring to the approximately anxious 15 million-strong electorate if the BN, as well as the Harapan manifestos, would have given the voters some estimates of the cost of all their generous giveaways and takeaways.
After all, it’s the rakyat and the tax-paying public that will have to bear the costs of these vast handouts and not just the well-off politicians alone.
The manifestos should also have outlined the impact on the national budget and the five-year economic plans and the viability and sustainability of these huge expenditures allocated to benefit the rakyat.
However, there is no point in giving away so much without informing the voters about the financial implications on the national budget deficits, the rising national debt and productivity as well as the other long-term implications on the economy.
Major public concerns
There are also some other major public concerns over the manifestos of both BN and Harapan that need to be addressed as follows:
1. Firstly, on the positive side, credit must be given to both political parties for focusing on the Bottom 40 (B40) income group of the population, even if the middle-income group seems to be relatively neglected.
Furthermore, it’s a pity that the top 20% (T20) income group has been left to enjoy and increase their wealth with liberal government support.
Is it because like in many other countries, the rich provide the political funding in the form of money politics to prop up their preferred election candidates who could reward them after GE 14? Neither side has mentioned this major weakness - why so?
2. Sadly, structural transformation policies have been mysteriously missed by both the government and opposition political parties.
For instance, they promise to fight inflation and the rising cost of living by raising subsidies and allowances but fail to address the basic causes of price rises.
The real causes of inflation are the low productivity, worsening corruption, wastage of public funds, inadequate competition and weak innovation due to the big brain drain.
Also, what about the vast influence of the government-linked companies that often crowd out the private sector and which may not be so competitive?
What and how much have the two manifestos said about these fundamental structural issues and actual structural weaknesses that do the country no good?
These are some of the big elephants in the room that are not seen or whose sight is avoided for political sensitivity and a lack of political will and courage in the search for votes.
Hence, the political economy lumbers along the path of possible decline. It’s true that the economy is moving forward quite well as of now. But for long can the economy move ahead without faltering?
3. The two manifestos hardly address the continuing large elements of the New Economic Policies. What about the New Economic Model that was introduced some time ago?
Has it fallen by the wayside, to be ignored by all the political parties for subtle and surreptitious reasons of their own?
Are we going to have more of the same protective policies for the next five years from both sides? So what is the real fundamental policy differences of both the political manifestos? If there are differences, how big are they and then how much is there to choose from?
Are both parties putting almost the same drink in just two different bottles?
4. Why is that the basic international concerns on the 17 UN Sustainable Goals and the UN Human Rights were not highlighted in the two important manifestos?
Are they not important enough for Malaysia’s long-term progress and sustainability? Our records in both spheres are by no means impressive so far.
There has to be strong government and firm political will to push these UN agendas forward more forcefully. Otherwise, we will lag behind.
5. Then there was little priority in both manifestos that was given to strengthen our national institutions. Most Malaysians believe that our national institutions, like the Election Commission, the judiciary, the press, the police, the civil service, the MACC and other institutions have declined in quality.
Good governance, in general, is widely perceived to have deteriorated. If this poor perception is correct then it must be corrected as a matter of priority.
If it is just like fake news, we must more effectively counter these unhealthy notions. We cannot afford to ignore these widely-held detrimental views both here at home and especially abroad.
The manifestos of both BN and Harapan though not fully satisfying are nevertheless somewhat welcome. Although they are necessary, they are certainly not sufficient to meet our rakyat's essential needs and legitimate expectations.
The wide range of fine and hopefully workable election promises must now be expanded where possible and most importantly monitored closely.
This must be done by an independent ombudsman or Parliamentary manifesto monitoring committee. This committee could report faithfully and transparently to the Parliament and the rakyat on a regular basis once every four months.
Only then will the rakyat be able to check on the honest and effective implementation of the election manifestos and their many political party pledges and promises.
Finally, we appeal to all registered voters to cast their votes wisely for our beloved country’s future and our own futures are at stake.
I would add, that if you can’t accept any political party, then please vote for the best candidate in your constituency. But please choose someone who is capable, diligent, honest and caring for his or her constituents and our country and posterity.
Hence, happy voting and we all hope for a free, fair and peaceful GE14 that will truly reflect the wishes of the rakyat.
RAMON NAVARATNAM is chairperson, Asli Center for Public Policy Studies.