Thursday, 2 May 2013

A slogan is not an agenda


THE 13th general election has been without a clear agenda. Am I the only one to feel this?

Yes, the Barisan Nasional is selling continuity, stability and 1Malaysia against Pakatan Rakyat’s rallying cry of “Change”. That much is obvious.

However, campaigns so far have been without an anchor on issues. What are the candidates’ stand on public education? Why is it that every year more and more school leavers are achieving straight-A results, yet our public universities are tanking in global rankings?

What impact would Barisan’s “continuity” have on this education system and what alternative is the Pakatan offering? If you have just shrugged reading that sentence, so did I writing it. Nobody really knows, it seems.

The world’s most reported election campaign was the last US presidential election. During that election, the agenda was clear cut: The Republicans were for a reduction in public spending, cutting taxes for the rich and were opposed to universal healthcare.

The Democrats wanted to raise taxes slightly for the rich, implement universal healthcare and continue high public spending until the economy returned to consistent growth.

I’ll make another comparison.

Closer to home in Singapore, the political agenda has centred on immigration and its impact on job security, rising house prices and public transport. The PAP-led Government is for high rates of immigration to continue, arguing that it allows Singapore to remain competitive.

The opposition has endorsed a more conservative protectionist alternative, saying that there should be a limit to globalisation and open borders. So back to Malaysia. Attend any campaign rally and you would struggle to find a clear agenda.

No one is explaining how they would actually govern the country or even declare their stand on controversial issues. There might be specifics contained in their manifestos but the candidates are not explaining much details at the ceramah.

The underlying message in any number of ceramah that you and I could attend in the next three days is: Hate my opponent and love me. Now let’s sing a song.

It has surprised me that the Barisan has not better articulate its government and economic transformation plans. The fact is that the Malaysian economy has in the last four years grown consistently when our regional neighbours have been plagued with more uncertainty. Instead of focusing on their own positives, Barisan candidates have at urban ceramah emphasised on hudud law scaremongering.

This anti-hudud law thing is obviously not working here. Heck, even Sarawak’s traditional media has not given the matter much coverage. Worse still, it is not pulling in the crowds at SUPP ceramah, so why keep harping on it?

And why is the SUPP ceramah in the state capital called the “Reveal the fairy tale of PR” campaign? What exactly is the agenda of SUPP’s aspiring candidate based on that tagline? Why is the campaign not highlighting more of Tan Kai, whom I’ve met and is actually quite a nice, open-minded guy?

Putting aside all the confusing slogans, at the end of the day, the lack of a specific Malaysian agenda in this general election signifies that we are a society increasingly fragmented. Talking points in urban and rural areas are so far apart.

Amid urban voters, the topic of this election is corruption, with promises to reduce it from both sides. To rural voters in Sarawak, the campaigns have been about development and on native land controversies. The difference in issues mirrors exactly the standard of living gap.

I suspect no clear cut agenda has emerged from the campaigns so far because politicians have not openly and frankly discussed the gaps that exist between Malaysians.

Barisan candidates by and large have refused to admit their shortcomings as a government, and that has encouraged Pakatan to over-promise on matters, which it might not be able to fully deliver because of pre-existing problems in our society. Anyway, by next week I shall be writing, not on the 13th general election, but on the 13th government of Malaysia. Whatever the outcome might be, the tougher road lies ahead.

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