Rising cost of living in the minds of voters

Electorates are more concerned about the rising cost of living than the promises of infrastructure and mega projects in this general election


Kamaruddin Atan runs a petrol station in Ampang, Selangor. He has been operating the fuel-pump business for 20 years. Like the thousands of other entrepreneurs, people like Kamaruddin has a succint sense of the economic wellbeing.

Businesses thrive when people spend. Bottom line goes south when people are less willing to depart with their money. Nobody knows it better than Kamaruddin who thrives or suffers based on the volume of the fuel he sells.

“Previously customers may fill RM50 of fuel, but now they only buy RM30. They used cars before, but now they use motorbikes. With the rising cost of living, people are limiting their transport cost,” said the 53-year-old father of four children.


Previously customers may fill RM50 of fuel, but now they only buy RM30. They used cars before, but now they use motorbikes, says Kamaruddin (Pic by Muhd Amin Naharul/TMR)

He is also striving to keep his business pro table, pushing for the sales of non-fuel products at the retail mart to cushion the drop in customer spending for fuel.

He is also one of the growing electorates who are more concerned about the rising cost of living than the promises of infrastructure and mega projects in this general election.

“Infrastructure spending is important, but the higher living cost is a direct burden. I think that (rising cost of living) has to be settled first before anything else,” he said.

Development and infrastructure promises have always been high on the agenda of political parties during the general election besides job creation, social wellbeing, better living standards and economic prosperity.

For many from the almost 15 million eligible voters who will go to the polls for the 14th General Election (GE14), promises of developments and infrastructure are not the only benchmarks to sway their voting preference.

Over the last 61 years, Malaysia has experienced significant growth from a backwater agricultural-based nation to a near-developed country.

Rising gross domestic product and wealth had allowed the government to invest in infrastructure of global standards.

But the promises of new airports, free-trade zone areas, hospitals, schools and other mega projects are clearly challenged by the rising cost of living, low wages and social issues.

“The money we acquire and the time we spend at work are not at par with how we are living,” said civil servant Shanthini Subramaniam, 36.

Shanthini said the government should look into non-physical attributes such as education and national unity rather than spending billions on infrastructure projects.

“Investments should be made to strengthen national education and making sure crime rates go down. There should also be efforts to bridge the gap between people. Personally, I feel that we are focusing too much on the exterior part of nation building,” she said.

Political analysts concurred that political parties are facing very tough electorates and the old mantra of development alone will not help the respective parties to capture Putrajaya.

Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute research and business development director Lau Zheng Zhou said infrastructure promises will not be a major selling point in the upcoming election as the issue of cost of living will be more important than long-term development for voters.

He said voters may not be easily swayed by mega projects as they are sceptical on how these investments will benefit them.

“Both sides of the divide will have to make their arguments based on who can address the issue better.

“They may also think that mega projects are the responsibilities of a government, anyway. But what is clear, is that they expect to see reforms in governance and institution,” Lau said.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said promises of development could sway the support of voters, especially for projects which may have a direct impact to the voters, create jobs and an improved quality of life.

But he said the current generation of voters who are below the 45-age group are less easily convinced, are more critical and demand the evidence of the delivery on previous pledges.

“Highways, roads, hospitals and other public facilities previously promised in past elections, in some cases repeatedly, but not delivered, are increasingly being shared on social media as criticism on the current government’s ability to deliver.

“This will apply equally to the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which will be under a lot more pressure than Barisan Nasional, to show that they can deliver on their own promises,” he said.

Political parties are already riding on these key issues. Promises of governance, improvement in living cost, employments and transparency are being the building blocks of the campaigns of all parties.

“Infrastructures for national development is good. Promises for it is good too. But, the most important question is the method in which these projects are executed. Again, transparency and honesty is very important,” said 26-year-old first time voter Abdul Fattah Jusoh.

The challenge for political parties for the GE14 is capturing the hearts of voters who have gone beyond the mantra of development.