Election claptrap and budget masterstroke

THE election season will float all sorts of claptraps, and maybe a masterstroke or two. Let’s start at the top. Recently, caretaker Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was breathing down the DAP’s neck, telling us all how this party is supposedly anti-royalty. 

This is not the first time that an Umno politician has used that card, and it won’t be the last. And it’s a card they will play to the hilt because, like it or not, it does work among some segments of the voters. Now, that’s claptrap. 

Then, the other day, PAS supremo Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang went to town in a series of tweets about DAP being pro-Communist. He warned of the danger they pose to the nation. 

Conclusion: #TolakDAP. Never mind that PAS and DAP were bedfellows in the past, running state governments in Selangor and Penang under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) banner. 

As we move closer to the D-Day, expect more of such silly talks and even manufactured lies. 

We can learn a lesson from the 1990 elections. Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the Kelantan prince who was then leading Semangat 46, was the man in the centre of action. Two years after a blistering fallout with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the formation of Umno (Baru), Ku Li, as he’s popularly known, managed to marshal support for the Opposition. 

In that general election, Semangat 46 led two coalitions — a multi-racial Gagasan Rakyat (GR) with DAP and Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) as partners, and Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU) comprising PAS and other Islamic based parties. 

The temperature was high. Ku Li and the two coalitions he forged were giving Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) a run for their money. But one photograph caused massive damage to their campaign. 

The newspapers and the BN propaganda machinery distributed photos of Ku Li bearing what seemed like a Christian headgear. What a traitor, they screamed. Many voters were angered by Ku Li’s seeming misdeed. And the votes swung back to BN. 

In actual fact, he was wearing the Kadazan headgear that looked like a cross. But by the time the actual story made its way to the voters, the damage was done. The winner had comfortably gone back to ruling the country. 

So, be warned. In this age of social media, it has never been easier to float lies and spin tales. 

Now, let’s see what can turn out to be a masterstroke for the election underway. 

When Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz presented the proposed federal government’s budget for 2023 on Oct 7, 2022, most deemed it an election budget. When Parliament was dissolved three days later, the proposed Budget 2023 document became a laughing stock. “What a waste of time,” you hear them say. 

But that document, though a pie in the sky it may be, is taking on a life of its own. 

Let me explain. 

First, the Umno-led government had access to civil servants and technocrats to craft plans that would translate into votes. Since they were running the government, they had access to these resources. And that’s a mighty resource to have at your disposal. 

No such luxury for Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and others. But PM Ismail Sabri did. And he put it to work. 

But why bother when you dissolved the Parliament just a few days later? 

Well, watch his campaign trail. Ismail Sabri has been peddling details in the budget, to the tune of RM372.34 billion, hoping to scoop votes in a targeted manner. The budget has plans to dish out some RM10 billion in cash aid and tax cuts for middle-income groups and SMEs (small and medium enterprises). It promised something to paddy farmers, rubber smallholders and women. And much more. 

As he meets the various groups, Ismail Sabri reminds them of what is in store for them. It provides convenient soundbites to plaster on his case. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, he tells them. So, vote BN and you will get the promised budget. 

For PH, on this front, their work was made all the more miserable when they admitted in the past that the manifesto on which they won in 2018 had contained promises that they could not deliver. 

So, the budget could turn out to be a masterstroke after all. But enough to take them across the finishing line? 

In the meantime, watch out for election hogwash and be ready for some coups de maître. — pic BERNAMA

  • Habhajan Singh is the corporate editor at The Malaysian Reserve.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition

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