Partyforumseasia: Election campaigns are getting more expensive practically everywhere in competitive political systems. Ruling parties regularly enjoy a huge advantage because private donors from the business sector have enough incentives to support them for all the possible protection they can get in return. Legislation can change their competitiveness in many ways, and in many Southeast Asian countries, especially in Malaysia, licences and big public procurement orders are not necessarily given to supporters of the opposition.
The upcoming election in Malaysia, “GE 14” (14th general election), due latest by August this year, is highlighting the monetization trend in a very special dimension. Not that the generous distribution of “goodies” and further promises are anything new before elections, but the Barisan Nasional government’s cornucopia, or “horn of plenty” has never been as full as this time. Being a political symbol of sorts, offering the cornucopia has a long tradition, e.g. in the seal of North Carolina or – more bluntly with gold coins – in the coat of arms of the city of Copiapó in Chile:
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the Finance Minister, explains the nature of the current cash flows as follows:
“ … the RM6.3 billion (USD 1.6 billion) worth of financial aid to be given to seven million people nationwide this year is a targeted subsidy scheme hatched by the central bank, not an effort to buy votes ahead of a general election due within months.” (Straits Times, Singapore, 27 February 2018)
This amount is only meant for poorer people under the “1Malaysia People’s Aid Program” or BR1M. Other “cornucopia programs” have been implemented long before, RM 2.5 billion have already been paid since July 2017. Pay hikes and bonuses for the huge civil service which is dominated by the main voter target group, the Malays, and for another Malay vote bank, the farm land distributing organization FELDA. Discontent among the settlers seems to have been overcome with extra payments.
Prime Minister Najib dismisses criticism with his remarkable cold blood and straight face. When his challenger, veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad called the payments vote buying, Najib insisted that his government is truly concerned about the people and that the central bank suggested the latest round of payments, not the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). The rising cost of living is one factor in the looming election campaign which is a possible danger for his re-election. The corrupt image of the BN- government and its cronies is another one. This is why there might be a sign of nervousness despite all the successful maneuvers to split and harass the opposition, with the biggest coup being the new closeness to the Islamic PAS party and the defamation of the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) as anti-Malay and anti-Islam.
The Prime Minister keeps boasting about the fabulous economic development of Malaysia. The figures are indeed quite good, but could possibly be even better without some of the opaque political money flows, as a comparison with tiny Singapore illustrates. In 2016, the latter’s GDP was one billion USD higher than that of Malaysia, and the GDP per capita 5.5 times higher accordingly. The voters in Johor, Malaysia’s federal state bordering Singapore, know that very well, and the opposition tries to use their comparison with the rich neighbor to conquer Johor.