KUANTAN, Pahang: Najib Razak remembers what happened in the "political tsunami" of 2008. An unforeseen loss of power big enough to destabilise his coalition.
For the first time in its 50-year rule, Barisan Nasional (BN) lost the two-thirds majority in parliament – a loss it has never recovered from.
Yet a decade later, there are rumours of another political tidal wave.
A "Malay tsunami" on Wednesday (May 9) that could sweep away BN’s parliamentary majority as Malaysians decide whether the ruling alliance deserves another term.
To Najib, BN has nothing to fear.
“I see the real situation. I see the reality on the ground. Our political base remains strong and intact,” the 64-year-old said Monday on local television programme Mandat.
“If the opposition is confident about the Malay support, why didn’t they hold big rallies in Malay areas? Most of its participants aren’t Malays. They’re DAP supporters.”
He was referring to the largely Chinese Democratic Action Party, which holds an integral status in the opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan. In the previous polls, its candidates took several parliamentary seats from the ruling Malaysian Chinese Association, as most of the Chinese-Malaysian votes swung to the opposition.
Come May 9, when the nation holds its 14th general election, Pakatan Harapan hopes to witness a similar phenomenon among the Malays. Many of them are upset with Najib’s leadership, tainted with his alleged involvement in the corruption scandal 1MDB and the unpopular implementation of the Good and Services Tax (GST).
Both issues have been used by the opposition camp to discredit Najib and swing the votes against the ruling alliance.
During his TV appearance on Monday, Najib condemned the opposition for its “slander tsunami” and “politics of hatred”.
He also questioned the possibility of its “unrealistic” manifesto while defending the GST, arguing the higher cost of living is a result of a growing economy and that the tax implemented in April 2015 can generate nearly US$11 billion's worth of revenue for the country.
“Our rate is one of the lowest in the world. Even if we abolished the GST, it doesn’t mean prices would drop since they're not controlled by the government,” he said.
Unfortunately, the opposition doesn’t have any strong weapon but slander and hatred.
VALUE OF PROMISES
The Malaysian election on May 9 is widely perceived as one of the toughest political battles in decades, with Najib pitted against 92-year-old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
For the first time, the nonagenarian is turning against his old alliance and one-time protege Najib, whose rise to power he described as “the biggest mistake of my life”.
His return to the political arena at the age of 92 and the favourable reception by his old enemy – the opposition – has convinced several voters that Pakatan Harapan under Mahathir’s captaincy could bring real change to Malaysia after more than 60 years under Barisan Nasional and its predecessor the Alliance Party.
“Him doing this at his age shows there is a very big heart inside him,” said a 35-year-old businessman from Kuantan in Pahang State.
I can’t say how good the opposition would be as they’ve never run the country, but I think they deserve a chance. The existing ruling party has government for too long.
Before Malaysians go to the polls, the "Bugis Warrior" - as Najib calls himself - has done everything in his capacity to prevent the potential "disaster".
His key strategy is promises worth more than US$77 billion. While most of it comes from BN’s election manifesto – which was launched shortly before the campaign period began on Apr 28 – at least US$159 million is the estimated value of promises made by Najib on his campaign trail.
Between Apr 28 and May 7, Najib pledged several development projects, special grants and budget allocations to various federal constituencies.
They include, for instance, Lembah Pantai, Kuala Selangor, Sungai Koyan, Tanjung Gahai, Beaufort and Langkawi.
“We should focus on our agenda for the people and future of our country,” he said on May 4 in Langkawi, Mahathir’s electoral battleground, before pledging to roll out 18 initiatives on the island.
"It’s all up to you to consider on May 9. Hopefully good news is there for us."
The 18 projects, ranging from subsidised loans to a new trading hub, a bigger airport and a cleaner sewage system, are worth more than US$80 million and mark the most valuable promise he has given in the on-going campaign. Some others include:
- A US$50.7 million allocation to the Human Resources Development Bhd
- A US$15 million allocation to the Social Security Organisation SOCSO
- A US$3.8 million allocation to Beaufort’s development projects
- A US$2.5 million help for Indian-Muslim NGOs
- A US$761,000 special grant to the Trades Union Congress
- A US$355,000 special aid for rice farmers in Pekan
The estimated amount of US$159 million does not cover projects whose value was not indicated, for example, 500 units of housing and a new religious boarding school in Sungai Siput.
CHANGE ISN’T ALWAYS GOOD
Calls for change have rippled across Malaysia. But for its caretaker prime minister, change is not always a good thing.
On Mandat, he warned voters against assuming that “change will definitely make things better”, citing the revolutionary wave Arab Spring which has swept the Middle East and North Africa.
“The Arab Spring is known for the power of people that finally toppled regimes they thought were dictatorship. But what happened to countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya? Not mentioning Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan,” Najib said.
These countries were destroyed. Because of what? Because the youths believed in change – change – but didn’t know which way to go.
For him, there is only one direction for Malaysia to move forward and that is another five-year term with BN.
“If we want to change, let’s change for something better,” he said. “We can transform the country without changing its leadership.”
In his home state, not everyone agrees with him.
“I want Malaysia to be better,” said a Malay entrepreneur. “But looking at Najib, he’s not leading it that way.”