Sunday October 9, 2011
Good handouts before election
By Baradan Kuppusamy
The Prime Minister is hoping to draw support with the goodies promised under the Budget as the battle in the next general election looms large.
THE Budget 2012 announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Parliament on Friday specifically targets selected groups like civil servants, retired military personnel, other pensioners, students, policemen and even taxi drivers who are all crucial to Barisan Nasional in the coming general election.
They form a large chunk of Malaysian voters and with their support, Najib is hoping to ride the 13th general election in style in the “do or die” battle ahead.
Najib has spread out the budget's largesse with care across the political spectrum, making every ringgit count and for the first time, also to Chinese, Tamil, mission and madrasah schools to upgrade their facilities.
Najib hopes to shore up support from these groups or win back some that were lost to the Pakatan Rakyat coalition which has been promising assistance to marginalised communities with its alternative budget as read out by its leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at a press conference three days earlier.
The Treasury-bursting Budget is generous with civil servants about 1.3 million of them who are expected to be the backbone of support for Barisan Nasional.
They get the retirement age raised to 60, a half-month bonus or RM500 minimum, and a new salary scheme that would see quick promotion and wage rise.
The populist measure to abolish school fees, although small by middle-class standards, would be a big, annual sum for the poor and well received. A universal and free education is the dream of most democracies.
In addition, RM100 to each student from Year 1 to Form 5 and a RM200 book voucher for students in Form Six and tertiary institutions would bring cheer to many school goers living in the lower income brackets.
For the first time too, the Government is specially addressing Tamil, Chinese and madrasah schools with RM100mil each to upgrade facilities.
Whereas help was doled out on an ad-hoc basis before, now these schools can plan and upgrade their facilities, classrooms and other amenities with money available. This allocation buys both MIC and MCA bragging rights with the people.
Business, environment and other special groups, usually targeted under previous budgets, were largely ignored or given token assistance.
The assistance given to taxi drivers is extraordinary and come several months after those in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor gathered and met Anwar at the Civic Centre here to highlight their plight.
Anwar had promised them a better deal when Pakatan Rakyat comes to power.
In this budget, Najib is seeking to wean taxi drivers off from Pakatan Rakyat. The budget has many goodies for them, abolishing exercise duties and sale tax for their taxis.
Additionally, road tax has been abolished and a payment of RM3,000 announced for disposing of old taxies. BSN will also have cheap loans at 2% interest for acquiring new taxis.
Taxi drivers are important during general election as they are used to ferry voters to and from polling booths by both coalitions. Having them behind you is opportune. Besides, they also talk with passengers and woo them.
Rural Malaysia, especially Sabah and Sarawak, will get the lion's share of the rural allocation of RM5bil to upgrade basic facilities, provide clean water and electricity, which alone has been given RM3.2bil.
It is a recognition that the rural vote in Sabah and Sarawak saved Barisan in 2008 and heavy emphasis is given to them to keep the rural votes.
Najib is laying out the red carpet to the rural voters, even the estates have been included this time with a RM100mil allocation for clean water supply. No longer do they have to depend on dirty ponds for their water supply.
Najib's emphasis is on the Barisan mainstay groups rural folk, civil servants, retired military personnel and others to shore up support for the ruling coalition.
Najib hopes to undercut the Pakatan appeal with these populist measures in the big battle that is shaping up soon.
About 60,000 long neglected armed forces retirees also stand to benefit with a one-off RM3,000 payment in “recognition of their sacrifices” but this is really to shore up support after the “Mohamed Sabu” debacle when the PAS deputy president likened soldiers and police as stooges of the colonial regime.
The RM300mil to construct a new outpatient wing is another well-earned populist measure because many people, usually the poor and retirees, flock to the overcrowded outpatient clinics in HKL.
The crucial Felda voters are also not left out with its listing in the offing that would create, in Najib's word, durian runtuh for settlers.
With these selective populists' measures, Najib is preparing the political ground to make it favourable for a general election expected to be called sometime early next year.
His forecast for 2012 growth is on the high side of 5% to 6% because the world, on which we depend to sell our products, is in a downturn and probably heading for a recession.
But Najib is optimistic that domestic demand and commodities export will keep Malaysia afloat.
The Budget then is the last ace in Najib's sleeve before he faces the people and he has assiduously spread the available cash to people who matter for the ruling coalition civil servants, retirees, armed forces staff, the rural folks, a big chunk of Malaysia expected to deliver when the time comes.