Mon, Apr 08, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Malaysian PM, opposition offer voters cars, cash

ELECTION SWEETENERS:As polls loom, the ruling coalition and its rival are promising a better life for the poor in what analysts say will be a populist race

AP, KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has promised more cash handouts, cheaper cars and homes for the poor, and vowed tougher steps to combat graft as his long-ruling coalition seeks to fend off a resurgent opposition in upcoming national elections.

In a nationally televised address late on Saturday, Najib also offered improved transportation, education and healthcare in an election manifesto as he urged 13 million voters to stick to the National Front coalition that has ruled since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957.

He promised his coalition would do better and warned that voting for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s three-party People’s Alliance coalition would be akin to gambling away the country’s future.

“This mandate that I seek is about continuity and sustainability against disruption and stagnation, about moving forward versus regressing,” Najib said. “We have to safeguard what we have already achieved. We cannot put at risk what we have, we cannot gamble away our future.”

The National Front manifesto was unveiled three days after Najib dissolved parliament, paving the way for a vote widely expected in the next few weeks. The Malaysian Election Commission will meet on Wednesday to set a polling date.

Anwar’s coalition currently holds slightly more than one-third of parliament seats after the National Front endured its worst electoral results ever in 2008 polls amid public complaints about graft and racial discrimination.

Although the opposition has a strong chance at the polls, most analysts believe Najib’s coalition will have the upper hand because of its support in predominantly rural constituencies that hold the key to a large number of parliamentary seats.

In a bid to break the National Front’s hold on power, the opposition alliance has also made generous promises to lower the cost of living with cheaper cars and fuel, and free university education.

It also vowed to create new jobs, raise incomes and curb long-entrenched problems, including corruption and racial discrimination, if it wins power.

“This election is a race to be more populist. It is about which coalition can promise to give more to Malaysians. It’s setting a very unhealthy trend in Malaysian politics,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a Malaysian think tank.

In the manifesto, Najib pledged to gradually raise an annual handout for millions of poor households from 500 ringgit to 1,200 ringgit (US$164 to US$392), build 1 million low-cost homes and lower car prices by up to 30 percent over the next five years.

He laid out the country’s strong economic growth and said the government aims to woo 1.3 trillion ringgit in investment by 2020 to create 3.3 million jobs.

Najib also promised to bolster the police force to fight crime, set up more specialist graft courts and improve transparency with public disclosure of government contracts.

Najib’s government has already spent hundreds of millions of US dollars on financial handouts for students, low-income families and government employees in the past two years.

The prime minister has also intensified efforts to win back support by abolishing security laws that were widely considered repressive.

“The National Front is trying to play catch up with us, but what the people want is not just more money. They want a real systemic reform in the economy. They want a cleaner and a fairer society,” opposition lawmaker Liew Chin Tong said.

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