‘Pessimism abounds’ in the nation


  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 08 Dec 2019

Job woes: Youth unemployment is one of the worries that is keeping Malaysians up at night, according to a survey. — Filepic

IT’S the perut economy, stupid. To rephrase American political strategist James Carville’s famous campaign message, that’s Emir Research president and CEO Datuk Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff’s advice to the Pakatan Harapan government.

The phrase “The economy, stupid” was coined by Carville, the election guru behind Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against incumbent George HW Bush. It was on a sign hung on the wall in the Clinton war room in Little Rock, Arkansas, as one of the messages for campaign workers to focus on. It is usually mistakenly rendered as “It’s the economy, stupid”.

On Nov 28, think tank Emir Research released the results of its survey, The Pulse From the Ground: Voices & Expectations of the Rakyat on Current Socio-economic Issues. It was conducted from Sept 5 to Oct 10 and polled 1,992 respondents.

What keeps Malaysians awake all night?

According to the survey, the top five sources of the rakyat’s worry are the cost of basic needs (86%), unaffordable homes (86%), lack of job opportunities (77%), youth unemployment (76%) and being in debt to sustain the cost of living (76%).

“All these relate to bread and butter issues – locally, we could say the ‘perut (stomach) economy’, hence the word. It also captures everyone’s imagination as it is a loaded word,” said Rais Hussin.

According to the survey, corruption and abuse of power, which used to be top the rakyat’s list of worries in the run-up to GE14 last year and immediately after Pakatan assumed power, has now been relegated to sixth position (75%).

“The reason for this relegation could be that the rakyat is tired of the long and tedious process of getting the kleptocrats of the previous regime behind bars and want the government to move on and focus on the perut economy, which is the main highlight of the PKR manifesto, rather than being distracted by continuous harping on the excesses of the previous regime,” the report said.

The pollsters broke down the worries according to race.

The main worry for the Malays and other bumiputras is lack of job opportunities (82%) followed by youth unemployment (82%) with corruption and power abuse (81%) trailing behind.

For the Chinese, their top three sources of worry are youth unemployment (67%), failure of the Sales and Service Tax (SST) to reduce the cost of living (67%), and lack of job opportunities (66%).

For the Indians, lack of job opportunities (75%), failure of the SST to reduce the cost of living (68%), and social issues such as drug abuse (68%) are the top three sources of their worry.

I asked Rais Hussin, based on the survey results, if GE15 was held today, how would Pakatan perform.

“We need to do more polls to ascertain the direction of people’s intention. The tide, as evident in the Tanjung Piai by-election, has turned against PH and if PH does not wake up quickly enough, they will be in trouble in GE15, whenever it comes,” he said.

According to Rais Hussin, the consequences of Pakatan ignoring the perut economy are dire. He said it would impact its credibility further especially after such a bruising push-back in several by-elections.

However, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia strategist argued there is still some time. Pakatan, he said, must re-focus on its delivery of the manifesto, albeit with some recalibration, given new on the ground realities.

To ignore this and expect people would understand, he warned, would be like Pakatan digging its own grave.

“The manifesto was written after laborious engagement with various stakeholders, it went through a vetting process with all parties within the PH coalition, and was presented twice to the PH Presidential Council before it was approved and unveiled,” said the strategist, who was the chairman of the committee that drew up the manifesto.

“Henceforth, it must be treated as an important document of offerings to the people, and PH must do everything in its power to fulfil it rather than finding convenient excuses or reasons why not to.”

The Emir Research president and CEO said it is imperative to note than when the basics are not delivered, everything else convenient becomes important. And in politics, he said, the most convenient tools used by politicians are race and religion as we have seen worldwide, whether in developed or less developed countries.

“Likewise, in Malaysia, race and religion have been used over space and time for political expediency and survival.

“When the government does not address the perut economy, the basics, then a ‘fertile’ audience will grow for what is known as identity politics – race and religion – that requires almost no ‘fertilising’ except rhetorical speeches that advocate fear of the majority losing significance to the minority,” he said.

“Politicians in Malaysia have perfected this art that will only ‘divide and rule’ the nation with little credible progress and development,” he said.

“Hate speeches will be the new norm instead of speeches advocating unity in diversity. And that can only be bad for any nation, what more a multireligious, multicultural one like Malaysia.

“It is time to move away from such divisive identity politics and towards the politics of reforms and justice that are progressive, inclusive and moderate. Other-wise we may fall behind Laos!”

I asked Rais Hussin whether the perut economy or identity politics would be the main factor when it comes to the ballot box in GE15 in three years’ time.

The perut economy, according to him, will still be important then, as eventually that will shape how people think and act.

“In GE14, people’s angst over what is now known as the biggest heist of the world – the 1MDB financial scandal and other such scandals involving a series of GLCs (government linked companies) and, more importantly, Malay institutions – really nudged some Malays to shift their votes to PH and that was sufficient to bring down the 61-year-old Barisan Nasional government,” he said.

“People’s angst was made worse by ballooning costs of living, lack of credible jobs, mampu tengok (can only afford to look at) houses rather than mampu milik (afford to own) houses, etc.

“It is great that after the PH takeover large scale excesses and corruptions have been mitigated. And some cases have been brought to courts. Good and fine.”

But what next, Rais Hussin asks – “How this will impact Ali, Ah Chong or Muthusamy?

“One other possibility is that if people grow tired of both BN/Muafakat Nasional (the unity pact between PAS and Umno) and PH, perhaps a new centrist party can emerge as a check and balance,” he said.

“Voters are a more discerning lot these days and with the new political landscape and new social media landscape, that is not an impossible reality, especially in urban and semi-urban areas.”

However, Rais Hussin expects GE15 to be very identity politics-driven given the marriage of convenience between Umno and PAS that will entice Pakatan too, to follow suit, to win.

“This will raise identity politics to new heights. To stop that, PH must quickly focus on delivering on the perut economy and fast tracking reforms that do not cost money – yesterday.

“Yes, less politicking, and focus on the people,” he said.

The survey revealed that only 24% of Malaysians think that the Pakatan government is a viable one, while 46% are unsure of its viability and 30% think it isn’t a viable government.

“This is in contrast with the past when a great majority of Malaysians were backing the then PH opposition coalition in the 2018 elections (GE14) that led to a change in government,” the report on the survey results said.

In terms of confidence in the economy, only 26% Malaysians consider it to be on a strong footing, 30% believe the economy is not on a strong footing and 44% are unsure what state the economy is in.

In terms of living conditions, 37% of Malaysians say their living conditions are better now compared with two years ago. They are also positive about a better future.

However, 19% think they are not doing well now compared with two years ago and will continue to not do well in the future.

“Pessimism abounds when 44% of Malaysians think that there is no difference in their living conditions now compared with two years ago.

“What’s more telling is that these 44% don’t even think that there will be an improvement in conditions in the future,” the report said.

The other phrase coined by Carville and hung up in the Clinton war room was “Change vs More of the Same”. Pakatan was voted in by the Ubah (change) tsunami. But its 18-month rule is being perceived as more of the same of the coalition it overthrew.


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