Can GE15 bring us policy certainty and political stability?

by Shankaran Nambiar

The challenges that the Malaysian economy already faces will be compounded by a possible reconfiguration of the existing political order.

In terms of the growth rate year-on-year (y-o-y), it has been fairly positive in the last three quarters.

But that is no indication that all is well with the economy. Firstly, the value of the ringgit vis-à-vis the US dollar and the Singapore dollar has not been encouraging, fiscal indicators have been worrying, and companies have been complaining of labour shortages.

Longer term structural issues have been put aside to concentrate on immediate concerns. Budget 2023 is on hold since parliament was dissolved not long after it was tabled.

Meanwhile the jostling for power carries on with full force as the country heads for GE15.

It would be desirable if GE15 gives one party a clear mandate to rule the country for the next five years. An unlikely prospect at the moment.

A firm, undivided mandate would ensure not just political stability, but firm policy certainty.

With the fragmented political scenario, Malaysia could end up with a hung parliament or at best with a minority government, leading to the emergence of a coalition to take control of the administration.

The existing political parties do not have sharp ideological divides – with the exception of PAS – and there is little to differentiate them in terms of economic ideology.

Nevertheless, disagreements will abound, as was seen during Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) two-year term, followed by an uneasy alliance between Muhyiddin Yassin of Bersatu and Ismail Sabri Yaakob of Umno.

It is encouraging that PH, led by the once incarcerated Anwar Ibrahim, has published an interesting manifesto, a document that correctly identifies the most important problems that plague the economy – some silently, others less so.

In many ways the PH manifesto is creative. It addresses the question of Malaysia as an ageing society, something that has not been recognised as needing urgent action so far, and a buckling healthcare system.

In a novel turn, the manifesto directs its lens towards children’s rights, a rare turn for a country more obsessed with growth and industry.

The manifesto shows some seriousness in handling the concerns of Sabah and Sarawak, two territories in Borneo that feel alienated, and that are giving voice to the increasing sense of dissatisfaction at being left out of the centre of things. But that is an issue that Barisan Nasional (BN) has addressed, too.

Not to be left behind, BN has a manifesto that is radical in some ways. It promises an “assistive basic income” scheme, which will be credited every month automatically to households with a monthly income below RM2,208.

The notion of a basic income is an interesting one: it will give some certainty to those with low incomes; and it will keep aggregate demand afloat in the tough times that will roil the economy in 2023.

Above all, it will do away with the cluttering of cash handout programmes that have been instituted since the days of the pandemic.

In a refreshing move, the BN manifesto promises to cut income tax for those in the M40 group. When the wheels hit the ground, BN will have to deal with the nitty-gritty of instituting fiscal reform.

It is quite one thing to come out with interesting ideas and another to make them practicable. It cannot be denied that BN has done it in the past, particularly when it introduced the GST, a policy that for many years was kept on the shelf, even when thought to be useful.

And having won the elections, it will be another matter how the winners will keep a healthy coalition going through thin economic times.

As former second finance minister Johari Ghani has rightly pointed out, what the country needs is good leadership, a sense of vision, and a return to competent economic management.

Source: Can GE15 bring us policy certainty and political stability?-FMT

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