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Lets Avert a Complete Rout of the Opposition in PRU 14

A few days ago, at a PSM Press Conference I opined that the Opposition should not take the peoples’ continued support for granted. I predicted that the BN will not only hold on to Putrajaya, but might also regain its 2/3 majority in the Dewan Rakyat. My reasons for fearing this include
-          The break-up of PAS and the real possibility of 3 corner contests in seats contested by Amanah.
-          The rushed decision to form Gerakan Harapan Baru. PKR has chosen Amanah over PAS  and this may lead to a diminution of PAS support for PKR in PRU14. This could prove costly to the PKR in seats with more than 30% Malay voters.
-          The ongoing public squabbling among the opposition parties. The thinking public despair that there isn’t much to choose between BN and the Opposition.
And for me, the most important
-          The failure of the Opposition Coalition to address honestly the fact that Malay support for the PR declined between 2008 and 2013. This was clearly shown in analyses of voting trends in Kedah, Kelantan, Perak and Kota Raja.
The Reticence of Rural Malay Voters towards the PR

The standard PR spiel re PRU 13 is that the election was stolen from the opposition by a combination of favouritism on the part of the SPR, ballot stuffing and the introduction of mysterious additional ballot boxes at the main counting centres, large number of illegal Bangladesh voters, etc. Why didn’t this affect the urban votes? The truth is, if the support of the rural Malay voters in Peninsular Malaysia had remained at 2008 levels, Anwar Ibrahim would now be in Putrajaya not Sg Buloh1
So why did Rural Malay support decline for the PR? Why were the rural Malays more susceptible to BN propaganda? I would have thought that this should be a burning issue that the leaders of the opposition focus on, analyse and come to some consensus as to how to deal with. But we are not seeing this. 

The best minds in the PR seem to be focusing on corruption in UMNO  - and there is certainly a lot to talk about there. But would those kinds of expose lead the rural Ma Chiks and Pa Chiks to vote opposition. I think rural Malays are aware of corruption and misuse of power by UMNO. But clearly, for them, a corrupt UMNO is a safer bet than the PR. Why?
Some individuals outside the PR have suggested some very plausible reasons. Dr Wong Chin Huat has argued that PR hasn’t yet clearly articulated how it is going to deal with rural Malay poverty. The BN system of subsidies and provision of infrastructure has not resolved the problem. If the PR proceeds to cut back on NEP type programs (what some Malays fear will happen if the PR takes over), wouldn’t the Malay poor in the country side be in a worse off situation? 

This, argues Chin Huat, is one major cause of Malay anxiety regarding regime change2. I agree fully with Chin Huat on this. Until the Opposition elevates the issue of persistent rural poverty as a central issue that the opposition is committed to resolve, we can say goodbye to rural Malay voters in PRU14, and given the extra weightage of rural seats, it’s quite a big number!
The Causes Rural Poverty among Malays

I carried out survey covering 130 Malay families in Sg Siput in August 20153. Among my key findings were
-          45% of these families had household incomes of less than RM1200 per month. Another 40% had incomes between RM1200 and RM 2000 per month. Only 15% of these families earned more than RM2000 per month.
-          55% of the main breadwinners (men aged between 30 and 50 years) in this survey were wage earners. 37% of the wage earners earned less than the minimum wage of RM 900 per month.
-          There was a high level of hidden unemployment. 43% of the men aged 30 to 50 years worked less than 4 days each week.
-          65% of the men between the ages of 30 to 50 years were not contributing to EPF or SOCSO. This has serious negative implications when they become senior citizens.
The major cause for this state of affairs is something that Marx termed “the army of the unemployed”. The existence of 3.5 million undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia drives down the wage floor in addition to creating under-employment. A local trying to get a job as an agricultural labourer would have to settle for rates that the “PATI” (immigrants without documents) agree to – ie around RM700 per day with overtime at the 1.0 rate. I expanded on this point in some detail in my 2016 Budget speech4.
Another cause of rural Malay poverty is the persistence of a Feudal culture that aids and abets those who are continuously siphoning off funds meant for poverty alleviation into their and their crony-partners’ pockets. The government allocates more than RM15 billion per year for poverty eradication in rural areas as follows
–        Ministry of Agriculture: subsidies covering padi farmers, rubber smallholders, vegetable farmers, fishermen, etc;
–        Ministry of Rural Development: Houses, bridges, roads, plantation projects, grants/loans for agro-businesses, MARA Residential Schools;
–        Ministry of Education: Primary Schools in rural areas; 
–        Etc. The above list is not exhaustive!

Unfortunately, the manner in which this Aid is given is opaque. The rural poor, the target population, are not informed of the actual allocation for the project in their kampong, its actual specifications, the quantum of the contracts awarded, etc. The poor communities are not in any position to monitor the execution of these projects. In the absence of proper checks and balances, officers from the ministry concerned, the local district officer and his staff, the politically connected contractors and the local UMNO ADUN and Member of Parliament collectively siphon off a significant portion of the funds allocated. This portion can come up to 50% of the actual sum allocated! The irony of it is that the rural community being “helped” turn up at the launching of these projects and quite literally kiss the hands of the parties who are robbing them of the full share of the allocation!
Practical Solutions Addressing Persistent Rural Poverty in the Malay Community
1.      The precarious nature of the “army of the unemployed” has to be addressed. For this is the primary cause of both the underemployment and low wages in our B40 population of all races.  The factors that turn foreign workers into PATI must be understood. Xenophobic emotionalism has to be avoided! Please refer to my 2016 Budget speech4 – I deal with it quite in detail there. PSM’s suggestions are

a.      Ensure right to redress for foreign workers. It is because they cannot fight back, and at the same time need to send money home before returning that leads them to go underground and become PATI.
Solution: The moment they are dismissed because of complaining to the Labour Department, they should automatically get a Pass that allows them to find another employer in the same sector.

b.      Get tough on Employers who employ PATI. At present the PATI are flogged but the employers pay their way out!

c.       Point “b” will impact very negatively on the roughly 100,000 refugees in Malaysia. Right now almost all of them are working in the black economy for Malaysia refuses to recognize them as refugees but groups them with the economic migrants as PATI. PSM’s suggestion is that refugees should be recognized and registered as refugees and allowed to work legally. What’s 100,000 refugees compared to the 2 million documented foreign workers?
2.      Remove the existing economic disincentives to hiring Malaysian workers. At this point in time, documented foreign workers are cheaper than Malaysian workers. The employer has only to pay the minimum wage to foreigners. Their levy is deducted from their pay. The same employer has to pay RM117 extra as EPF contribution for a Malaysian worker on the RM 900 minimum wage. Levy payments must be fully borne by the employer.

The above 2 measures will not be popular among businessmen. But are crucial to the solution of rural poverty. Are the opposition parties prepared to take this stand?
3.      Rubber smallholders should be encouraged and helped to diversify to fruit cultivation and animal husbandry as the price of rubber in the world market is likely to remain low. The market for fruits has to be developed further by exploring technology to can or otherwise preserve our fruits for both the Malaysian as well as the export market.
4.      The kampong society should be empowered such that they can play a role in monitoring how the allocations meant for them are utilized. And this should be coupled with the guarantee that the current level of budgetary allocations for the rural poor will be maintained under a PR Federal Government. But now, much more will go to the people as corruption and cronyism would be brought under better control. The following should be done –

a.      All allocations for projects should be displayed in the Land Office as well as online. The amount allocated, the specifications for the project, the main contractor selected should all be made available so that the kampung people know the full situation.

b.      The BPA should be expanded with enough staff to go and investigate cases flagged by the kampung people. And action must be taken.
5.      The post of Ketua JKKK must be elected. At present the DO and the UMNO ADUN appoint the Ketua Kampungs. But these 2 are the persons most likely to pilfer funds meant for the kampung. Ketua Kampungs who owe their position to the kampong folk will be in a stronger position to play the role of check and balance regarding funds for poor rural communities.
These two policy positions would be hugely popular with the kampung people – especially those below 60 yrs of age. It would help ensure that opposition politicians will not degenerate into BN types after a few years in power!
6.       The sixth policy should be to address the problem of poor social protection in old age. The Pakatan should announce old age pension of RM200 per month for all Malaysian citizens and red ic holders aged more than 70 years. Only those receiving government pension or Socso pension should be excluded from the scheme. This would be very popular to all social classes. Its cost would be about RM 200 X 12 mnths x 800,000 pple aged more than 70 yrs = RM 1.92 billion.
7.      Finally, the Pakatan should state that the privatization of public services will be stopped – health care, tertiary education, transport, water supply, rubbish collection, etc. The privatization of basic services and their transformation into commodities really pushes up the cost of living.
There could be more ideas in the policy mix that we, the opposition present to the rural poor in particular and to the Malaysian public generally. I hope these brief notes will stimulate an in-depth discussion among opposition parties as well individuals and NGOs who are really interested in ushering regime change in Malaysia. We should only make these promises if we seriously intend to implement them if we win! It is an important discussion if the opposition wishes to avoid a great setback in the PRU14 which the BN will probably call within a year of retiring Najib. That day may not be very far off – the recent suspension of Muhiyuddin could be the death knell for Najib’s Premiership!
Jeyakumar Devaraj
1. Of the 71 seats won with a less than 10% majority, 43 were won by the BN.
2. Paper presented by Dr Wong Chin Huat at PSM Kongres 13/6/2015.
3. Kajian Terhadap Ekonomi Masyarakat Desa in Koleksi Perbahasan Ahli Parlimen Sg Siput.
4. 2016 Budget Speech. Delivered in November 2015. BM original is in the Koleksi Perbahasan Ahli Parlimen Sg Siput which is available at PSM HQ Brickfields.

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