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Friday, September 28, 2012

All signs point towards polls


The conclusion of the prime minister's budget speech sounded more like an election campaign speech when he started attacking the opposition.
KUALA LUMPUR: The Budget 2013 announced by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak today has all the ingredients to win the hearts and minds of the rakyat, signalling that the ruling Barisan Nasional is in the final stages of calling for the next general election.
While it is a known fact that the budget would be the last before the next general election, as acknowledged by Najib in the all-important speech, he went the extra mile attacking the opposition Pakatan Rakyat.
Apart from announcing goodies targeted at the younger voters, pensioners, fishermen, farmers, new housebuyers, among others, Najib spent at least the last 20 minutes of his budget speech to hit out at the opposition.
A press statement from the Prime Minister’s office termed the Budget 2013 as a “responsive and responsible Budget”, which would be surely countered by the opposition.
Although Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin denied that the budget was an election budget, others would beg to differ.
Clad in a pastel green baju Melayu, Najib began his budget speech painting a rosy picture of the nation’s economy, saying that it would grow between 4.5% and 5% in 2012.
He also predicted that next year, the economy would expand between 4.5% and 5.5%, while the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would exceed a nominal RM1 trillion for the first time in the nation’s history.
The budget also provided a forecast that Malaysia’s fiscal deficit would be reduced from 4.5% this year to 4% in 2013.
Progressive budget
“In a wide-ranging and progressive budget, the prime minister announced measures to ensure the long-term prosperity of the country and increase the standard of living for all Malaysians,” said the statement from Najib’s office.
Najib had given priority to crime reduction, fighting corruption, and providing assistance to senior citizens, children, disabled workers and those with chronic illnesses.
Other major details contained in the budget are a new Urban Transformation Programme, which will increase urban development and ensure better delivery of services in urban areas, improvements to rural infrastructure, including 441km of new roads to benefit 220,000 people in rural communities, RM400 million to 1AZAM, a programme providing opportunities and support for nearly 60,000 people on low-income and RM738 million for youth and sports development.
Najib also set aside RM600 million for academic research in strategic sectors such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, RM2 billion to support sustainable growth by extending the Green Technology Financing Scheme, the establishment of 100 1Malaysia Internet centres to increase broadband access, a RM200 rebate for 1.5 million young people to purchase smartphones and an overhaul of subsidies to better target low-income groups and improve health.
Budget 2013 has also allocated RM1.5 billion for agriculture projects such as oil palm, rubber, high-value herbs and padi, and RM500 million for the River of Life project for the beautification of Klang River.
To encourage SMEs, the budget provides a fund of RM1 billion under the SME Development Scheme. The budget also proposes a group insurance coverage scheme for hawkers and owners of small businesses registered with the Companies Commission.
It also proposed to cut individual income tax rates, taking 170,000 taxpayers out of the income tax system.
In addition, RM590 million will be allocated to fighting crime and ensuring that people feel safer in their communities. The new Urban Transformation Programme will develop urban areas, while the Rural Transformation Programme will be expanded. A total of RM4.5 billion will be invested in improving rural infrastructure. It will also establish 70 new 1Malaysia clinics in 2013, where Malaysians can access healthcare for RM1.
Goodies for target groups
While all this is expected of a budget speech, the goodies splashed out for the target group – voters, especially the young first-time voters, and rural electorate – is obvious.
The most interesting part of the budget, which woke up many Members of Parliament from their two-hour slumber, was Najib’s conclusion of the speech.
“The new budget that I have tabled for 2013 is the last budget before the 13th general election. This is among the series of budgets that will propel this beloved nation towards achieving the national vision. With the permission of the Almighty, and the support of the rakyat, god willing, we will witness six more budgets to be tabled by the Barisan Nasional government before transforming Malaysia from middle to a high income and developed country.
“As a party with the mandate, we urge the rakyat to evaluate critically and rationally each and every successful record of the Barisan Nasional. Over the last 55 years, the Barisan Nasional government and the earlier Perikatan government have created a better quality of life for the rakyat. We are aware that there are parties requesting to be given a chance to form the next government. In a democratic country, we understand that they too have their rights. It is the rakyat who ultimately decides who will be given the mandate through the ballot box,” Najib said to the thumping of tables by fellow MPs.
In the conclusion, which sounded more like he was on election campaign trail, Najib told the rakyat that the time has arrived when every voter will soon make a choice in determining their future as well as that of their children.
“An important question to ask in making that decision is whether life today is better than yesterday, and whether tomorrow gives hope that is full of possibilities and potential. If the answer is yes, please give the mandate to the present government to further improve what we have today, without any hesitation.
“We recognise that the Barisan Nasional government is not without fault, but what differentiates us from others is that they do not have the courage to accept mistakes. On the other hand, they make excuses and find fault in others,” he said, obviously referring to Pakatan Rakyat.
Hitting out at the opposition
On a more personal tone, he hit out at Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim without mentioning name. Anwar had served as deputy prime minister and finance minister during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
“If today they make promises, the rakyat must ask why is this leadership, while in power, did not take any action. When they had the opportunity and did not implement what they promised, what guarantee is there that they will fulfil promises when they are in power? Wasn’t it during the Asian financial crisis that the country was almost destroyed? And today, in the states that are administered by them, their manifestos contain only promises. Can they be trusted when in power?” Najib asked.
“There are parties who are willing to sacrifice everything simply for the sake of power. The Barisan Nasional government is guided by ‘fastabiqul khairat’ as written in the Al-Quran… which is to do good.
“The parties on the other side are guided by the ‘fastabiqul fasad’, that is, they will not hesitate to do bad. The Barisan Nasional government fosters racial unity which is the basis for national stability. But other parties, however, who want to be in power are sowing seeds of conflict and hate. This government has been accused of several wrongdoings according to their own whims and fancy.
“Thus, I urge Malaysians to judge the Barisan Nasional government on its merits,” said the prime minister.
While to many these lines would be interpreted as a political rhetoric, saying it during the budget presentation, beamed live via television and radio, to millions of attentive Malaysia is another signal that the polls is near.
Najib has left the door open to calls for an election for the next six months as some of the goodies announced would be delivered only in January next year.
This would stay fresh in the minds of Malaysian voters by the time they cast they ballots. The goodies announced today would also be repeated again and again from now till the election to show that the ruling BN is here for the people.

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