Najib seeks mandate 'to keep pledges'

Thousands of Malaysians throng rally as PM seeks fresh term to go on fulfilling promises

 
PM Najib with action superstar Jackie Chan at a fund-raising dinner for a Chinese school. They played the Chinese drums together to launch the event. -- PHOTO: THE STAR /ASIA NEWS NETWORK

As election fever gripped Malaysians, thousands flooded a municipal field in Kuantan for Prime Minister Najib Razak's final Promises Kept rally where he called on voters to support his ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

PM Najib yesterday told them he needed a new mandate to continue fulfilling his promises up to the target date of 2020.

"When Parliament is dissolved with the consent of the Agong soon, we will ask for a new mandate from the people to allow us to keep fulfilling our promises," he said.

In the last stop of a 13-state pre-election roadshow held in the capital of his home state Pahang, he also announced several promises such as the construction of 20,000 affordable houses in Kuantan. Also, RM100 million (S$40 million) would be allocated to solve traffic and flood problems in the state capital, he said.

Speculation is heightening that he will ask the King to dissolve Parliament within the next few days, as he also just presented his report card to Malaysians last Tuesday, in which he listed out in exhaustive detail all the promises kept.

If Parliament is dissolved within the next few days, polling is likely to be in mid-April.

PM Najib held his first Promises Kept rally a year ago in Batu Pahat in Johor, the birth state of the Umno party which leads the BN. Since then, the huge rallies have become increasingly lavish as they go around the country.

The next election will be hard fought as the BN seeks to regain ground from its record losses in the 2008 general election.

The Promises Kept rally is intended to highlight his reform programme, including steps being taken to raise Malaysia's per capita income from US$9,970 (S$12,450) now to US$15,000 by 2020.

These reforms will be the main platform of the BN election campaign.

The event began early in the day as Datuk Seri Najib was still making his way to Kuantan via Benta, about three hours away. He launched a public-private initiative in Benta to help 70 poor families get houses and jobs.

While Mr Najib was still miles away, thousands arrived early at the field where over 100 white tents had been set up to showcase his achievements. Booths were set up to sell cheap 1Malaysia-branded groceries, textiles, food and houses, creating a carnival atmosphere complete with games, clowns and music.

Mr Najib earlier also attended a fund-raising dinner for a Chinese school where action superstar Jackie Chan was a special guest. The PM and the actor played the Chinese drums together to launch the event.

More than 20,000 people were at the dinner to raise part of the RM35 million needed to build the Chung Hwa school in Kuantan.

Mr Najib went to signal his support for Chinese education, one of the most significant issues for the Chinese community which has become strongly anti-establishment in recent years.

His home state Pahang has always been a BN stronghold. In the 2008 general election, the opposition only managed to win two of the 14 parliamentary seats, and four of the 42 state seats. This time, the Pakatan Rakyat hopes to take a few more Chinese-majority seats like Raub and Jerantut.

Opposition MP for Kuantan Fuziah Salleh said it would be difficult to topple the BN in Pahang but there was a chance to win a few more seats this time around in Chinese-majority areas.

Voters like Ms Saripah Nor Esan Syed Anwar, 35, who makes fish crackers for sale, sees Mr Najib as a caring leader, citing his handouts like the annual RM500 gift for the poor.

"I will be going to the rally to show my support," she said at her village of Kampung Pasir Garam, about 20km from Kuantan, before the rally started.

Others like Mr Rukman Che Awang, 41, a petty trader, said that while Mr Najib was popular, the people had tired of Umno.

"There are just too many controversies," he said.

carolynh@sph.com.sg