'War of manifestos' kicks off

Ruling and opposition coalitions unveil customised plans for individual states


A "war of manifestos" has begun as Malaysia's ruling and opposition coalitions go from state to state to woo voters with a published declaration promising to address their needs, concerns or grievances about issues in that state.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) issued its state manifesto for opposition-held Kelantan last week, and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) released its manifesto for Johor, BN's traditional stronghold, yesterday.

This week, the PR will release its manifestos for Penang and Selangor, while BN will also be ready with its own for Johor, Penang and Selangor.

Both coalitions have already unveiled their national manifestos at lavish ceremonies, with both sets of documents listing generous promises from cheaper cars to lower tax rates.

The state manifestos are meant to go into greater depth for their respective areas.

For instance, the BN is promising Kelantan voters an Islamic administration based on the principles of moderation, in keeping with the east coast state's conservative nature.

Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, the international trade and industry minister who is tipped to be the BN's candidate for menteri besar if it wins back Kelantan, said last Thursday that the BN administration would be based on syariah principles.

"This is our responsibility as we will stand by two important principles, namely Islam and excellence," he said. Kelantan has been governed by PR component party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, since 1990.

On the other hand, the PR's Johor manifesto addressed fears that its election offensive led by the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party veteran Lim Kit Siang had alienated the predominantly Malay population.

Its manifesto stresses the PR's recognition of the special position of the Malays, and promises to protect Malay reserve land and to give free agricultural land to the poor.

This war of manifestos was not a feature in the 2008 election but the May 5 General Election is no ordinary political contest.

It has shaped up to be the hardest-fought election, with a stronger opposition seeking to end the BN's uninterrupted rule of nearly 60 years.

The fiercest battles will be fought in Johor, Penang and Selangor. The PR is fighting to hold on to Penang and Selangor, which it won in 2008, while trying to make inroads into Johor.

"It is a positive development to see so many manifestos being issued," said analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who heads the Ideas think- tank. "But in reality, this paper war is more about each side trying to outdo the other than real contestation of policies."

In such a close contest, neither side can afford to be outshone by the other, Mr Wan Saiful said.

He also pointed out that voters tend not to take the contents of the manifesto seriously.

Even so, both political camps are treating the fight seriously and deploying their big guns in the battle to win over voters.

The PR manifesto for Penang will be launched by its chief minister Lim Guan Eng tomorrow.

Over in Selangor, it will be Prime Minister Najib Razak, head of the state BN leadership, who will unveil the manifesto.