Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition unveiled its wide-ranging election manifesto last night, which included generous promises of three million new jobs, a rise in annual cash handouts to as high as RM2,000 (S$680) and a debt waiver for farmers that could reach RM5 billion.
"I and my colleagues vow to develop this country from Perlis to Sarawak and on to Sabah," Prime Minister Najib Razak told the nearly 40,000 supporters packed into a stadium on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur for the launch.
Themed "Bersama BN Hebatkan Negaraku" or "Make My Country Great With BN", the 220-page manifesto aims to woo BN's most vulnerable vote banks by promising better finances and public services if it is returned to power in polls expected in a month.
The Umno-led coalition has vowed to raise the minimum monthly wage from RM1,000 to RM1,500 in five years, with government-linked firms set to offer wider insurance, health and cost of living benefits. It also pledged to create three million jobs, and specifically targeted youth by promising either a source of income or training within six months of unemployment. Youth unemployment has hovered above 10 per cent, about three times that of average unemployment.
Cost of living has repeatedly been cited as the main issue for voters, with recent reports showing that expenditure is outpacing income growth for the poorest 40 per cent of Malaysians.
BN promised to raise its maximum annual BR1M cash handout - paid to seven million recipients - to RM2,000 from RM1,200 now.
Some RM4.3 billion was committed to improving telecommunications coverage and electricity supply in Sabah and Sarawak.
The two states in Borneo supply over one-third of BN's seats in Parliament, but its voters have long complained of being neglected by the federal government.
BN also sought to allay anger among debt-ridden farmers under its Felda scheme, which provides land to 112,000 families who form about 9 per cent of the electorate and live across 54 of the 222 parliamentary wards.
It has pledged a special incentive payment of RM5,000 to each settler, and to waive their debts, which total over RM5 billion.
Parliament was dissolved yesterday, paving the way for elections that must be held within 60 days but are set to take place before May 15, when the fasting month begins for the country's Malay-Muslim majority.
The manifesto launch capped a series of moves last week by the ruling administration to establish a lead at the polls.
New electoral boundaries and a law to combat fake news were fast-tracked through Parliament, while cash handouts totalling RM1.5 billion were announced for the country's 1.6 million civil servants, a crucial BN vote bank.
The authorities also suspended former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia on Thursday, while jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim has been denied access to his lawyer. Tun Dr Mahathir is leading the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance, which claims that a continued Najib administration will wreck the nation's finances and institutions.
Meanwhile, BN has scoffed at the opposition's manifesto, unveiled last month, saying the promises would increase government debt to above RM1 trillion.
"The opposition's manifesto is a formula for disaster," Datuk Seri Najib told the crowds last night. "Up to now, not a single rating agency has approved or praised the opposition manifesto. Let us not wake up the next morning to a Malaysia we no longer recognise."