Malaysia's opposition pact sets two-term limit on prime ministers in its manifesto

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad delivering a speech after he was elected as the opposition's prime ministerial candidate during the four-party coalition Pact of Hope (Pakatan Harapan) convention in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur on
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad delivering a speech after he was elected as the opposition's prime ministerial candidate during the four-party coalition Pact of Hope (Pakatan Harapan) convention in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur on Jan 7, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance is to issue on Thursday (March 8) its election manifesto that contains bold plans for the country as it tries to woo voters ahead of looming polls.

Contents of the manifesto gleaned by the media include limiting the tenure of future prime ministers to two terms, remove the unpopular 6 per cent goods and services tax (GST), form an immediate committee to look into the Malaysia Agreement 1963 signed by Sabah and Sarawak, and getting rid of all the debts carried by Felda settlers.

The manifesto comprises 60 promises the four-party alliance said it will fulfil within five years should it seize the reins at Putrajaya after the next general election due within months. Ten of these pledges will be fulfilled within its first 100 days in office, it says.

"We are the government in waiting. So there's serious thought put into all these policies," said lawmaker Sim Tze Tzin from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the lead party governing Selangor state.

The other three PH parties are the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the lead party governing Penang state; former premier Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and Parti Amanah Negara, formed by former leaders of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

PH, with a total of 71 seats in the federal Parliament, hopes to put up a strong challenge to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak. Opposition party PAS has 13 seats.

BN has 132 seats in the 222-member House.

Two other MPs are from opposition Parti Warisan Sabah, and there are four independent MPs.

The PH manifesto said it will limit to two terms the tenure for prime ministers, menteris besar and chief ministers.

Tun Dr Mahathir, 92, was prime minister for 22 years until 2003. PM Najib, 64, will hit 10 years in office in April next year.

A widespread view in the opposition in introducing term limits is to curb possible corruption and power abuses by leaders who hang onto power for too long.

"When you're in power for too long you'll start to believe in your own invincibility," said Rais Hussin, a strategist at PPBM.

The opposition is also leaning towards allowing senior leaders holding one role only, rather than the current system which enables the prime minister and deputy prime minister to also hold a different ministerial portfolio. The same applies to state governments.

The GST was introduced in April 2015 by Datuk Seri Najib to raise government revenues, but has been widely blamed by the public for spiking the cost of living.

The Malaysian government Budget has been in deficit for two decades.

In a move to get votes from staunchly-BN Felda settlers and their families, PH in its manifesto said it would rid the debts of the Felda settlers, usually accumulated when they borrowed money from the government to replant or harvest their oil palm farms.

Some of the promises are seen as populist measures, such as postponing the repayment of debts of graduates who borrowed student loans from the government.

PH also plans to abolish unpopular highway tolls in stages.

Other targets that the opposition set for itself include creating one million quality jobs and a retirement savings scheme for housewives that is similar to Employees Provident Fund. There were no details.

To appeal to voters from Sabah and Sarawak, the opposition has a separate election manifesto for these states. It has promised that it would reinstate rights that were promised in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 when the two states decided to become a part of Malaysia.

"We have to honour our agreement… Some of it is difficult but we'll strive to do it," said PH secretary-general Saifuddin Abdullah.

The return of rights includes decentralising powers to Sabah and Sarawak.

 

To make up for the revenue shortfall caused by deleting the GST, and paying off the billions of dollars of debts held by Felda farmers, the opposition says funds can be derived by eliminating corruption and financial "leakages" in government.

The opposition parties, when presenting their alternative budget for 2018 late last year, said the GST would be replaced with its predecessor sales and services tax.

It proposed that government revenues could be raised by introducing inheritance tax, taxes for the rich and reaping cost savings by stopping corruption and "leakages" such as the dishing out of projects with inflated values to government cronies.

Queried on Wednesday (March 7) about how to cover the revenue shortfall, DAP MP Ong Kian Ming said: "On other issues, we do not spell out the exact cost in the manifesto because we are still waiting for additional details when we become the government."

Addressing doubts over the feasibility of some of the promises made, Datuk Saifuddin said: "There are things which people thought (was) impossible but we did it in Penang and Selangor."

The pact intends to replicate certain policies such as Selangor's healthcare scheme for the poor, which provides RM500 (S$168) for basic medical treatment in private clinics.

The full manifesto will be unveiled on Thursday evening.