KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition unveiled its wide-ranging election manifesto on Saturday night (April 7), 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," said Prime Minister Najib Razak at the launch event, where nearly 40,000 supporters packed a stadium in Bukit Jalil on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
Themed "Bersama BN Hebatkan Negaraku" or "Make My Country Great With BN", the 220-page manifesto was aimed at wooing BN's most vulnerable votebanks, by promising improved finances and public services if BN is returned to power in polls expected in a month.
The Umno-led coalition vowed to increase 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 promised to create three million jobs nationwide, 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 increase its maximum annual BR1M cash handout - paid to seven million recipients - to RM2,000 from RM1,200 currently.
Some RM4.3 billion was committed to improve telecommunications coverage and electricity supply to Sabah and Sarawak. The two states in Borneo supply over a-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 nine per cent of the electorate and live across 54 of the 222 parliamentary wards. It pledged to give a special incentive payment of RM5,000 to each settler, and waive their debts, which total over RM5 billion.
Parliament was dissolved yesterday (April 7), 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 votebank.
Authorities also suspended former premier Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) on Thursday, while jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim has been denied access to his lawyer.
Tun Mahathir now leads the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance which claims 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 their promises are unrealistic and would increase government debt to above RM1 trillion.
"The opposition's manifesto is a formula for disaster," Datuk Seri Najib told the crowd on Saturday. "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."