A general election that is Claus-trophobic

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Handouts and populist policies can only go that far, beyond which they would eventually hurt the human dignity of the very people these policies are supposed to serve, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

The other sheet of paper that came with the borang.
Petrol voucher forms

It is no exaggeration to assert that the run-up to the 13th general election has been largely and sadly characterised by immense handouts, especially in the form of money, to the extent that it would make Santa Claus blush.

No other Malaysian general election in living memory has seen as many voters being flushed with money (BR1M), book and handphone vouchers, and promises of more money, job promotions, salary increments, bonuses, housing loans and schemes, among other things. All this oozing from a mere caretaker government as if there’s no tomorrow.

Certain communities, political, cultural and ethnic, that normally exist on the margins of society suddenly find themselves being courted – and cared for – by the caretaker government, often with some thousands of ringgit being thrown at them. The fact that this is all done just weeks before the general election smacks of insincerity and, worse, contempt for these very communities.

This vote-buying begs a few questions: for one, isn’t it the responsibility of a caring government to take care of all communities, which require help, all the year round – and not just at the end of the government’s five-year tenure? Besides, aren’t these handouts an indirect admission by the caretaker government that it has been negligent in its moral duty to uplift the living standards of the communities concerned?

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And if the caretaker government is really serious about addressing the issues of poverty, housing, landlessness and the plight of single mothers, among others, shouldn’t it come up with a comprehensive study to examine the underlying causes of these socio-economic problems? Shouldn’t it then come up with well-informed and effective strategies and policies to solve these problems? This would be much better than making those in need of help forever dependent on handouts and promises and of course grateful to the government – which hardly solves their enormous problems.

Wouldn’t it be better and more dignified to provide, to borrow the popular saying, a fishing rod instead of giving them fish only? Shouldn’t the government look into, say, strategies to create job opportunities for the young and able-bodied from poor backgrounds? Shouldn’t it be committed to building low- and medium-cost houses? Shouldn’t it consciously build public crèches for single and working mothers? Shouldn’t it provide financial incentives and training programmes for those who are really in need irrespective of ethnic, religious and political affiliations?

Besides, the issuing of financial handouts becomes rather tenuous especially when the money doled out ahead of the election essentially comes from the pockets of the rakyat via taxes, and not from those of ruling politicians and parties. So, in this context, the rakyat really don’t have much to thank the caretaker government for especially when they start to wonder whether such handouts would land the in-coming government with huge debts, which they, in turn, would have to pay back directly or otherwise.

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Handouts and populist policies can only go that far, beyond which they would eventually hurt the human dignity of the very people these policies are supposed to serve.

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