You can be unseated from power by a vigilant electorate if you break your promises, and become lackadaisical about being accountable, says Mustafa K Anuar.
In most intense courtships, sweet promises are made and at times, when an extra nudge is needed, even the moon is promised by the most unscrupulous of suitors.
Similarly, electoral pledges are made to win the hearts and minds of an otherwise hesitant or doubtful electorate.
The promise of a distant moon may be incredulous to some voters, but in the past a bridge, for example, was indeed offered at the hustings even though there was no river in sight to span over.
Promises are also offered to inform the electorate what the contesting parties stand for and the policies they’d pursue if voted into power for the supposed betterment of the ordinary citizens.
And so, in the recent general election, Malaysians generally voted for Pakatan Harapan (PH) because they felt that the pledges in their manifesto could bring about the real change they have been hungering for.
A change for a better Malaysia is attractive to Malaysians who had endured under previous administration years of misrule, abuse of power, economic hardship and an uncertain future for some.
That is why when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad asserted that the PH manifesto is not a bible, but only a guide, it raised eyebrows, including that of PH Youth strategic director Shukri Razab, who is concerned that this might serve as a convenient clause for “U-turns”.
To say that a manifesto is just a guide risks public suspicion that the government might renege on a few important pledges that many Malaysians consider important.
If certain promises cannot be fulfilled immediately in the short term, then the onus is on the present government to explain to and engage with the electorate about how to make those pledges a reality at a later date with perhaps some adjustments if necessary.
The ruling party has a moral obligation to honour its electoral pledges, especially when it enjoys the goodwill of the electorate who clamour for progress and democracy. If there are certain promises that cannot be fulfilled, it is incumbent upon the government to provide a detailed explanation to convince the not-so-gullible rakyat.
People do take this matter seriously as exemplified by self-taught programmer Nazreen Mohamad who created an open-source platform, OpenPromisesMalaysia, to help track the promises made by government leaders at both federal and state levels.
And it’s as instructive as it is ironic that trounced Barisan Nasional (BN) leader Najib Razak is adamant in insisting that the current government fulfil its pledges.
To be sure, certain of these pledges have found their way into the PH manifesto primarily because the previous Najib administration was unable or refused to fulfil such electoral promises.
Given his expressed zeal to monitor PH’s electoral promises, would Najib then be livid enough to address PH’s promise to repeal, for example, the Sedition Act as well as other illiberal laws such as the Universities and University Colleges Act, which were kept in the statute book by the previous administration?
Similarly, would Najib be at the forefront in insisting that the long-simmering issue of government recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate for Chinese schools be resolved, which, incidentally, happened to be part of BN’s electoral pledges in the last general election?
And what about the National Civics Bureau (BTN) that flourished under Najib’s watch? Did he call for its dissolution? BTN, the bane of many concerned Malaysians who perceive it as a bastion of racism and obstacle to national unity, was expected to be preserved in a different form and with a different mission under the new government.
Najib had also failed to keep his promise – when he was still Prime Minister – of being “fair and equitable to all races” and to create a world-class education system, among other things.
He may not be the ideal person to remind the present government of its electoral promises, but he can serve as a grim and useful reminder to any ruling politicians that if you break your promises and become lackadaisical about being accountable, you can be unseated from power by a vigilant electorate.