Why election manifestos are important

JULY 14 — When I wrote a story illustrating the Pakatan Harapan parties’ stand on various issues, some Opposition supporters were apparently upset and somehow perceived the article as an attack on the coalition.

I used to believe that it didn’t matter what political parties stood for as long as there was a change in government, because I thought back then that real competition would force both sides to come up with better policies. 

I don’t believe that now.

There is no reason why we should shortchange ourselves and vote for a party or coalition seeking to be Malaysia’s first ever alternate government without demanding for substantive pledges of reform.

This is the 21st century.

Malaysian politicians and parties should not act as if the country is still fresh from independence and use racial/religious campaigning, instead of focusing on policy-based ideologies like the mature democracies Malaysia hopes to join ranks with.

The article I wrote shows clearly that PKR, DAP, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) do not wish to take firm stances on issues which they believe (rightly or wrongly) will offend the Malay-Muslim electorate, such as whether they will abolish Bumiputera policies, enhance Muslims’ personal liberties, protect the rights of non-Muslims in the issue of unilateral child conversions to Islam, or even something as basic as reviving local council elections.

Although the DAP may say that the English subject should be made a compulsory pass in SPM, for example, the fact that the four parties are contesting the 14th general elections as one big coalition, not as singular parties, means that their individual party stands don’t mean anything.

Voting for DAP means voting for PPBM and vice versa.

And right now, we don’t really know what Pakatan Harapan as a whole stands for aside from their wanting to abolish the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and to return the money stolen from 1MDB to the people (how exactly, we don’t know).

It is also dishonest for political parties to be ambiguous on issues of race and religion.

Muslims have the right to know if Shariah enforcement will remain just as excessive under the current Barisan Nasional (BN) government or if it will be relaxed in a Harapan administration. All Malaysians deserve to know if Bumiputera policies will be gradually dismantled in a Harapan government, or if they will be retained despite their obvious ineffectiveness.

Keeping silent on those issues means Pakatan Harapan is essentially lying to Malaysians, some of whom might not vote for them if they picked one stand over the other.

Political parties cannot please everyone. Taking a stand on anything will invariably turn off some people.

But in a democracy, voters have the right to know what exactly their candidates stand for. Otherwise, why bother voting at all? How can we judge their performance in government when we don’t know what their pledges are to begin with?

The lack of a manifesto from both Harapan and BN, when GE14 is due in about a year, shows that both sides do not expect to be judged and elected based on their policies and ideology, but based on their racial and religious identity.

It is not enough either to campaign solely on one’s promise to fight corruption because all political parties claim to be cleaner than the other.

What happens after embezzled funds are returned to the people? How will the country be governed in other sectors like the economy, education, healthcare, and security, just to name a few?

Pakatan Harapan’s refusal to spell out how they will tackle racial and religious issues means they are ideologically similar to BN and PAS, all conservative across the board and predisposed to their own community.

How is that change?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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