Saturday, December 29, 2012

Economy still ace card in battle for middle ground

Economy still ace card in battle for middle ground

December 29, 2012
Malaysian Insider
Concern about the state of the economy is the one common trait that unites the different races in the so-called middle ground. — File pic
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 ― Long-term measures to counter the widening income gap between the rich and poor will be key to unlocking the middle-ground vote bank in the 13th general election, political analysts said. The middle ground, made up of fence-sitters who form some 30 per cent of the 13 million registered voter population, is where both the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) have been ramping up economic initiatives or pledges in order to woo this crucial electoral swing group in the past few months.
Ibrahim Suffian of Merdeka Center thinks that neither BN nor the fledgling PR opposition pact appear to be in the lead to win over the swing voters.
“I think it’s probably split about evenly between the two sides,” he said, reasoning that the middle ground was further divided into voters from different ethnic groups with different concerns.
He said Malay fence-sitters are concerned about their political power and the possible end of special treatment policies if PR comes into power, while those from the Chinese community would want good management of the economy.
Ibrahim said the Chinese will also want to know whether it will be PAS or Umno “who will push the Islamisation agenda further.”
But as the cost of living continues to rise, it is the economy that unites all the races and the one question to which both the ruling coalition and the opposition need to have strong answers.
“I think they need to talk about how they can the fix economy,” Ibrahim said.
He said PR faces a challenge in showing a strong economic agenda because of the different fiscal performances in the PR-governed states of Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Kelantan.
In addition, he said the people will be looking for those who can provide good leadership and “steer the country away from divisive politics and talk about common interest.”
Ibrahim noted that neither BN nor PR can put across a convincing argument to win votes from the middle ground, as both had weaknesses.
He said that BN’s lynchpin party, Umno, had “resurgent right-wing groups” while “conservative elements” inside PAS, the Islamist party of PR may make both sides less attractive to the middle ground.
Faisal Hazis, a political scientist from Unimas, agreed with Ibrahim that voters want a party that “walks the talk” and not rhetoric.
He said people are keen to have a government whose policies will improve their economic livelihood, as the ringgit and what it can buy continues to shrink.
Faisal added that “goodies” like the BR1M 2.0 cash handouts are not viewed favourably by the middle ground as they consider these temporary measures, saying that they want long-term reforms.
“People want assurance that change is for real and not for electoral gain, so despite so many goodies being distributed now, BN can’t capture the middle ground entirely,” he said, questioning the timing of the government’s aid under the Budget 2013.
Another political pundit, Wan Saiful Wan Jan of think-tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), said PR has the edge over BN because of race.
“Pakatan is not made out of purely ethnic-based parties,” he said. And this is what will win over the moderate middle ground which is looking ahead to a future where political parties are no longer race-based.
The central party in BN is Umno, a Malay-based party, while other component parties in the coalition such as MCA, MIC are also led and composed by members from a single ethnic group.
PR is a loose pact of three parties — DAP, PAS, and PKR — that was formed after Election 2008.

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