By Phlip Rodrigues
Barisan Nasional must be riding high after unveiling its saccharin-laced manifesto to fix some of the major problems bedevilling the country.
Described as a “new deal” for the people, the manifesto carries an old theme that had been proclaimed ad nauseam – to “propel the country into developed nation status”.
It looks as if Malaysia is still stuck in the rut and it will take an earth-shaking event like a general election to get the country moving again. And when the dust has settled, the country will invariably slip back to being a developing nation.
Barisan Nasional did press some right buttons in addressing national problems such as helping the low-income group until “absolute poverty becomes a thing of the past”, rolling out a textbook-free schooling scheme and working on new (old) strategies to attract foreign investors.
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All these carrots are tossed to voters, many of whom might be tempted to take a bite and throw their support to the BN.
But when BN chairman Zahid Hamidi offered the new deal to the people, he conveniently ignored the biggest elephant standing next to him in the room – corruption.
Nowhere in the manifesto did Zahid mention the urgent need to combat corruption, which has long been a scourge of Malaysian politics these many decades.
It is public knowledge that corruption has sprouted such deep roots that the country is in danger of turning into a failed state.
But Zahid obviously does not think this social disease requires emergency treatment. He believes the focus should be on getting the economy back on its feet.
The Umno president gives the public the impression that he shares the hardship of the people with his programmes to help the low-income group and shore up investment climate.
But Zahid misses the whole point: as long as rampant corruption is not weeded out, the economy will never recover.
If the government is not squeaky clean, no amount of money pumped into the economy can save the country.
If politicians are less than squeaky clean, an enormous chunk of public money will end up in their pockets, and the people will be worse off than before.
But Zahid is afraid of the word corruption and dare not insert it in the manifesto – for an obvious reason. He himself has been linked to allegations of corruption while in public office. The Bagan Datuk candidate knows he will be a laughing stock if he champions the fight against corruption.
So, Zahid opted to brush aside this social disease and chose, instead, to throw in some innocuous promises into the policy statement of his coalition.
But he cannot pull wool over the people’s eyes about what ails the country. Many believe corruption is public enemy number one. This cancer knows no race or religion. It can destroy everyone – from the lowest-ranking officers to the highest holder of public office.
Yet the former deputy prime minister pushes the fight against corruption to the background. Transparency and accountability – the most powerful weapons against corruption – do not seem to exist in Zahid’s dictionary. If they are found in his lexicon, he is only paying lip service.
And so, in the battle of the manifestos, BN comes out poorly with its misplaced direction. It is not the economy. It is corruption, stupid.
Phlip Rodrigues is a former journalist