PETALING JAYA: Economic issues, such as poverty and the rising cost of living are likely to decide who wins Selangor state in the next general election.
A report in the Straits Times (ST) says both the Barisan Nasional, which rules at the federal level, and Pakatan Harapan, which rules Selangor, are going all out to show they can manage the state better and bring about a better life for its residents.
The ST report says income inequality and the high cost of living are common grouses of suburban voters, particularly in Selangor.
It quotes DAP strategist Ong Kian Ming as saying voting patterns in Selangor over the past three decades show that the state is the most sensitive to economic trends, with support for Barisan spiking in 1995 and 2004, when the good times rolled, but plunging after financial crises at the 1999 and 2008 polls.
While the state has the highest household income in the country – bar the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya – it is also the most expensive state to live in, according to the latest income and expenditure surveys in 2014.
Official statistics show that, from 2009 to 2014, household expenses in Selangor grew by an average of 11.1% annually to RM4,646 monthly. However, incomes only grew by 6.7% to RM8,252 monthly.
Selangor’s income growth, the report says, is also well below the national average of 8.8%, while its increase in household expenses is the second fastest among all states.
But, the report notes, the economic policies that affect the average citizen – the goods and services tax, lower petrol subsidies, cash handouts for the needy – are set by the central government.
This means, the ST report says, voters are less likely to blame the state government for their economic predicament. It quotes one resident, Zulfadzli Halim, as saying: “The opposition has shown they can manage taxpayers’ money. Even though it’s tough to make ends meet, at least it’s very unlikely Harapan will raise taxes or tariffs on me.”
The report quotes state government sources as saying that welfare programmes will be the main campaign plank for PH. It hopes to capitalise on the state’s RM2 billion Inisiatif Peduli Rakyat, or Caring For The People Initiative, which gives aid for water supply, housing and business loans.
Umno, meanwhile, hopes to win voters with the Budget 2018 allocations and proposals – from which state grants can be made and big-ticket plans implemented. Finance Minister Najib Razak is scheduled to table the budget on Oct 27.
According to the report Najib, who is also prime minister, has already kicked off a concerted campaign to win back Selangor, repeating the mantra of integration with Kuala Lumpur’s development.
If Najib wins back Selangor it will help put down internal dissent against him following the fallout of the 1MDB scandal.
Umno’s Batang Kali assemblyman Mat Nadzari Ahmad Dahlan is quoted as saying it will be a waste if voters do not recognise the benefits of having the same party in charge of the federal government also administering Selangor.
The report says the BN thinks that of the three states it does not control, it has the best chance of winning back Selangor. The other two are Penang and Kelantan.
In the 2013 general election, the BN won only 12 of 56 seats in the state legislative assembly.
The BN, according to the report, is eyeing a further 31 state seats, 21 of which were marginal areas that were won by opposition candidates.
The ST report notes that the departure of PAS from the opposition coalition, and its threat to contest against its former allies at the next election, could split support for the opposition and hand advantage to the BN.