By Tay Tian Yan
Do you smell anything unusual?
I mean, politically?
Several days ago, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced special incentives for some 100,000 Felda settlers in the country.
But why now with the incentives, and what are they for really? I’m afraid even the settlers themselves have no idea what the incentives are for, and sure enough no one will bother to find out.
Najib said it was in conjunction with Felda’s 61st anniversary but that doesn’t make much sense.
In addition to the “special incentives”, which includes a RM5,000 one-off payment, Felda settlers will also get another RM5,000 to pay off their debts for a project to replant oil palm.
As if that is not enough, the government will also help the settlers pay back the arrears from the loans they took to purchase Felda Global Ventures (FGV) shares.
If you were a Felda settler, with all these goodies coming your way, all the frustration stemming from FGV shares’ lackluster performance and the Felda-FGV scandal would be instantly swept aside.
Similarly, their discontent towards the government will also likely change.
Of course, not everyone thinks the same way, but the humdrum rural life is enough to make them less demanding, and reversing their attitude couldn’t have been easier.
Two days before that, Najib made a shocking announcement saying Indian Muslims are considered as bumiputeras when he attended an Indian Muslim group’s Raya celebration dinner.
It doesn’t matter whether all these are politically correct, as anyone can tell that those are vote-buying tricks.
These moves seem to foretell some delicate changes to the country’s political climate, and that is, the 14th general election (GE14) which was widely expected to be postponed to next year could be much nearer than we thought.
What has brought about this shift?
Economic indicators and pressure from the opposition.
Recently released economic figures – from GDP, export growth to ringgit exchange rates – all point to the fact that the Malaysian economy is picking up steam.
Even if this rebound is rarely felt in the market right now, it will take some time before the numbers are reflected in day-to-day life.
But from the political point of view, it is absolutely essential to start preparing early. Once the economy is on track and when people actually feel the improvement, it would be time to go to the polls.
Secondly, the opposition camp has shown remarkable progress in settling their conflicts and differences. To a very large extent the Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim families have reached some kind of reconciliation that will lay the basis for the cooperation between PKR and PPBM.
Strange as it is, Pakatan Harapan’s troika leadership structure with Anwar, Mahathir and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail all holding the reins will not be an issue if compromise could be reached from within the coalition.
PH is banking on Mahathir to win the trust of the Malay society with the hope of winning some Malay votes from the fortresses of Umno and PAS.
No one knows whether this strategy will work until the election results are released. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that this has already put a good deal of pressure on Umno.
Umno’s leaders and strategists are not going to wait until PH concludes its integration work before they decide to call for a general election.
This is because deferring the election to next year may not be a good idea for Najib.
Tay Tian Yan writes for Sin Chew Daily.
Sin Chew Daily is a local vernacular publication.
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