Why I love it when politicians don’t keep promises

Apart from the main manifestos and specific manifestos for states which promise a load of benefits for citizens, the candidates themselves are now starting to make promises in a bid to win in GE14.

Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) Muar candidate Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman is promising to build 1,000 affordable homes in Muar if he wins. Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Puchong candidate Ang Chin Tat is promising to do away with toll on the LDP if he wins.

As I read the news about this, a smile escapes my lips. I believe these promises are not part of the election manifestos of BN or PH. Both candidates made the promises midway during campaigning. Both are first-timers.

I believe we are seeing – in this 14th general election – the most number of promises in an election ever.

BN’s manifesto contains 364 initiatives to chart a better future and PH has made 60 promises. Apart from this, the main parties have additional pledges for the different states in the federation. And their candidates continue to pile on new ones.

My friend, the ebullient one, says he is impressed with the manifestos of both BN and PH and the countless promises being made as polling day draws closer. He believes the country will be a paradise if the election promises are kept.

My other friend, the taciturn one, punctures his paradise by saying that election promises are made to be broken, not kept.

Undeterred by this cynicism, the ebullient one says he believes the two main sparring coalitions will fulfil the promises. Otherwise, he says, people will lose trust in them.

“What do you mean ‘will lose trust’? People have lost trust in politicians,” says the taciturn one, adding: “Can you remember the reforms that Najib Razak promised when he became prime minister, especially about allowing more democratic space and upholding human rights? Today, we appear to be edging towards Orwell’s 1984 in Malaysia.”

“Don’t exaggerate lah,” the ebullient one counters.

“I’m not exaggerating. Ask Suhakam, ask Lawyers for Liberty, ask Hakam, the national human rights society. Ask anyone with a modicum of intelligence,” the taciturn one barks back, suddenly becoming animated.

Reflecting on the generally sleazy reputation that politicians have earned, I join the conversation, saying that while some politicians can be corrupt and repugnant, some are sincerely in it to help others and make the nation better.

That results in the taciturn one firing back: “Help others? They are in it to help themselves. Are you still living in Tunku’s time?”

It is true that during the time of independence and shortly thereafter, when Tunku Abdul Rahman was prime minister, politicians – especially government ministers – were generally well respected for their integrity.

Some of them, including the Tunku and minister VT Sambanthan, spent their own money to help the people or their parties. Politics made them poor, unlike today’s politicians.

Knowing I’ll lose the argument with the taciturn one, I shift the conversation, almost like a politician, to the manifestos of the two coalitions, saying the pledges are patently populist and promise a tad too much and, therefore, we should not put too much stock in them.

The taciturn one is quick to agree, saying that through the ages politicians have promised to cure the ills of society but society is getting even more sick. “Look at the level of corruption in Malaysia. In how many elections has BN promised to eradicate graft? Has graft decreased in Selangor with PH in charge? Hasn’t corruption become systemic today?”

The ebullient one retorts that if the taciturn one does not trust BN, he can always consider the pledges of PH which promise more freedom. The taciturn one sneers: “You expect me to believe that these guys will be different?”

“Say what you like,” the ebullient one replies. “I am the eternal optimist and I believe that our politicians will improve our lives. I believe that this time things will be different; this time there will be major improvements.”

“Hah! Like many Malaysians you suffer from delusions,” the taciturn one declares.

I tell him that promises are part of politics. They are made to entice voters; they are made to secure votes. Politicians expect it; voters expect it. What are elections without promises?

But politicians who don’t keep their promises may just be following that master of statecraft, Nicolo Machiavelli, who said: “The promise given was a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

What’s that again? My column heading promised to reveal why I love it when politicians don’t keep promises? Did I make that promise? Well, er… er… can I refer you to Machiavelli above? No? Tell you what, let’s wait for the next general election, when I shall return with more profuse promises to promote prosperity.

The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of FMT.