The season for political lies is back, with the elections set for next month.“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election” said Otto von Bismarck, the first German chancellor, 151 years ago.
Bismarck’s comment remains relevant, more so with the general election just around the corner.
About four years ago, when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was asked why many election campaign promises by Pakatan Harapan were not kept, he just said “because they never expected to win”.
The backlash from the voters was huge, and the opposition, comprising Barisan Nasional and PAS, went to town tearing PH to bits over Mahathir’s nonchalant reply.
Rafidah Aziz came to Mahathir’s defence, saying that election manifestos are not holy books like the Quran or the Bible. But the outspoken former minister did not mince her words when she said PH’s manifesto was stupid as the promises were hard to keep.
To be fair, PH did push for many of their promises, especially the ones they pledged to implement within 100 days but it was not enough as the people were expecting quick changes. However, they ignored several key promises, taking the voters for granted.
Did you read their manifestos?
This brings us to the question of how many of us actually read manifestos launched before any election? I believe in Malaysia, very few take the trouble to do this as they depend on social media for information in bits and pieces.
No local studies have been made on the number of Malaysians actually reading the full manifesto before casting their vote. They may be influenced by what they hear at ceramahs or the stuff they read on social media.
But a political party in the UK did one a few years ago. It showed that about 27% of the voters take the trouble to read them in full. Is that why winners in elections do not give priority to implementing the promises after forming the government?
Putting aside the core supporters of every party or coalition in an election, a good number are influenced by promises politicians make. Elections can be said to be a commitment game, where voters opt for candidates and parties whose policies and promises are most appealing.
After that, voters are at the mercy of the ruling party because we have no way to make sure they will follow through on all the pre-election pledges. It’s tough because all we have is their word.
A declaration of intentions
The manifesto is a contract that cannot be enforced. It is merely a published verbal declaration of their intentions. The context of a promise of this kind places it in the realm of politics, not of the courts.
This has been tested in the courts of a couple of advanced democracies in the past and they lost. Since manifestos are not legally enforceable, you’ll have to use the ballot box, as stated by Mahathir in the PH manifesto for the 2018 general election.
“We appeal to the people to give us a chance to showcase our abilities and to help the country. With the publication of this book, we also humbly pledge that we are willing to be judged by the people on how far we fulfil our promises when we are in government. If we fail or if we break our promises, by all means reject us in the next general election.”
Well Mahathir has come full circle, together with most of the PH leaders then with him. They are back to face the voters now, with some on different platforms. It includes Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Guan Eng, Mohamad Sabu and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.
While many Malaysians may forgive them because the treacherous Sheraton Move cut the PH reign to just 22 months, I am sure there are groups waiting to punish them. However, the five million new voters this time around could also be their saving grace as they will most probably look at the promises that are going to be made during GE15.
A moral contract with voters
Here’s where political parties must remember that it’s the age of social media where speed is of the essence, with promises made yesterday being implemented today if possible. Well, that is the expectation of the people these days.
While manifestos do not constitute a legal agreement, I am sure our politicians are fully aware that it is a moral contract. But then again, morality and politics do not really co-exist among most politicians, and that’s why manifestos become contentious after elections.
They must be warned that the manifesto is the keystone of an election campaign. It brings about a legitimate expectation from the people. The new voters are very young and will be watching what you promise, and what is implemented after that.
Do not treat the manifesto as a mere piece of paper.
Politicians should stop their practice of pre-election lies and start a culture of accountability and being forthright about what they can actually do.
Make doable promises instead of pledging the moon as in the past.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.