Election manifesto: Salient points suffice

Any party can make 1,000 promises but at the end of the day, do they have the resources and capability to deliver the aspiration of the people? .

— Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, Assoc Prof, Universiti Utara Malaysia

In my many years as an editor, I must have dissected and digested many election manifestos from political parties or coalitions that I could perhaps guess what was coming even before I read the first page.

They were more or less the same — high sounding ideals, ideas and policies (read plans of action) on what the parties would carry out for the benefit of the rakyat if they attain power.

(Aha, before the polls, it would always be “for the rakyat”; after victory, most likely “for me, I and myself”. Are we not only too familiar with that?)
The only difference was possibly the responses to some crucial situations at the time of a particular election. However, as media practitioners, it is our duty and responsibility to disseminate correct and valid information to the public.

Hence, editors have to digest the document and publish what they feel are the more important and relevant sections of the manifesto.

After that, it is up to the readers and voters to make their better judgement and hopefully, a wise decision at the ballot box.

My profession as a journalist has helped me greatly when I became an active politician more than 20 years ago. Over two elections, I had prepared the drafts of our party manifesto in consultation with my party president.

My advice was to zero in on a few salient points with broad outlines on our policies and programmes. There was no necessity to go into refined details in order to allow space for changes and amendments when the need arises later. I recall that our manifesto did not go beyond 1,000 words, all condensed in four pages — just nice to print into a pamphlet.

What is really important in a manifesto is that all party candidates, members, election agents and ceremah speakers must know the programmes outlined in the manifesto at their fingertips.

It is also interesting to note that voters in Sarawak are not really bothered about manifestos. Many probably wouldn’t take the trouble to read them too. Perhaps the same is true of the Malaysian voter in general.

In my two electoral outings, no one posed a single question about the manifesto of the party I represented. Perhaps, they were already aware of our policies from our speeches during the campaign.  

Recently, veteran politician Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz hit out at Pakatan Harapan’s “Buku Harapan”, saying the coalition’s biggest mistake was having a “fat” manifesto.

This was not the first time the former Umno minister has done so. In 2018, soon after PH’s GE14 victory, Rafidah had also criticised the manifesto, saying the “stupid manifesto” had forced them to backtrack on good decisions, like making Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad the education minister.

At that time, Dr Mahathir had initially named himself as the education minister before dropping the post on grounds that the manifesto stipulated the prime minister would not simultaneously hold other ministerial posts, especially the post of finance minister.

Rafidah said the manifesto was “too much” and that “nobody could digest” it.

“I never read the PH manifesto. I couldn’t, I’d fall asleep,” she lamented.
I agree with Rafidah. I did not bother to read the PH manifesto or those of other coalitions, including Barisan Nasional’s, going into GE14.

Most of us would have known the contentious issues in play by then and would have made up our minds on which side to support long before the elections. The manifestos of the contending parties were irrelevant.

We can also recall the response from then prime minister Dr Mahathir after being cornered that PH had reneged on many of its election promises.

“We didn’t expect to win. There were too many promises we made that were difficult to fulfill,” he conceded.

There you go. At times, a manifesto is only as good as the paper it is printed on. One would be a fool to believe everything in an election manifesto. It is a means to fish for your vote. Do not be so trusting.

At another time, then Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng proudly declared that PH had fulfilled 60 percent of its election promises.

Few bothered to check what exactly were the 60 percent fulfilled at a time when Malaysians were getting disillusioned with the lacklustre performance of the PH government.

So remember, people. A manifesto is not a religious book. Politicians have no direct links with the Divine. Don’t be fooled. Here’s an advice. In politics, trust your own instincts and judgement, not the politician’s.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune. Feedback can reach him at tribunenew2019@gmail.com

Previous articleFirm donates virucide to Bomba
Next articleFive workers ordered to stay home