Responding To Merdeka Center Polls On Anwar Ibrahim’s Popularity

I read the news that Merdeka Center claims that Anwar Ibrahim’s support among the Malay community is low.

Indeed, polling is an unexact science. I used to trust Merdeka Center – in fact I appointed them to survey Seri Setia and an early survey in Setiawangsa previously.

But this industry needs credibility and independence. The credibility of Merdeka Center was compromised during GE14 as they played a role to advocate the idea that BN can only be defeated through a PH-PAS collaboration. In fact, one of the reasons BN lost was the existence of three-cornered fights.

As late as January 2018, Merdeka Center was still insisting that BN would obtain a two-thirds majority due to three-cornered fights!

In March 2018, INVOKE predicted PH would obtain more seats in Peninsular Malaysia compared to BN.

INVOKE was widely ridiculed. But INVOKE’s prediction was the most accurate of all.

I recorded this in my book ‘9 May 2018: Notes from the Frontline’.

The full book is available here: https://www.gerakbudaya.com/9-may-2018-notes-from-the-frontline.

‘On 7 May 2018, INVOKE released its final survey, that boldly predicted a Pakatan Harapan victory. Pakatan Harapan would win 111 Parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia while Barisan Nasional would win 54 seats.

Pakatan Harapan was ahead in support among Malay voters in Penang, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, but Barisan Nasional had a slim lead in the other states. In the 2013 election, Barisan Nasional had enjoyed a 30-per cent differential over Pakatan Rakyat among Malay voters; this time no state recorded more than a 20-per cent lead for Barisan Nasional.

As Pakatan Harapan enjoyed strong support from the non-Malays, this would enable the coalition to do well in mixed-seats across the Peninsula.

The only glaring misses for INVOKE were Kelantan and Terengganu. It had predicted that the two states would be won by Barisan Nasional but instead were won by PAS.

Rafizi explained after the election:

“Even in the case of Kelantan and Terengganu, it was obvious that fence-sitters resorted to tactical voting in the last week of campaigning; throwing their support behind PAS (instead of Pakatan Harapan) because realistically speaking only PAS was strong enough (as the second party in Kelantan and Terengganu) to defeat Barisan Nasional in those states.

Likewise, the voters knew enough about which party was the strongest to defeat Barisan Nasional in a three-cornered fight elsewhere, that there was a widespread tactical voting (especially among the Malays) throughout the country.”

INVOKE’s optimistic surveys contrasted with other agencies. Barisan Nasional’s private polling was on the other end of the spectrum, having placed them within a few seats of regaining the two-thirds majority in Parliament that had been lost since 2008. This explains the disbelief and paralysis that characterised the response to their election defeat. University academicians prominent in the mainstream media predicted an easy win for Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional.

In January 2018, Merdeka Center announced that Barisan Nasional would win the general election and re-gain the two-thirds majority in Parliament due to three-cornered fights, the redelineation of boundaries and the fractious nature of the Opposition.

‘The opposition’s prospects range from slim to zero as PAS leaders appear keen to prevent a PH victory. PAS seems ready to assist UMNO on the grounds of preserving Malay political hegemony.’

The polling outfit maintained their prediction in April. In their final poll presented on the eve of the election, they recorded the decline in Malay support for Barisan Nasional but concluded it was insufficient for Pakatan Harapan to win Federal power as the lead among Malay voters was still substantial for the ruling coalition.

They forecasted 100 safe seats for Barisan Nasional, 83 for Pakatan Harapan, two for PAS and 37 seats where the margin of error was within three per cent. This included my Setiawangsa Parliamentary seat.’

ASB Needs Improvements To Return To Its Original Aims

Yesterday I described the politicising of the distribution of ASB income as both malicious and ignorant.

But the Government too needs to consider a few improvements to ASB as per its original aims to increase the economic wealth of the Bumiputera community and contribute to national growth and prosperity for the benefit of all Malaysians. The need to improve has existed for quite some time, and did not just come about during New Malaysia.

There are a few facts regarding ASB that needs us to refocus on the poor and middle-class Malays, not the few rich elites.

Nearly 80 percent (7.4 million) of ASB unitholders have units worth less RM5,000 in 2018. A small 0.24 percent has RM500,001 and above.

The B40 and M40 of ASB unit holders have only RM4.1 billion whereas the top 9.15 percent has RM127.5 billion in the unit trust fund.

Thus while nationally our Gini coefficient (the measure of inequality) has improved from 0.513 in 1970 to 0.399 in 2016, but the Gini coefficient in ASB is a staggering 0.84 or highly unequal.

There is a need to consider capping dividend pay out to the maximum allowable investment (rather than basing it on the actual account balance, even when it exceeds the maximum allowable investment of RM200,000). The former benefits everyone, but makes it insanely tough for PNB to properly mark the investments to market, and the latter benefits the richest 10 percent of depositors, who account for something like 60 to 70 percent, if not more, of the ASB fund pool.

One move that could be considered in the medium term is for ASB dividends to be tiered, with unitholders classified as socio-economically in the B40 and M40 groups be given higher dividends than their T20 counterparts. The Singapore Central Provident Fund operates on a similar basis.

This move should not be considered as an attempt to “penalise” or “punish” T20 Bumiputeras, especially if they have been willing and able to save their money as well as support the ASB.

Rather, it is, as noted, to ensure that the ASB becomes an efficient engine to uplift B40 Bumiputeras and give the M40s an added boost when they need it.

The fact is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, wealth disparity is multi dimensional: including between the ethnic groups, but also within each ethnic group— Bumiputeras included.

There is hence no point in having high ASB dividends if it simply makes the T20 Bumiputeras richer while the B40s and M40s cannot catch up.

Loan schemes by banks for Bumiputeras to borrow and invest in ASB should also be reconsidered as there is a concern that it will exacerbate the situation if the global and local market take a further turn to the worse. Banks should not benefit from the losses of the common rakyat.

There’s no use creating or obtaining wealth for the Bumiputera if it is concentrated in the T20, or if such wealth is distributed in a way that dilutes its effectiveness.

Changes are needed to ensure that the wealth that PNB generates will be impactfully and visibly applied, i.e. by moving the B40s and M40s forward.

It also goes without saying that any change will need careful study with careful engagement and communication. More often than not, New Malaysia has not been effective in this regards. This is even more so in such sensitive and emotive issues such as ASB and the Bumiputera economy.

I hope that the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Yayasan Pelaburan Bumiputera and PNB will give this matter careful consideration as we move into the year 2020.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN CHIEF ORGANISING SECRETARY
KEADILAN CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER
SETIAWANGSA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

Politicising ASB’s Income Distribution Is Malicious & Ignorant

PNB has recently announced a 5.00 sen per unit ASB income distribution for the year 2019, as well as a 0.50 sen per unit bonus.

Certain irresponsible parties have, as predicted, attempted to politicise this development and have tried to blame it on the Federal Government.

However, this willfully ignores the fact that the global economy has faced significant setbacks this year and the many initiatives to boost good corporate governance that PNB has undertaken.

PNB’s Asset Under Management is also over RM300 billion, with about 90 percent being invested in Malaysia. Any major movement by PNB will have a huge impact on the Malaysian stock market. ASB is not a magic fund operating in a vacuum.

In this light, the 5.5% dividend, while perhaps disappointing for some, is still an achievement of some magnitude by PNB. RM9.0 billion is distributed to 10 million unit holders. It speaks volumes on the hard work of the PNB team including the new leadership.

Like it or not, as a trading economy Malaysia is plugged into the global economy and we will never be able to completely insulate ourselves from its currents. Making the people addicted to unsustainable dividends is simply irresponsible.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN CHIEF ORGANISING SECRETARY
KEADILAN CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER
SETIAWANGSA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

MovingForward: Deliver The Manifesto Promises And Invest In People

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 21, 2019 – October 27, 2019.

Budget 2020 — Pakatan Harapan’s second — has been tabled and in many ways, the stakes are higher this time.

As we enter greater global economic and geopolitical turmoil, there is an urgent need for Malaysia to ensure future growth that is both sustainable and equitable. The best way to do this is to deliver on our manifesto promises and invest in the people.

The latest budget tabled by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng is a step in this direction. It is something we can build on for a better and fairer future for all Malaysians.

Jobs and wages

It is good that Budget 2020 focuses on my mantra, as PH Youth Leader, when we campaigned for the 14th general election: jobs, jobs, jobs.

The provisions in the budget to increase high-quality employment opportunities for locals (particularly graduates, women and apprentices) as well as to reduce our dependency on foreign labour are most welcome.

I also welcome plans to review the Employment Act 1955, including to increase maternity leave and extend overtime eligibility. The government must also take heed of gender discrimination as well as the research of scholars like Lee Hwok Aun and Muhammed Abdul Khalid, who found evidence of racial discrimination in private sector hiring.

Reform of labour laws should not be done piecemeal but holistically through an employment laws reform commission involving the government, the Malaysian Employers Federation and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.

Separately, the proposed increase in the monthly minimum wage to RM1,200 in urban areas is positive. This proves that PH is on track to deliver its pledge to increase the minimum wage to RM1,500 by 2023.

Still, it is very far from the “living wage” concept proposed by Bank Negara Malaysia in 2016, including RM2,700 for individuals living in Kuala Lumpur.

Everyone should get behind this. IDEAS Malaysia (a pro-market think tank) has called for a tax credit scheme to encourage companies to increase the salaries of their lowest-earning employees — there is definitely merit in this. Government procurement can also be designed to favour companies that are committed to achieving a living wage.

A fairer gig economy

Lately, there has been great controversy over the so-called gig economy, including how to protect its workers.

California recently passed landmark legislation requiring ride-hailing companies to hire drivers as employees rather than independent contractors.

This will mean that such workers will receive labour protection and benefits like unemployment insurance, overtime, minimum wage and the right to unionise. It is perhaps time Malaysia considered passing a similar law.

It is worth noting that the salary of Malaysian workers lags behind that of their peers in benchmark economies. The low-wage growth model is archaic and no longer works. It does nobody any good in the long run. The quality and productivity of our workers will increase if they are paid better.

It is true that businesses should not be strangled by red tape. But workers should not be left to fend for themselves. Dealing with IR4.0 does not require a return to the exploitative practices of the First Industrial Revolution.

PH’s challenge is to create opportunities and safeguard the interests of job seekers, job holders and job creators in Malaysia — it can be done.

Sustainable public transport

The move towards targeted fuel subsidies also means that efforts to ramp up public transport must go into overdrive.

The revival of major infrastructure projects like MRT3 in a transparent and more cost-efficient manner will help close the MRT system’s loop in the Klang Valley.

I welcome the provision of 500 electric buses. Indeed, we ought to prioritise “green” public transport solutions to address pollution and climate change, the impact of which we in Malaysia know only too well.

A reasonable housing policy

The government has decided to lower the foreign ownership threshold for residential properties to RM600,000. In my constituency of Setiawangsa, a house of that value is not luxurious but the mainstay of the M40 group, including young professionals.

Indeed, as Chang Kim Loong of the National House Buyers Association has argued, this proposal will likely not encourage developers to build affordable housing.

The government should refocus on encouraging the building of affordable housing in the RM300,000 ceiling bracket in the urban areas.

Innovative ideas that can lower building costs, especially those that are environmentally sustainable, should also be incentivised.

Intra-ethnic inequality

There is also a need for the government to address not only inter-ethnic but also intra-ethnic inequality in Malaysia, especially in the Malay and bumiputera community.

The anomalies in Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB) and Tabung Haji are proof that there is a growing gap between the rich and poor bumiputeras.

Based on ASB’s 2018 annual report, a total of 7.4 million (or 76.92%) hold unit sizes of below RM5,000. Only 0.24% hold unit sizes of RM500,001 and above.

However, 9.15% of the unit holders have subscribed for 81.83% of total units or more than RM127.5 billion.

If we were to apply the Gini coefficient — a gauge of economic inequality where the lower the score the better — to ASB, the score would be 0.84, in sharp contrast to Malaysia’s, whose score fell from 0.513 in 1970 to 0.399 in 2016.

Similarly, 50% of the funds in Tabung Haji’s savings accounts come from only 1.3% of its contributors. According to media reports, a single individual contributed a staggering RM190 million!

The government could thus consider measures like prioritising the reinvestment of ASB dividends for accounts that are below the investment limit of RM200,000 because these make up the majority. Currently, accounts are still permitted to collect dividends that can be reinvested on top of the RM200,000 cap.

Tabung Haji should also return to its roots as a savings fund for the haj at a reasonable rate. This year, the cost of a basic haj package was around RM22,900 while the subsidy given by Tabung Haji was RM12,920. So, those who wish to perform the haj would only need to save RM9,980. Priority should be given to those saving to perform the haj, not to the elite for cosy investment.

Our conception of the New Economic Policy and, indeed, the bumiputera agenda, should shift towards a needs-based paradigm.

Nobody denies the good both have done. But indiscriminately handing out benefits based on race will not move the community forward. Indeed, it will simply exacerbate the socioeconomic divide within our ranks, to the detriment of the entire country.

T20 Malays must be trained and prepared to compete with the other races and globally. In the meantime, support must be provided to Malaysia’s urban poor, farmers and workers, most of whom are Malays and bumiputeras.

Doing this will be crucial to the government realising its vision of creating “shared prosperity”. The latter will not happen without the former.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is Keadilan member of parliament for Setiawangsa and was a member of the parliamentary special select committee for the budget. He has written several books in Malay and in English.

‘What’s Brewing’ Forum Panelist

During the 14th General Election, Pakatan Harapan (PH) won in an unprecedented outcome which saw them take over the reins from Barisan National.

PH provided a beacon of hope for equality, unity, and transparency – aspects that the previous government struggled with in recent history. Yet, there are worrying trends that threaten its actualisation.
Join us as we discuss this issue with YB Nik Nazmi (Member Parliament for Setiawangsa, Kuala Lumpur) and Professor Dr. Mohd. Tajuddin Bin Mohd. Rasdi on ‘What’s Brewing with Dr Rozhan’ on FB Live

During the 14th General Election, Pakatan Harapan (PH) won in an unprecedented outcome which saw them take over the…

Posted by HumanCapient Consulting Sdn Bhd on Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Wednesday, 23 October 2019 at 8.30pm