The following is the fourth part of breaking down the Manifesto Untuk 99% by Gabungan Kiri. The manifesto is separated into 4 parts, hence each will command its own article, with my very biased views analysing them and grading them at the end. After the 4 articles are done, a fifth one summarising everything including the importance of the left in the political scene will round off this series of articles.
The reader is also advised that the subparts covered are a selection rather than the whole, hence should refer to the manifesto proper, here, when reading this and the other articles in the series. Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here, here and here respectively.
The fourth and final part of the Gabungan Kiri manifesto, entitled Inclusive Society and Culture has the most parts within it as it tackles a huge, complex section of policy-making that would require a multi-faceted approach. Since there are 9 subparts, each will be covered in a more summarised manner than before, so consulting the actual document is more important for this article than any other in the series.
Uphold Women’s Rights and Dignity
The first subpart concerns itself with upholding women’s rights and dignity. This subpart is pretty progressive and a solid addition to combat the heavily patriarchal society that is Malaysia’s. The first point calls to increase women’s representation in decision-making government bodies, the judiciary and political parties. This is a good spot to start on to include women into public life in roles other than traditionally female ones, like the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, to produce capable leaders from the subsection of society that isn’t truly encouraged in this regard.
Another policy which is interesting is providing for the housing, education and child-care needs of single parents households to minimise inter-generational transmission of poverty. This points to certain households which are on the verge of the poverty loop, taking away some of the burdens of the parental figure such that the potential for the family to have to resort to crimes or low-wage jobs just to survive is lessened. Similarly progressive is the call to strengthen the law on sexual assault and harassment, including training for enforcement agencies, cyber bullying and stalking. In Malaysia, these types of laws either don’t exist or are not sufficiently sensitive enough to protect people sufficiently. There are other policy suggestions in here on non-citizen spouses and ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and should be read too.
A Far-Sighted and Fair Education Policy
The next subpart contains ideas on the left’s education policy, and it is sublime. Starting in the second point, education in the public sector is suggested to be secular and free of political and religious interference. The strong permeation of religion is a strong separating factor in schools and subtle political influence suppresses the freedom of speech of teachers and students. They should both be kept as far away from schools as possible. There’s also an emphasis on the integration of art, music and theatre into the syllabi, apprenticeship and vocational training geared towards the future creative and green economy and having sports and arts facilities to encourage athletic and cultural excellence. This holistic approach goes the extra mile compared to similar steps being taken currently, and it is absolutely necessary to produce well-developed individuals.
There is also a real effort to democratise education as well, with basing enrolment into publicly-owned tertiary educational institutions on a matrix of academic achievement, cultural as well as economic background, giving free primary, secondary and tertiary education for all, investing in academic infrastructure so no student is discriminated against for enrolment, giving academic freedom to universities free from Governmental influence and eliminating elite schools alongside ending discriminatory funding policies. It’s time the education system really gave true equal opportunity to all students including those who are of a socially maligned background and not just hand-pick the top few to focus on them specially, like they’re the ones who need it. However, the investments and making education free does incur high cost, hence the accounting should be done properly to make the necessary funds available for this. Since apprenticeship and vocational training is emphasized as well, if these funds are available, they would be put to good use.
An Improved Public Healthcare System
The next subpart on improving the public health care system is solid but pretty standard, explaining aspirations of increased funding and investments to public health facilities and, interestingly, mental health institutions as well. However, the point of freezing the expansion of private hospitals is problematic as our private health care system is quite advanced and cessation of this through government force might cause major disruption, especially in the case of health tourists and private investors in healthcare.
A People-Centred and Caring Social Policy
The following subpart focuses on a more protective social policy. Firstly, a Housing Development Board is suggested to be instituted, managed by elected local councils, to take on the problem of low-cost public housing. While not a quick fix, the almost unionisation of delocalised groups to take care of local issues would be a more efficient way to handle the issue rather than centralisation. This, along with setting up a commission to plan the creation of a comprehensive social welfare system, which includes unemployment benefits, support for child-rearing; physical and mental disabilities, seems a pretty progressive way to go about things. Moreover, working towards a Universal Old Age Pension would really help with staving off poverty for the elderly in a world where retirement needs to be put off later and later.
A particularly progressive yet deeply unpopular idea is the decriminalisation of drug consumption, moving from arresting and detaining these victims towards caring for them in rehabilitation centres. Drug consumption has its roots in poverty and unfortunate mistakes made, usually due to personal problems, that really can happen to anyone given the right circumstances. While this is correct for a lot of crimes, and a move towards rehabilitation and prevention is better generally, drug consumption is stigmatised to such an extent that this suggestion is especially necessary for it.
Support Orang Asal Rights, Customary Lands, Culture and Religion; A Vibrant and Diverse Cultural Policy; Reduce Crime and Increase Public Safety
The next few subparts are standard fare and would be analysed in a more succinct manner. The support for Orang Asal rights has been ongoing and championed by the left for a while now and bringing this maligned group up whilst protecting their interests is a necessary policy. Creating a better cultural policy is ultimately very important, with the starting point at revamping of the National Cultural Policy. This is a supremely outdated policy written in 1971 that places overbearing importance towards the Malay language and culture while also placing Islam as an integral component. Only suitable elements from other cultures, which do not clash with the previous, may be accepted as national culture. This further exacerbates the divide between Malaysians and needs to be redefined such that ownership of this nation is shared by all citizens, rather than just Malays. The suggestion to increase public safety is worded to align the police force to prevent crimes. It is hoped this means greater enforcement such that people are deterred from crimes instead of being punished for it.
Defence Cuts and a Culture of Peace
The final two subparts deal with preparing the funds necessary for the various plans laid out in the manifesto. The first of this is to introduce cuts on defence. While this subpart is largely agreeable, with going forward with disarmament by reaffirming principles of the Non-Aligned Movement, restricting the right to bear arms to professionally trained law enforcement officers and setting up a Parliamentary Defence Committee chaired by an Opposition MP as well as an independent Ombudsman to oversee the defence budget, a little thought should be spared to the reality of situations needing a strengthening of defence. If we see ASEAN as a region, we have a few threats that need looking into, what with the refugee crisis, political instability and terrorism, the latter evident in the murky borders of Sabah. One should not be too rash to take away protection from our people, thus making them unduly vulnerable.
Funding The Manifesto
The final subpart attempts to explain the rest of the funding. This is from new sources of revenue from progressive taxation on top 1% high income earners, capital gains and financial transaction taxes and through regulatory measures to deal with tax evasion and avoidance. Interesting ideas, very possible as well, but would really need way more fleshing out to be convincing. Though an expected savings of between 20 to 30 percent of the current national budget of RM262 billion has been put forth by the group, exactly how this number came about, who did the calculations, what mitigating factors were considered etc. should be presented as it just remains as baseless promises for now. It can be summed up by my response to their final point ‘We will ensure that the quantity and quality of public goods and services that benefit the 99% are not compromised by cuts in expenditure and/or decreases in revenues’. Okay, but how?
While it may seem that this part is a little messy and mixed in terms of quality of policies, the greater majority of ideas presented are good and implementable. Socially speaking, many important concepts such as encouraging the development of women and Orang Asal are presented while progressive concepts like revamping the drug consumption and overall outlook on crime prevention are suggested even though they might be unpopular opinions. The downside is that these lavish ideas really need comprehensive management of resources and pristine fiscal discipline, with the standards set so high this manifesto falls short in its brevity. Perhaps the group should consult more parties that differ in mindset, like the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, to nail home some loose floorboards. Having said this, it is undeniably impressive and this part gets a solid 7 out of 10.