Time to help the non-moneyed classes vote justly

It’s sad to note that a recent survey showed that a majority of Malaysians place corruption very low in the list of priorities that the government should address.

Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M)’s 2017 Global Corruption Barometer (Asia Pacific) ranked corruption sixth in its list of priority issues, with only 15% of the respondents of the survey saying that corruption and bribery should be the top priorities addressed by the government.

The first in the list of priorities was management of the economy with 54% of the respondents aged 18 and above saying it should be the government’s priority.

The survey interviewed 1,009 people from November last year to January this year to rank current issues according to importance to them.

If the survey is a reflection of what the people want, then, it means that nearly half of the population want a better economy — more jobs and higher salaries.

It would appear that a majority of the people are more concerned with bread and butter issues rather than corruption.

This is not surprising. Corruption is a middle-class issue but jobs and income are the day-to-day issues confronting the lower middle-class and the low-income groups.

Corruption is not an issue for them, probably because it is a way of life. If you get a ticket for a traffic offence, it’s cheaper to pay the cop some money than pay the fine. If you want a licence for a stall to sell your produce, some exchange of cash between palms will expedite your application. If you want to stay in business, some contribution to the local safety and maintenance officer or local taiko (thug) will keep your business going.

To the middle and higher income groups, corruption may be a crime, but to the lower income groups and the people who accept their “contributions”, it is “helping” them!

Corruption is also a problem to the big businesses engaged in government contracts because some greasing of the palms may be necessary to move your applications forwards. This results in higher costs, which are eventually transferred to the customer who pays more for the product. The current spate of arrests of government officials charged for bribery and corruption may aid in cutting down corruption in business-government deals.

For the non-moneyed classes, corruption is an essential service. Perhaps, that’s why they want more money than less corruption!

That’s the reality that the ruling party has capitalized on to stay in power. They promise development which translates to more jobs and better services to ensure the votes of the lower income groups.

The moneyed classes can see through the government’s actions but the lower-income groups are more dependent on the government for handouts and would not risk losing it.

This latter group is also more easily influenced by their leaders than the former groups. This is also the group — Malay rural bumiputras in the Peninsula and ethnic bumiputra groups in East Malaysia — who will determine the outcome of the next elections. And it is their leaders who will influence their vote.

The strategy of their leaders is to keep reminding them that they — the government — are the only people who can help them.

Opposition politicians have to reach these lower income groups and let them know that they are ready to form the government and when they do — with their support — they stand to gain much more than what they are getting now, and with less corruption.

In Peninsular Malaysia, Muslim leaders, political and religious, have to get this point to the ground. In East Malaysia, it is likewise; Christian politicians and religious leaders have to confidently and clearly send this message to the local ethnic groups.

Religious leaders must play a key role in the next elections. They have to tell their flocks that their votes can make a difference for them individually and for the nation.

One of the reasons why Donald Trump won the US presidency is because evangelical US pastors preached from the pulpits that a change was necessary. This is not hearsay. One of my friends in the States witnessed it, saying that it was the first time pastors influenced their flocks in an election.

Priests and pastors need to teach their flock political and economic integrity so that Christians are voting correctly for what is right — not just for a few ringgit more — and what will make this nation a better place for all.

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