Opposition wants term limits for Malaysia's PM

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 8): Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance wants to limit the tenure of future prime ministers to two terms and remove the unpopular 6 per cent goods and services tax (GST), among major proposals gleaned in its election manifesto.

In a move to attract two solid blocs of voters for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, PH said it would abolish all the debts carried by Felda settlers and form an immediate committee to look into the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) signed by Sabah and Sarawak with a view to return them their state rights.

Rural Malay farmers on Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) lands and their second-and third-generation families, totalling some 1.2 million voters, are staunch supporters of BN.

By promising to look into the MA63 agreement, signed by Sabah and Sarawak when they became part of Malaysia in 1963, PH hopes to woo voters in the two states often described as "fixed deposit" states for the BN, which is led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The manifesto, which will be officially released today, comprises 60 promises the four-party alliance said it will fulfil within five years should it seize the reins at Putrajaya after the next general election, due within months.

Ten of these pledges will be fulfilled within its first 100 days in office, it said.

"We are the government in waiting. So, there is serious thought put into all these policies," said lawmaker Sim Tze Tzin of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the lead party governing Selangor state.

The other three PH parties are the Democratic Action Party, the lead party governing Penang state; former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM); and Parti Amanah Negara, formed by former leaders of Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

PH wants to limit to two terms the tenure for prime ministers, menteris besar and chief ministers to curb possible corruption and power abuses by leaders who hang on to power for too long.

"When you are in power for too long, you will start to believe in your own invincibility," said Mr Rais Hussin, a strategist for PPBM.

Tun Dr Mahathir, 92, was prime minister for 22 years and four terms, until 2003. Datuk Seri Najib, 64,  will hit 10 years in office in April next year.

The opposition is also leaning towards allowing senior leaders to hold one role only, rather than the current system which enables the prime minister and deputy prime minister to also hold a different ministerial portfolio. The same applies to state governments.

The GST was introduced in April 2015 by Mr Najib to raise government revenues, but has been widely blamed by the public for spiking the cost of living. The Malaysian government Budget has been in deficit for two decades.

On the Felda plan, the opposition is banking on unhappiness among the farmers and their families over debts, which were usually accumulated when they borrowed money from the government to replant or harvest their oil palm farms.

To appeal to voters from Sabah and Sarawak, the opposition has a separate election manifesto for these states. It has promised that it would reinstate rights that were promised in the MA63.

"We have to honour our agreement… Some of it is difficult, but we will strive to do it," said PH secretary-general Saifuddin Abdullah.

Some of the promises are populist measures, such as postponing the repayment of debts by graduates who borrowed student loans from the government and abolishing unpopular highway tolls in stages. The manifesto will be released today.