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I was just reading Zaid Ibrahim’s platform, presented at Pakatan Rakyat’s inaugural convention. It’s rather vague, if disappointing – a lot of goals are crouched in (deliberate, I think) ambiguous words – “Defend the role and responsibility of the institution of constitutional monarchy” for example does not reveal anything about the institution, other than they want it around.

In terms of constitutional reform, the few points where the platform wasn’t vague is quite troubling. For example, it recommends party funding based on election performance, levelling the playing field for Pakatan Rakyat against Barisan Nasional while raising the barrier of entry for all new parties (any new party, though matter how popular their platform or leaders are, will be institutionally disadvantaged). The platform also calls for 30% of government positions, including legislators, to be women – despite the fact that their other electoral reforms imply the retention of a single-member constituency-based system (implementation of affirmative action quotas will be impossible).

There are nice points – civil liberties, political rights, transparency and accountability – but everyone already knows Pakatan’s position in general on this issues. The platform is vague on where such liberties are used in ways Pakatan leaders might not approve of. Will free speech and free press entail that Utusan Malaysia can retain its Malay supremacy editorial line, or would that be curtailed under the proposed (yet undescribed) “Race Relations Act”?

The other nice points is increase state powers and autonomy – though their policies seem ill-advised. Rather than states being able to raise most of their revenues, and introduce tax competition in the federation, revenue is distributed from the top.

On the economic front, Pakatan is indicating a very leftist inclination. They advocate a minimum wage (DAP proposed a much more efficient income supplement) as well as trade unionisation – despite its impact on employment on marginal workers. They reject the GST, a value-added tax – or any measure to broaden the tax base. In terms of welfare, they want to introduce pensions, despite the massive entitlement and sustainability issues faced by nearly every major economy with a public pension system.

Interestingly enough, all other welfare aspects were covered under Pakatan’s platform – except healthcare. This is odd – Malaysia’s healthcare system is much more dysfunctional than our social security or education one, and none of the three parties have any ideological healthcare-related issues (I’m presuming healthcare isn’t un-Islamic). This is an enormous oversight by Zaid Ibrahim.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much from the platform. The vague portions reflect the immense contradictions within Pakatan Rakyat, while expecting a lawyer to think of good economic, environmental and welfare policies is a bit much (Tony Pua’s inner economist is visible in DAP’s alternative budgets – and DAP is the most left-wing of the Pakatan parties).

Alas, Pakatan’s platform, with ridiculous ideas like women quotas and investment in “hydrogen fuel cells”, is preferable to Barisan. But that’s a very low bar to set.

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