In a total reversal of Pakatan Harapan’s electoral campaign that brought down the Barisan Nasional regime and ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak last year, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been toying with the idea of re-instating the much-maligned goods and services tax.
This sparked funny reactions from the opposition party Umno which turned Dr Mahathir’s sudden love for the GST into memes and a Pakatan bashing party on social media.
But Dr Mahathir’s remarks on the GST came right before a major event: The Malay Dignity event.
In both events, Dr Mahathir had the support of Justice Party deputy President Azmin Ali who has been blemished by a gay-sex video scandal.
While some Pakatan politicians tried in vain to tell the Malaysians that Dr Mahathir did not specifically say he will bring back the GST, but said his government will study it and bring it back if the people wanted it, it was useless.
This led to opposition party Umno with ex-PM Najib having a field day on social media attacking the government for its lack of vision.
Najib went bellicose in public at Tanjong Piai where a by-election is to take place in November.
Hitting the Pakatan hard on his ‘Bossku’ trail, Najib said abolishing GST has resulted in losses because of leaks and that the GST is more transparent as those who are rich will pay more, and those who are earning less will also benefit.
Dr Mahathir’s mention of the GST also resulted in a lashing from a former minister in Najib’s cabinet, Ahmad Maslan who became known as ‘Mr GST’ while his defence of the unpopular tax sparked several jokes and memes portraying him on social media.
Maslan thumped his chest saying “the truth will prevail eventually on the GST”, hitting at the PH government for his championing the GST.
The impact of the GST and the mishandling of the 1MDB scandal by Najib are the two main issues that brought his regime down in May 2018.
Dr Mahathir may have wanted to shine at the Malay Dignity forum organised by four universities. The forum went into disarray with the Umno saying it is an attempt by Dr Mahathir to divide the Umno-Islamists alliance.
Some Pakatan members also said the ‘Malay Dignity’ forum was against the principles of the new government and that Dr Mahathir should not attend, let alone officiate the forum.
By creating havoc against Pakatan on the GST issue, Dr Mahathir diverted attention and used the opposition from Pakatan leaders to the forum as fodder.
A think tank which is aligned to the Bersatu, the party of Dr Mahathir sparked the controversy on the GST.
The Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) said the government should reintroduce the GST at a lower rate of 3% instead of 6%.
The MIER’s proposal to bring back the GST is as surprising as Dr Mahathir’s admission that the Pakatan was not straightforward in its election manifesto.
Knowing it will be a controversial issue, Dr Mahathir made a comment that put the Pakatan Harapan’s regime in a bad light.
If the Pakatan reintroduces the GST, it would be a slap in their own face. No one would expect the PH to make such a controversial move given the fact they abolished the GST as part of their electoral pledge.
The Prime Minister did not revive the spectre of the GST alone, ahead of the event on Malay unity and dignity.
Botched Manifesto or Machiavelli?
Dr Mahathir also shot the Pakatan Harapan in the foot saying the coalition did not expect to win the last general elections and therefore made promises that it cannot keep.
He said the coalition thought they would lose thus they put tough things in the manifesto to ‘burden’ the Barisan Nasional regime if Najib had won.
He also said now that the PH is running the show, it is a victim of its own manifesto.
With this statement, many red-faced Pakatan Harapan members are attacking the Prime Minister.
A pro-Pakatan blog, The Malaysia Chronicle, said Dr Mahathir sounds like Machiavelli and he should explain why he lied to voters.
But Dr Mahathir appears to have the support of PM-to-be Anwar Ibrahim. The latter said he does not think the PM was ‘trivialising the Pakatan manifesto’.
He was responding to attacks by PH members who criticised Dr Mahathir on his admission the manifesto was a ‘fake’.
He said Dr Mahathir’s statement was ‘sincere’.
However, it is likely that only a few will buy into this explanation of ‘sincerity’ because when you run an election campaign and you lie to the people or include policies that would ‘burden’ the winning party (if it was to be Najib’s party), then you are losing your credibility! -/TISG