Malaysia: Urban poverty may swing richest state of Selangor

  • Income inequality and high costs form the common grouse of suburban voters, particularly in Selangor.
  • While the state has the highest household income in the country – bar the two capitals – it is also the most expensive state to live in, according to the latest income and expenditure surveys in 2014.
  • Official statistics show that, from 2009 to 2014, household expenses in Selangor grew by an average of 11.1% annually to MYR4,646 monthly, but incomes grew by only 6.7% to MYR8,252 monthly.
  • Selangor’s income growth is also well below the national average of 8.8%, while its increase in household expenses is the second fastest among all states.
  • Admittedly, many of the economic policies that affect the average citizen – a new goods and services tax, lower petrol subsidies, cash handouts for the needy – are set by the central government, which means voters are less likely to blame the state government for their economic predicament.
  • Still, state governments have wide powers to encourage business activity, via decisions on land use, water supply, business permits, quit rent and other local regulations.
  • State-government sources told The Straits Times that Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali recently went overseas to market Selangor to foreign investors. Welfare programmes will be the main campaign plank for Harapan, they said, notably the state’s MYR2bn Inisiatif Peduli Rakyat, or Caring For The People Initiative, which gives aid for water supply, housing and business loans.
  • Umno, meanwhile, hopes to charm voters with its hefty federal budget – from which state grants can be made – and big-ticket plans. Prime Minister Najib Razak has already kicked off a concerted campaign to win back Selangor, repeating the mantra of integration with Kuala Lumpur’s development.
  • To drive home the point, in Jul 17 he launched a new MRT system which traverses the capital before terminating in the Selangor township of Kajang.
  • From Barisan’s perspective, out of the three states in Malaysia it does not control, Selangor is its best bet for conquest. This is despite Barisan winning just 12 of 56 seats in the state legislative, and five of 22 parliamentary wards in the 2013 elections.
  • Barisan is eyeing a further 31 state seats, 21 of which were marginal areas that were won by opposition candidates – including chief minister Azmin Ali – with only 57.3% of the vote or less.
  • Observers say the Premier has set his sights on winning back the affluent state, and regaining a two-thirds parliamentary supermajority ceded in 2008, to finally silence dissent within his own party and entrench his authority.

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