Saturday 21 May 2011

As belts tighten, Anwar tells poor to punish Umno

KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — With Putrajaya on the verge of cutting subsidies, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim called on the poor to replace the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government with one sympathetic to their lot.

In a hall surrounded by low-cost houses last night, the opposition leader accused the Najib administration of burdening the public further amid surging inflation while protecting its cronies.

“Datuk Seri Najib Razak called petrol subsidies opium. So giving subsidies to the poor is opium. But opium to rich taukehs is okay,” he told an audience of nearly 1,000 here in Pandan.

He claimed that independent power producers were being handed RM19 billion in subsidies and named the likes of Ananda Krishnan, Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary as “opium addicts” who were being protected by the BN government.

Although the government said this week that controversial gas subsidies for independent power producers (IPPs) are under review, the Permatang Pauh MP said that there was “no way” the negotiations would succeed.

“Nowhere in our history have rich taukehs given in to BN. Umno always bows to them. The poor must oust Umno,” the former deputy prime minister said.

The federal government said this week that its subsidy bill would double to RM21 billion this year if cuts were not made and yesterday committed itself to slashing subsidies despite rising cost of living.

The consumer price index rose by three per cent in March — the fastest rate in nearly two years — and prices of non-alcoholic foodstuff increased by 4.7 per cent.

Analysts and politicians believe that economic woes will be the biggest problem for the ruling coalition as the country heads into a general election expected within the year.

Anwar also repeated his challenge to Prime Minister Najib for a debate on economic policies, promising the audience that “I will not promise what I cannot deliver.”

He added that it was possible to maintain subsidies if corruption was curbed.

“Who here can say that they have not been asked for bribes in the streets? Yet this is small corruption,” the former finance minister said.

He claimed the Auditor-General’s report had shown a total of RM28 billion was wasted by the government last year.

The opposition leader had also said yesterday that the “alarming” 4.9 per cent rise in food prices from January to April this year compared to the same period last year suggested that there would be “the pain of 2008” would be repeated when food prices jumped 8.8 per cent following sudden fuel price hikes.

According to a Bloomberg report last month, surging fuel prices and unhappiness over the implementation of race-based policies contributed to the ruling coalition losing control of five of 13 states to Pakatan Rakyat in Election 2008, where it also ceded a record 82 out of 222 seats in Parliament.

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