DOES the economy matter in general elections? Evidently so, especially in the fight for middle-ground voters.
The phrase "It's the economy stupid" coined by Bill Clinton's strategist James Carville during his successful bid for president in 1992 has often been cited in elections all over the world.
It's the same here in Malaysia. The government and opposition apparently have taken the cue. Why not? The economy is about the people - something most economists and technocrats have done a bad job at explaining. It's about a better life for individuals - jobs, less fear, less hardship and more choices.
And everyone is an economist. Even the makciks and Ah So at the market are economists in their own right when they discuss the impact of the current monsoon season on fish prices. The discussion may not be as complex as David Ricardo's theory but still it's about scarcity and prices.
The economy is on everyone's mind as eventually it will impact their pockets. So when opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim issued his new year's message he declared the management of economy will be one of his battle cry for the upcoming general election.
Obviously, the opposition will accuse the government of mismanaging the economy. They will claim that they can do better. That's healthy in a democracy. But watch out for the validity of their arguments. The economy may be about the people but still it is a difficult subject to follow especially when figures and jargons are thrown at you.
Take for example the issue of the federal government debt. The opposition has been claiming that the government will bankrupt the country. They even divided the total debt by the population figures and came out with how much each of us are shouldering the debt burden. What they failed to say is why the debt was on the upswing after 2009 and was Malaysia alone in seeing its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) rising during that period.
The opposition failed to say that there was a global recession in the 2008-09 period. Almost every country, including Malaysia, was putting in place fiscal stimulus packages to reduce the impact of the recession. This of course will involve the government having to borrow money.
But in Malaysia's case most of this debt is domestic (95.7 per cent), meaning we are not at the mercy of foreign lenders. By the way the new debts are necessary to ensure that the economy maintains its growth, meaning enough jobs are created and less financial hardship on the population.
As long as the debts are channelled to productive investments, the country will be okay in the long run. GDP will grow and the country will earn more revenue to pay off debts.
What are the alternatives? The opposition will say cut the leakages and corruption. That's the long run and if the government had solely taken that approach without putting in place stimulus packages, most of us will be out of jobs now.
Yes, the economy should be an election issue. The government should not have a problem with this as its has a good story to tell. The numbers and facts are on its side. To be sure there were missteps and problems but on a balance Malaysian economy is still a good story.