14th General Election will be quinoa vs rice; clean government vs kleptocracy; and Najib vs people of Malaysia

First of all, I want to make a confession.

Until the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s live session on the 2018 Budget at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Bangi yesterday, I had never heard of quinoa – in fact, I did not even know that quinoa existed.

I have to ask around whether they knew anything about quinoa when I was informed of Najib’s speech, where he revealed that he does not eat rice, but eat quinoa, which was introduced to him by his son, explaining that quinoa was the staple food of the Inca people which was planted 3,000 years ago – protein-based, has less carbohydrate and less sugar, so better and healthier than rice.

DAP MP for Segambut, Lim Lip Seng, was the first to react publicly, criticising Najib for being out of touch with the plight of Malaysians

Malaysiakini's check with Tesco's online shop revealed that a 250-gram packet of Love Earth Organic Quinoa cost RM14.79, which means 10kg would cost RM591.60. However, a 10kg packet of Jasmine Super Special (five percent broken rice) cost RM25.85.

In other words, quinoa which Najib eats is about 23 times more expensive than rice, eaten by 30 million Malaysians.

This reminds me of the Marie Antoinette story of the last Queen of France before the French Revolution in 1789 where she was supposed to have said “Let them eat cake” when she learnt that the peasants had no bread.

China’s Emperor Hui of Jin dynasty (290 – 307) retorted “Why don’t they eat meat?” when told that his people did not have enough rice to eat.

The 14th General Election will be quinoa vs rice; clean government vs kleptocracy; and Najib vs people of Malaysia.

Yesterday, Malaysians woke up to a full-blown integrity crisis when Malaysia fell to the lowest Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2017 when Malaysia plunged to the lowest ranking of 62/100 in 23 years, with Malaysia poised to overtaken by China and Indonesia in the next few years as countries which have cleaner and less corrupt governments.

Malaysia’s integrity crisis should have been addressed by Najib in his live session yesterday, but there was not a word. Instead, he waxed about eating quinoa and not rice, setting himself apart from ordinary Malaysians, whether Top 20% (T20), Middle 40% (M40) or Bottom 40% (B40) – setting himself apart as the Super Top 2% (Super T 2%)!

Najib should pay more heed to the views recently expressed by Ameer Ali Mydin, managing director of hypermarket chain Mydin, that the country may be seeing rosy gross domestic product growth but consumers don't seem to have enough money to spend on groceries.

It is in one sense a direct challenge about official statistics and indirectly challenges the Prime Minister’s upbeat statements.

Mydin is making a very important point which deserves closer scrutiny. He is pointing to a discrepancy between the figure of retail sales and estimates of private consumption as a component of GDP.

The two series should be moving in the same direction. Or to put it in a different way, it is hardly possible for the aggregate (private consumption) to be growing while a major component(retail sales) is declining.

It would appear that we have a case of “alternative facts” or to put it even more starkly it could be a case of “fake news” to make everyone feel good. The implications of this inconsistency are serious: it raises questions about the veracity of the aggregate GDP estimates if ones takes account of the fact that private consumption is the single largest component of GDP.

To put it in simple terms: GDP appears to be over-estimated - and the higher growth rate that the PM is crowing about is really nothing more than “alternative facts.”

The low growth figures for “retail sales” can be defended since wages and household incomes have stagnated – meaning households do not have the means to spend. The high levels of household debt also limit further borrowings to finance consumption.

Najib made an important point yesterday, however, when he advised Malaysians not to take peace, harmony and unity for granted.

It is precisely that we should not take things for granted that the four political parties of DAP, PKR, Amanah and Bersatu have banded together in Pakatan Harapan to Save Malaysia from being trapped in a trajectory towards a failed, rogue and kleptocratic state and to re-set nation-building policies and directions based on the fundamental principles agreed by all the communities in the Malaysian Constitution, not only to restore the independence, impartiality and professionalism of the national institutions, but for all Malaysians regardless of race and religion to be proud as Malaysians.

Those who act or imply that they are proud to be citizens of a Kleptocratic Malaysia cannot be truly patriotic Malaysians.

This is why Malaysians needs to have a change of the Federal Government in Putrajaya in the 14GE, to begin a new journey to rectify all the mistakes and failures of the past 61 years to build a new future and new civilisation out of the talents and capabilities of the diverse races, religions, languages and cultures which have made Malaysia their home.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah