Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak unveiled a huge package of initiatives Wednesday including hundreds of millions of dollars in pay hikes for government employees and pensioners, as his ruling coalition gears up for a general election this year.
The nine initiatives will include awarding a large portion of 2 billion ringgit (U.S. $516 million) in salary increases and extra cash for Malaysia’s 1.6 million civil servants and 800,000 retirees, respectively, Najib told a gathering of 10,000 government officials and employees in Putrajaya, the country’s administrative capital.
“On behalf of the government, I would like to announce the salary increment to all government servants involving the expenditure of 1.46 billion ringgit ($377 million), effective July 1,” he said.
Najib made the announcement amid widespread expectation that he will call for the 14th general election any day now. According to Malaysia’s constitution, the election must be held by August, but many observers expect it to take place within the coming weeks. Nearly 15 million Malaysians are eligible to vote, according to 2017 government data.
Najib, who heads the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, announced similar pay hikes leading into the last general election in 2013.
On Wednesday, the prime minister announced as well that his government had allocated 200 million ringgit ($51.6 million) to increase pensions by 1 percent in July as well. He joked that “a 93-year-old pensioner” would benefit from the increase.
Najib apparently was referring to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who turns 93 in July. Mahathir will be leading the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in the upcoming election.
Najib said the government would offer a maximum of seven days of paid leave to non-Muslims who want to perform their religious duties, a privilege that had been given only to Muslim government employees who undertook the Hajj pilgrimage. The government will also offer a special quota to pensioners who want to perform Hajj.
In addition, Najib said the government had allocated 7.4 million ringgit ($1.9 million) to create a special pay grade for education service officers who excelled in their jobs. The government also agreed to extend medical benefits to the parents of 42,869 contract officers.
Mahathir’s PH coalition made its own promises to voters in March. Its 200-page manifesto declared it would provide 1 million new jobs and affordable housing while abolishing the much-hate two-year-old Government Sales Tax (GST) instituted by Najib.
In recent days and weeks, Najib’s government has implemented or announced other financial measures aimed apparently at wooing voters ahead of the national polls.
On Friday, Najib announced incentives of 2.9 billion ringgit ($748 million) for Bumiputera entrepreneurs to help them be more competitive. In multi-racial Malaysia, Bumiputera, which means “sons of the soil,” refers to members of the ethnic Malay majority and other indigenous people.
In February, the prime minister announced 1.3 billion ringgit ($335 million) for projects to assist residents of Langkawi island. He told the residents the funding was available for the projects because of Malaysia’s strong government.
And, late last month, his government announced it had started distributing about U.S. $1.6 billion in cash handouts to millions of low-income citizens as part of a government plan to spur economic growth. Critics slammed the move as vote-buying ahead of the general election.