KESHA WEST, PRESENTER: Dr Norraesah Mohamad is a long-time member of UMNO's (United Malays National Organisation) supreme council - the party which leads the ruling coalition in Malaysia and a former senator.
She also serves as chair of the World Islamic Businesswomen Network at the World Islamic Economic Forum.
Dr Norraesah Mohamad, welcome to the program.
DR NORRAESAH MOHAMAD, UMNO SUPREME COUNCIL MEMBER: Thank you very much for having me.
KESHA WEST: You've been a member of UMNO's supreme council for well over a decade. What is the feeling inside the party now leading up to this election? There must be a sense of apprehension that hasn't been there for the last 50 odd years that the party's been ruling Malaysia.
DR NORRAESAH MOHAMAD: Apprehension is not quite the word, I think. But, yes, we do feel that this time we have to work extra hard because the demography has changed. The young ones have come up with, you know they have new aspirations, different aspirations. We do face a lot of challenges. But I think we know from 2008 when we lost five states we have to undertake measures of transformation and we have done that.
But we are quite confident that everything will come the way we want it to be in the sense that all the hard work, all the attempts that we have done to improve the situation in the economy and also in the government, you know, that is bearing fruit, will help us win this election comfortably.
KESHA WEST: The opposition, under the leadership of course of Anwar Ibrahim, seems to be making inroads in all the areas that the Barisan Nasional always considered safe. Is this concerning?
DR NORRAESAH MOHAMAD: It seems to be making inroads. It depends where you it hear it from. For us, because we are down, we're going to the grassroots, we're always present, we feel that we are still very stable there, that people, you know, know and notice the progress we have made for them over the years, especially with the five year since the election of 2008.
But if you hear just merely from the opposition, of course it is normal for them to say that they have made great inroads.
KESHA WEST: Prime minister Razak is riding on the country's economic strengths and talking up his government's achievements. Yet, many say little has been done to control Malaysia's public debt that still sits at around 5 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
DR NORRAESAH MOHAMAD: Yes. Kesha, I love this subject very much. Because I think you have to understand that our debt GDP is 55 per cent. In fact, it has sort of slipped down to 50 per cent now of the GDP.
Compare this with Japan that has 229 per cent debt of GDP, and compare this to all of Europe whose average GDP debt is, debt GDP is about 109 per cent. So our 55 per cent that's now going down to 50 per cent is a very honourable figure.
The opposition's manifesto actually will increase our debt to 66 ... 62 per cent, our debt GDP and the deficit will be about 11.6 per cent. Because the manifesto that they've presented to the public, to the people, is something that is not costed, something that is rather frivolous, something that looks more like a wish list that they would like to do, but the real mathematics have not been worked out.
KESHA WEST: You would have to acknowledge that the cost of living has gone up and incomes haven't necessarily matched that. Both parties have been using cash handouts to woo voters. How much will economic issues be a factor when the electorate goes to the polls?
DR NORRAESAH MOHAMAD: OK. Currently we are giving the BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia) cash handouts. These are handed out to people that are earning 3,000 ringgit per household income which means is covers about 30 per cent or so of the population.
While we're giving out the handouts for immediate needs of the poor, we are also developing jobs, we are creating jobs, we are doing specific development projects that definitely will increase and provide jobs and will increase the growth for the economy. This is important. While you do the social work you must always implement very specific development projects that will bring Malaysian growth to a higher level, which we do not see in the opposition manifesto.
It is a lot of handouts, a lot of expulsion or a lot of, what is the word, doing away with taxes and all that. That is, decreasing the income of the country and yet, you're promising a lot of things that will warrant an increase in debt.
KESHA WEST: There's been a lot of concern from everyday Malaysians that this election won't be free and fair. Are you confident that it will be, and how important will the presence of election observers be?
DR NORRAESAH MOHAMAD: It has always been free and fair. It has always been free and fair, I want to repeat that. And this time, but because there was too many voices coming out to say that we want a fairer, we want a freer election, the Election Commission has put in place a lot of mechanisms to make sure that it is, you know, obvious and transparent that whatever the election commission is doing, it is really, really a free and fair system. For example, indelible ink that we're going to use.
And most importantly I think, and this I think everybody should understand and should appreciate, 17 NGOs or what do you call that, non governmental organisations, have volunteered or have been appointed to be observers. And this included about 1,000 members and most of the NGOs are pro opposition groups.
So we are as open, you know, as we an open book. And I repeat, elections in Malaysia have always been free. Surely it is very clear that in two of the seats in Kelantan, for example, we lost by two votes. I mean, you know if it is not a free election, not a just election, two votes is very easy to be rigged, for example. But no, it never happened.
KESHA WEST: Dr Norraesah, thanks very much for your time.
DR NORRAESAH MOHAMAD: Thank you so much Kesha. Thank you so much.