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Opinion  |  FEBRUARY 21, 2013 1:47AM

Are general elections bad for business?

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aidila-on-the-sidelines-thumbnailIn the world of corporate and finance, election is a bad word. In this world, elections mean uncertainty and uncertainty is bad for business.

“Nothing is moving, everyone’s kind of waiting,” a stock broker confided recently. And true enough, the FBM KLCI is looking fairly morose after hitting giddying heights late last year.

But are things as bad as they seem?

For the quick thinking CEO of AirAsia X Azran Osman-Rani, the election presented an opportunity. This time, in the form of a million or more Malaysians abroad , some of whom perhaps for the first times in their lives, have a hankering to vote.

“AirAsia X will make available some seats on our flights at low-fares (even if last minute booking) for registered Malaysian voters in our destinations to fly back to KL to vote,” Azran wrote on the Jom Balik Undi campaign Facebook page.

Later, he tells KiniBiz that the decision wasn’t backed by a whole lot of financial research. Instead, it was a calling to help people perform their “civic duty”–now, everyone can vote.

Billions spent in election year

Outside the glamourous corporate world, political and economic observers find that election years are often good for the economy.

In the United States, spending on the presidential and congressional elections in 2008 was estimated at an astounding US$5.8 billion. In contrast, this is higher than the combined 2008 GDPs of tourism hot spots Fiji and Vanuatu.

Much of it, US election watchdog Centre for Responsive Politics said, goes to suppliers of promotional materials, food and lodging and other small-to-medium enterprises.

The US presidential election campaign, however, lasts a few months short of a year. In Malaysia, where campaign periods can be as short as a week, spending is expected to be much lower.

Malaysian election regulations state that a candidate can only spend up to RM100,000 if contesting for a state seat, or up to RM200,000 for a parliamentary seat. There are 222 parliamentary seats and 575 state seats nationwide. In the highly conservative event that all seats see straight fights, that is a boost of at least RM160 million in private consumption.

In reality, the spending limits do not apply to political parties or private donors. Opposition estimates put BN spending for Indera Kayangan in 2002 at RM1.14 million. This was spent on flags, billboards, logos, banquet dinners and food and lodging for party workers.

Riding the consumer sentiment wave

In any case, reporters made to cover ceramahs in far flung areas can tell you that one knows one is near a venue when party flags are in sight. But in the event that party flags have been removed by acts of sabotage, a ceramah is often spotted by the instant pasar malam selling anything from party paraphernalia to sup ekor.

Like the ceramah-goers who find nothing more exciting than political grandstanding over a steaming bowl of soup, many of these traders have become ceramah groupies. For their troubles, many claim to make tens of thousands of ringgit from the week or so of campaigns.

While the Election Commission hasn’t yet said ‘go’, the campaign for Putrajaya started at least a couple of years ago. Stakes are much higher compared to 2002, and so follows partisanship among the average Malaysian.

AirAsia X’s bid may not sound partisan, but is already resonating with those who want their family and friends abroad to come home and make up the numbers needed to vote the incumbent out.

A few months ago, boycott by opposition die-hards against one BN-linked seafood chain forced a franchisee to distribute flyers urging customers to take pity on them. Even giant isotonic drink brand 100 Plus had to issue a statement explaining why there was a 100 plus can with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s face on it.

On the flipside, a photograph now circulating in social media shows a popular soy sauce company appending ‘vote for BN’ stickers to its products. If the prediction of the poll outcome is 50-50, then maybe one in two households will get a kick out of BN-laced soy sauce.

Something for the big boys, too

The incumbent party’s apparent anxiety over retaining power could work to the advantage of bigger players, too.

Cynics argue that big ticket items, like highway concessions lasting more than half a century long are farmed out now to secure political funding. The less harsh could say that many agreements are inked sooner rather than later to prove that the government walks the talk.

Lobby groups could also gain leverage over a government seeking re-election. Emergence of things like the Unit Peneraju Agenda Bumiputera (Teraju) indicate the workings of a bumiputera business class lobby, and to their credit, Teraju has sped things along for this important section of the electorate.

So are elections bad for business? To answer a question with a question: How can it bad when there’s so much money to be made?



 
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