Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced windfall one-off payments to palm oil planters and their families today, the latest in a string of giveaways ahead of an upcoming general election.
The Federal Land Development Authority will distribute 1.69 billion ringgit ($553 million) to more than 112,000 members of its planters’ cooperative, as well as their wives and children, the 58-year-old prime minister said. The government has already raised civil servants’ salaries, announced plans for a national minimum wage, and begun distributing 500 ringgit cash handouts to the poor.
“This is for the settlers who are honest and loyal to the cause,” Najib told a 40,000-strong crowd, while visiting an oil palm and rubber plantation in Malaysia’s eastern Pahang state. “The windfall has nothing to do with the coming general election. Let the opposition talk.”
The government has been preparing for a possible early election in May or June, before the due date in early 2013, according to four officials who spoke in March on condition of anonymity because the talks are private. The poll will be “very soon,” Najib, was cited as saying on May 5 by the media arm of his political party, the United Malays National Organisation.
“Since the support from the people is overwhelming, maybe even tomorrow we can dissolve parliament,” Najib said, with a smile on his face, after being asked by one plantation worker today when the election might be held. The prime minister was speaking in jest, spokesman Akmar Hisham told Bloomberg News.
The authority, an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department known as Felda, was the brainchild of Najib’s father Abdul Razak. It was set up in 1956 to help the Malays in the rural areas out of poverty. The payout comes ahead of the planned June listing of its commercial arm, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd., which manages about 355,864 hectares (878,984 acres) of oil palm and rubber estates in Malaysia plus more in Indonesia, according to its prospectus.
Its farmers, known locally as “settlers”, today form the backbone of voters in over 50 parliamentary constituencies and 90 state seats in the upcoming elections, according to Ibrahim Suffian, programs director at the Merdeka Center, an independent research institute near Kuala Lumpur.
Each family may receive as much as 15,000 ringgit, almost 17 times the government’s planned new monthly minimum wage.
The payment “will solidify the support for the ruling party among the Felda settlers, their family members and the supporting staff of Felda management,” Ibrahim said by phone.
Siti Halimah Abdul Karim, 57, was among thousands of families who arrived as early as 6 a.m. to hear the prime minister speak. “He is just like his father, a good-hearted man,” she said in tears, adding that she’d use the money to pay for her children’s studies.
The share sale, expected to be as early as this month or in June, may raise as much as $3.3 billion, two people with knowledge of the matter said April 27. That would make it Asia’s biggest initial public offering since February 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
A trust will be set up to hold 20 percent of Felda Global shares for the plantation workers after the listing, Najib said. “The dividend will be very high,” he said, adding that settlers would also continue to receive payments from their cooperative.