Here is an interesting article written by a very energetic social activist who, like many of us, is acutely aware of the Malaysian version of pork-barrel politics of UMNO and BN. you can sample more of her insightful and clinical analyses on a wide range of issues in her blog.
In its original meaning, the phrase refers to spending on projects in a particular area to enrich powerful sections of the community in that area. In Malaysia, areas overlap and powerful business factions scent-mark their territories as they desire and damn well please. As such spending on projects anywhere are intended to enrich the same powerful business factions aligned of course to the personalities who call the shots at that relevant time.
A baser and simpler version of pork barrel politics UMNO version is direct spending on recipients in exchange for the unspoken promise to vote the hand that gives. This is what the interesting topic by Nicole Tan is all about.
Don’t be Duped by BN’s Bread and Circuses
The term "Bread and Circuses" (Latin: panem et circenses) is a figure of speech for a fake sense of satisfaction or the “feel good” factor. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the garnering of public approval through manipulation and/or the instant/quick mere satisfaction of the shallow requirements of the citizens. In other words, as "panadols" for quick fixes. Juvenal (a Roman poet) defined it as “a simplistic motivation of common people”. The phrase is taken to describe a populace that no longer values civic virtues and the public life. To politicians, it connotes the winning formula for the survival of the Roman Republic for centuries. Both the Roman Republic and China’s Han dynasty lasted for 500 years. The former used “bread and circuses” whilst the latter was an absolute monarchy. Instead of winning the citizens’ approval through excellent public service and policies, the Roman Republic gave cheap food and entertainment. The Roman Republic provided the bread and circuses in order to order to keep the Roman citizens from becoming too discontent with their lives. The Roman government provided the citizens with enough food (bread) so they wouldn't starve and enough entertainment (circuses) so they would be amused. Hence, the Romans elected them again and again.
BN’s breads are the 1Malaysia goodies and handouts (BR1M Part 1 & 2, free tyres for taxi drivers, smart phone allowances for young adults, FELDA’s RM15,000, pay rise for civil servants, etc.). BN’s latest “bread” was announced by Najib : “Najib Announces RM2.98 Billion for Sabah next year”(http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/najib-announces-rm2.98b-for-sabah-next-year/).
BN's circuses shows are the alphabet soup management (ETP, GTP, NKRA etc); not forgetting tarring the roads before any General elections. Another great circus show was Najib’s "groundbreaking" announcement in his Malaysia Day's speech. He said the government shall repeal the 3 Emergency Declarations and the draconian statutes like ISA, Printing Presses and Publications Act and Banishment Act. They were BN's powerful weapons to curb opposition and Rakyat who do not accept the government's policies. Why should BN take away these powerful weapons ? It is actually for BN's political survival. Like the lizard's survival skill. The lizard will shed its tail in order to escape for its predator/death.
Food (or bread) for thought: is BN using the age old formula of “Bread and Circuses” to survive another general elections? Are we gullible enough to allow that to happen again?
N.B : Steven Sim’s article “Is A Country A Brand?” also touches on bread and circuses.