Malaysians return to work after a tumultuous five days that saw the 60-year incumbent ruling party, Barisan Nasional defeated in the 14th General Elections by Pakatan Harapan. This was a clear message that the people will no longer stay silent and accept corruption, abuse of power and gross mismanagement.
Over the next few weeks, there will be many analysis and post-mortems done to understand the new Malaysian political landscape. Here, I would like to draw on the fact that there appears to be a clear divide in political ideology between the urban-liberal Malaysia and the rural-religious Malaysia.
Invoke and many Opposition leaders claimed that PAS would be wiped out this election. On the contrary, they won 18 Parliamentary seats, strengthened their hold in Kelantan and took over Terengganu. In total, approximately 18% of the 12.3 million voter turnout decided to vote for PAS.
That’s roughly 2.2 million Malaysians who chose PAS and their political ideologies including Shariah Law (Hudud). These voters remain steadfast in their conviction that Malaysia must move towards Islamic law and rule and while we are all entitled to our beliefs, there must be a modicum of bipartisanship involved to ensure the Malaysian spirit remains aligned to its founding fathers.
The worrying trend of Malaysian politics shifting from a racial tone to a more religious tone is now a proven fact. We cannot shy away from this and open, honest discussions must take place with key stakeholders from both sides. As a multi-racial country, Malaysia will not survive religious based politics.
For starters, the Federal Government must not withhold financial support to Opposition held states and instead work together with their counterparts for the betterment of the people. Next, it is imperative that economic policies consider the different socio-economic standing of Malaysians in different states. On the other hand, a total revamp of our education is also needed to ensure that rural Malaysians in Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak are given the right tools to compete in today’s digital age.
Collectively, we must strive to become the change we seek and to be any different would be akin to going back to the policies and practices of the previous regime. Malaysia has fought tooth and nail for this golden chance to reboot and we must not waste it.
Pakatan Harapan must take note that even if these voters did not vote for you, it is imperative that they engage them. Their policies must be inclusive and the rural/religious folks must be given a platform to have their problems addressed and needs taken care of.
It took America more than 200 years to elect a non-white President and although Barack Obama was elected for two terms, the Democrats alienated the mid-west to their peril. Failure to cater to all Malaysian voters may well see Malaysia elect its own version of Donald Trump in 5 or 10 years down the road – and that is something we cannot afford to do.