GE 2013: The Aftermath; Polarisation or ‘Perpaduan’?
6th May 2013
Malaysians woke up to a watershed in Malaysian politics on 6th May 2013. Amid allegations by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat of incidences of electoral fraud and phantom votes swinging votes in favour of the incumbent Barisan Nasional, the BN retained its stronghold in parliament, albeit much groundswell of support for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, who advocates a racially fair, equal Malaysia, denouncing the BN’s policies of affirmative action towards the majority bumiputeras and a commitment to eradicate corruption. Undoubtedly, their popularity can be much credited to the much resonated ideals of ‘ubah’, meaning change in Bahasa, in a land where the BN has been the world’s longest continually elected governing coalition. Political commentators have long concurred with each other over the increased polarization within Malaysia as a result of the election results, and this polarization does not simply take its shape in the form of race, where the election has been depicted by PM Najib as a ‘Chinese tsunami’ against the BN, and much politicking during the campaigning period, especially by the BN, involved shoring up support of much of its bumiputra base, continuing to champion Malay rights. Then comes the question of the urban-rural divide. Mr Najib was wooing younger, and perhaps, more cynical voters, of all races in the urban areas with liberal policies, promising more moderate reforms, yet conducting a contradictory campaign in the rural Malay heartlands, touching deep rooted Malay sentiments by claiming to be the continued champion of Malay rights.
The GE 2013 has produced much unnecessary bickering, racial politicking and continued unfair electoral practices that have only served to further divide the rakyat. Perkasa allegedly makes up 80% of UMNO’s members. Political campaigning in Selangor, seen as crucial swing states, saw UMNO, more often than not, trying to make inroads with the Malay population by playing the race card, portraying the DAP as an anti-Islam and anti-Malay party. Lim Kit Siang emerged victorious in the Gelang Patah seat with an outstanding majority over ex- Johor menteri besar, Abdul Ghani, based on the argument that Gelang Patah, once an MCA stronghold, consists of 60% Chinese, enabling him to win the popular racial vote. PR campaigned on the consensus of all three component parties to eradicate corruption and ‘racism’. Despite this, MCA and BN has been time and again, playing the race card, warning Chinese voters that a vote for the DAP is akin to giving a mandate for the PAS Islamic Conservative government, warning about the ill effects on Malaysian society as a result of sharia law. Indeed, political commentators concur that race still plays a large role in Malaysian politics.
After yesterday’s results, however, Mr Najib must be wise enough to realize that the lower popular vote (BN only won 46.8% of popular votes) cannot simply be credited to a ‘Chinese tsunami’, but rather a ‘Malaysian tsunami’, as quoted by DAP veteran, Lim. BN will be well advised to also notice the Malay shift, especially from a growing middle class and a disenchanted urban working class. Intra ethnic inequality has been increasingly high, despite ex-PM Mahathir’s NEP. In Selangor and Johor for one, where race demographics are proportionally similar, it must be noted that the PR won votes, not simply by the Chinese, but also by increasingly disillusioned Malays. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the return of Kedah to the BN from PAS, where there has been increasing disillusionment for PAS’s incompetence in running the state. Race thus, albeit still an important factor in politics, has become seconded to the socio-economic needs of all ethnic groups.
In urban areas, PR was able to gain a stranglehold of power, where together with popular Chinese votes against the BN, urban Malay poor were also willing to root for PR and its promises of weeding out corruption and economic mismanagement. The Malay heartland, for one, continues to be BN’s strongholds, where it retains legitimacy in the eyes of voters, as the champion for Malay rights, with the prevalence of subsidies and voter handouts, which have continuously appealed to the rural Malays, a trend not met in states like Penang, where BN voter handouts have clearly proven to be ineffective.
On top of this, PR is expressing incredulity that despite the popular vote swinging in their favour this time, and a reduced majority for the BN, this has failed to translate into an actual mandate for the PR. Anwar Ibrahim was quoted as saying that ‘’the worst electoral fraud in history’’ has kept BN in power,whilst Bersih has withheld recognition of the BN’s mandate until allegations of electoral fraud were verified. All these add up to an increasingly tense political atmosphere, where the opposition sees the elections as an insult to democracy as a result of incidences of possible vote-rigging.
Yet, despite the polarization, there emerges the opportunity for Mr Najib to start afresh, and reconcile the nation in the spirit of ‘perpaduan’. The ruling coalition will now consist of a sea of UMNO faces, representing the Malay majority, whilst with the loss of legitimacy of the MCA in the eyes of the Chinese populace, there will indeed, be under representation of the Chinese under the ruling BN coalition.
Mr Najib, has admittedly, been scheming in his politicking, able to ‘steal the clothes of the PR’ and emerge as a moderate reformist, providing leadership for all Malaysians. He must now stick to his leadership principles and reach out to mass Chinese anti-establishment sentiment. Most Chinese do see him as a good, reputable leader of Malaysia, yet he needs to address their resentment over increasing corruption and race politics within BN. Post elections, he faces another dilemma- quelling resentment over the allegations of electoral fraud.
It is time for Mr Najib to showcase statesmanship and prove he is deserving of the country’s top job. He must come clean and investigate into the integrity of the polls. Accountability for the people is key. He has shown that he was able to lead Malaysia into greater economic prosperity, but must do more to meet the rakyat’s concerns. Otherwise, instead of achieving perpaduan, he will only serve to pepertrate ‘perang’ and hostility among the rakyat. Another term in office awaits.