Now that the state elections are over, it is clear the nation is still polarised, with Perikatan Nasional making sharp inroads at the expense of Umno and PKR.
Aliran congratulates the winners in the six states – Kedah, Penang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Terengganu and Kelantan – and hopes the new state governments will get down to serving the people.
During the election campaign, some NGOs and activists urged voters to focus on state and local government issues in these polls.
But many voters were paying more attention to the national political landscape – understandably so, given the circumstances.
Pakatan Harapan supporters were intent on giving Anwar Ibrahim a vote of confidence for his more inclusive Malaysia Madani (Civil Malaysia) vision.
On the other hand, those who voted for PN were keen on seeing political change in PH-ruled states, which they hoped would snowball into a momentum for change at the federal level within a matter of months.
Disturbingly, PN leaders indulged in the politics of race and religion. This conveniently distracted voters from local problems. It also tapped into the economic disenchantment among many who feel marginalised by urban capitalist development with all its inequalities.
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This race-and-religion narrative diverted attention from the issues that matter: corruption, the high cost of living, unsustainable development, social injustice and the lack of urgency on climate change.
So most voters on either side were not looking at local issues. For many, these elections were more about the “green wave” and a national ‘referendum’ on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s “unity government”.
But these elections should not be seen as a referendum on the unity government at the federal level. First, it would be ridiculous to treat it as such with the federal government in power for only eight months. Second, major stakeholders like Sabah and Sarawak were not in the picture.
For state elections, local issues have to be considered. But these were overshadowed by concern over the national political landscape.
Hence, the winning parties should not regard the election results as an endorsement of ecologically harmful ‘development’ projects in the six states, such as logging in the northern and east coast states, rare earth mining in Kedah, the PJD Link highway project in Selangor and the massive reclamation projects in Penang.
Neither should the polls outcome be seen as an endorsement of high-density development projects in the more developed states or on sensitive hill terrain.
Now it’s time to cut out on the fake news and mud-slinging.
We strongly urge the federal and state governments to focus on the People’s Agenda:
- Uphold the dignity and quality of life of the people
- Promote equitable, sustainable development and address the climate crisis
- Celebrate diversity and inclusivity
- Save democracy and uphold the rule of law
- Fight corruption and cronyism
Instead of pandering to the conservative religious base, the Anwar-led federal government should show the people it is serious about reforms.
Reform the Election Commission and electoral system. Revamp the civil service, especially the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the police. Set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. Take firm action against all the corrupt, irrespective of political affiliation.
Remove oppressive laws. Introduce a political financing law. Separate the powers of the attorney general.
Expand and upgrade essential services like public healthcare, education and affordable housing. Come up with sustainable mobility masterplans for our major cities and towns, with the help of renowned experts. Strengthen food security by protecting our independent farmers and fisherfolk.
With a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the unity government should be able to fulfil its election promises, as proclaimed in its manifesto. This is what it was voted into power for.
Ahead of the next general election, the unity government must not only listen to the people, it must perform as well. It has to inform and educate the people about what it plans to do to raise their quality of life. It should not handle criticism over social media and the mosques by resorting to censorship or trying to ‘out-Islamise’ Pas.
Instead, the unity government has to put out a more compelling and inclusive narrative than its opponents. Explain the Malaysia Madani (Civil Malaysia) concept and how it will care for the people, especially the poor, the marginalised and the underpaid.
This inclusive narrative should encompass how we view and practise our various religions. Make care and compassion for the people – rather than the capitalist orientation – the central tenet of Madani.
The voice of civil society will be important in steering the narrative towards the people’s real interests.
It’s time to acknowledge that the mainstream economic model has left many youths from low-income households feeling anxious, insecure and marginalised. Deep down, they may realise they are losing their competitive capacity to take up high-skill jobs. They have fewer multi-lingual and vocational skills, and they may not have honed their capacity to think creatively and critically.
These anxieties and insecurities are easily hijacked by ‘anger-and-outrage mongers’ and their racial-religious ideology.
The Madani government has to do something fast to empower these youths. They need to be counselled, seriously taught, upskilled, enabled and motivated. Giving out freebies and band-aid handouts will not do the trick.
This has to be tackled immediately or else Malaysia will only slide further down the already slippery slope.
Aliran executive committee
13 August 2023