This general election, let’s make a difference and ‘Reclaim our Nation’!

Be wary of the divisive campaign strategies that seek to split us along ethnic and religious lines

Speculation is rife that Parliament could be dissolved soon to pave the way for a snap general election.

Many opposition parties, NGOs and others have called for the election to be held next year instead. They believe that if it is held in the coming weeks, the year-end rainy season and floods could make it difficult for voters to cast their ballots.

A low voter turnout could benefit Umno-Barisan Nasional, as we saw in the Johor and Malacca state elections.

Aliran, in a statement, urged the powers that be to use their remaining term in office until mid-2023 to fix the economy, launch further structural reforms and mend our polarised society.

Whether the polls are held now or later, let’s focus on voting in the best candidates to the 222-seat Parliament. The euphoria in 2018, when voters toppled the BN-led regime of six decades, may be long gone, but the coming general election presents a fresh opportunity for voters to determine which candidates and parties deserve our support.

The need to fight overall disillusionment and disappointment among the populace is stronger than ever. We cannot allow unscrupulous politicians to exploit our lethargy and huge trust deficit with the system to their own advantage. We must fight the ‘tidak-apa’ (apathetic) attitude among voters.

Back in April, over 50 civil society groups, including Aliran, launched a campaign: “Reclaim Our Nation: People First, Democracy Now” to encourage all voters to use their votes wisely in the coming general election. In this campaign, we outline five broad inter-related demands known as the People’s Agenda:

  • Promote equitable, sustainable development and address the climate crisis
  • Save democracy and uphold the rule of law
  • Uphold the dignity and quality of life of the people
  • Celebrate diversity and inclusivity
  • Fight corruption and cronyism

Since the launch of the campaign, we have conducted four webinars to dissect and deliberate on each of the abovedemands.

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The last webinar in the series, scheduled for 29 October 2022, aims to “promote equitable, sustainable development and address the climate crisis”.

Check out the People’s Agenda and watch the four webinars.

With the general election looming, we must focus on the critical issues and avoid being distracted by divisive narratives. Usually when an election is around the corner, controversial race and religion topics rear their ugly head. Such topics aim to rile up public sentiments and deepen the divide between the Malay-Muslims and the minorities.

For example, Pas president Hadi Awang recently accused non-Muslims and ethnic minorities of being at the root of corruption and forming the “majority of those involved in ruining the country’s politics and economy”.

Coming from the leader of a major political party that champions Islam and Islamic governance, his statement naturally drew much attention.

But logical thinking dictates that such irrational and sweeping statements don’t deserve coverage, as there is no basis for linking corruption to a particular race or religion.

Many lodged police reports against Hadi, who was duly summoned to give a statement. The police are investigating him under a Penal Code provision on statements conducive to public mischief and incitement and for abuse of network services under the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Based on similar past events, one need not be too optimistic that the police will actually lay charges. The matter will probably be swept under the carpet.

Hadi has successfully fired the first salvo, eliciting responses that highlight the Muslim versus non-Muslim and Malay versus ethnic minorities divide. This narrative will go on dominating the major discussion for days, if not weeks, and it would be irresponsible not to respond.

Philip Rodrigues analyses the motives behind Hadi’s controversial insistence that Muslims have a religious obligation to unite and wage a political jihad to save the country and the Muslims.

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Lately, some Islamic leaders have also called for a ban on concerts featuring foreign artistes, as they purportedly encouraged hedonism.

A recent news item put the spotlight on a hotel in Kuala Lumpur that had separate halal and non-halal lifts.

These are examples of how controversial issues are used to deepen the divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Responding to these issues takes time and energy, sometimes at the expense of debate on other important issues. But not responding to hot-button issues is not an option.

Constructive deliberations on issues of race and religion must go beyond the surface. They must be linked to wider bread-and-butter or nasi-and-lauk (rice-and-curry) issues.

This is why our campaign to reclaim our nation lists the five broad demands.

For instance, we call for everyone to celebrate diversity and inclusivity. Official policies and activities should promote inter-ethnic understanding and harmony within our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Yes, we have halal and non-halal food but please let’s not have halal and non-halal lifts.

To fight cronyism and corruption, we simply need good governance to promote honesty and integrity. Any guilty offender, regardless of their ethnicity, must be duly punished and brought to justice. What kind of perverse reasoning allows a person to suggest that it is the ethnic minorities and non-Muslims who are principally responsible for the corruption in our country.

To save democracy and uphold the rule of law, we need reform-minded legislators in Parliament who will push for reforms that ensure a clear separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary.

The passage of a law to curb party defections among elected representatives is a good start, but there is so much more that needs to be done.

At present, the appointment of the attorney general comes under the jurisdiction of the prime minister, who heads the executive. This needs to change.

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We also need to separate the public prosecutor’s function from the attorney general office. The attorney general can then act fully in the government’s interest, but the public prosecutor should be independent and not report to the executive arm of government.

To uphold the dignity and the quality of life of the people, all elected representatives must strive to ease the suffering of the poor and marginalised in their constituencies.

They cannot and must not care for the poor of a certain ethnic group and neglect the others. Fighting poverty must be colour blind, and we need elected representatives who live up to this value.

In Parliament, we want MPs who will push for better public healthcare facilities, and access to quality public education even in remote areas, and genuinely affordable public housing for the homeless and the low-income group.

The slogan ‘keluarga Malaysia’ (Malaysian family) is hollow and meaningless if the government neglects the basic needs of the people.

Dear voters, the time will soon come when we can once again exercise our democratic right to choose our elected representatives. Please be wary of the divisive campaign strategies that seek to split us along ethnic and religious lines.

As Azmil Tayeb pointed out, a relentless battle for the hearts and minds of the people is being waged in social media. We need to discern and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Remember, regardless of our ethnicity and religion, the blood that flows through our veins is the same crimson red. Lest we forget, we are just mere mortals in a sea of humanity.

Let’s make a difference and ensure we Reclaim our Nation!

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
7 October 2022



AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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