Sungai Bakap by-election: A wake-up call for Malaysia’s ‘unity government’

What the Madani panacea promised to us is now seen to be heading in a different direction, raising eyebrows

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The outcome of the Sungai Bakap by-election yesterday is the latest clarion call for the “unity government” to pump the feel-good factor back into the country.

The opposition Perikatan Nasional retained this Penang state seat by a larger majority of 4,267 votes – a rise of 1,563 votes from last year’s state election majority. PN’s vote share rose by 52.6% to 58.6% this time.

PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli said an initial analysis showed that only 47% of ethnic Chinese and 58% of ethnic Indian voters turned out to vote. Penang Pakatan Harapan leader Chow Kon Yeow said that the decline in turnout among the Chinese (a 13% drop) contributed to the heavier defeat. The overall turnout fell from 76.9% last year to 63.4% this time.

These lower turnouts are probably due to a loss in the overall feel-good factor among the people.

The hope that was sparked by the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) philosophy when Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim unveiled it last year appears to have fizzled out among the people now. 

We have politicians and elected MPs to blame for the erosion of morale in the country. 

Sure, given the grim geopolitical situation, much of the responsibility for the dire situation the country finds itself in is beyond us.

But then, at the micro level, we have seen failures in managing Malaysia’s own domestic economic, social, political and environmental landscape. These failures have punctured the hopes of the people, depleting the feel-good factor to alarming levels. 

Some politicians appear busy with business deals or preoccupied with plotting to topple each other or opposing parties. The result is that the people end up facing the brunt of the problems.

READ MORE:  Sungai Bakap by-election: A review

What the Madani panacea promised to us is now seen to be heading in a different direction, raising eyebrows.

Civil society groups and activists are dismayed at the lack of progress with the reform agenda.

As long as the nation is scraping the barrel for a feel-good experience, it cannot progress or even sustain stability on the four critical frontiers – political, social, economic and environmental – of nationhood.

Just recently, the prime minister lamented the hate politics in the country and rued that he was being insulted for his positions and policies on a string of issues.

Perhaps he too needs to revisit the Madani philosophy to rekindle hope. 

When a leader panders to a particular religion and its values to appease or appeal to an ethnic majority at the expense of a multicultural society, how can the nation’s feel-good factor be enhanced? 

Because of this waning sense of wellbeing, even the PM has not been spared the public disquiet.

The last general election did not deliver a decisive majority government, resulting in a desperately brokered unity government. This has not helped the cause of reforms.

Meanwhile, the government’s various solutions to take the nation forward have not received strong support from both sides of the political divide. The removal of blanket subsidies for diesel, for instance, has not gone down well.

The person on the street is unable to feel the impact of these solutions in their lives. Instead, the cost of living is rising.

Even though the fight against corruption has seen some surprising names pop into the open, the euphoria over the clean-up efforts is strangely absent. Is it because not enough big ‘sharks’ have been hauled up?

READ MORE:  Kerajaan 'Madani' jangan tukar kulit kepada apa yang mereka benci dahulu (Malay/English)

Granted, many people have what it takes to weather difficult situations. But when the feel-good factor is missing, morale in any nation suffers. 

Our problem is not only the lack of unity. We are also facing the consequences of decades of the persistent exploitation of the “three 3Rs” – race, religion and rulers. Many politicians have used these to entrench their power and influence.

The reform agenda of a promising government after the 2022 general election appears to be languishing, given the failures and setbacks we have seen.

All segments of society need to join hands to checkmate politicians whose failures have eroded the feel-good factor. 

If the PM is not enhancing the common good, he too cannot be excused. It is not good enough to report that one is being insulted and criticised unreasonably. 

To revive the feel-good factor, the government must start by first embracing civil society’s agenda for the people.

Notable organisations like Lawyers for Liberty, Bersih, Patriot, G25, Sisters in Islam, Penang Forum and Aliran have put forward many proposals. These must not be swept under the carpet or, worse, ignored out of arrogance. 

The manipulation of religious and racial fervour, often drummed up to fever pitch, must stop as well.

Let’s not wait until we sink to levels beyond redemption.

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.
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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Angeline Loh
Angeline Loh
9 Jul 2024 12.19am

Good comment by JD outlining the possible cause of deflation of the feel good factor. The Unity government should wake up to understand that the honeymoon is over and to critically look at it’s past experience of governing the country. It can’t keep excusing itself as inexperienced and “new”. It’s already too old and starting to fall into retrogression. Is it too afraid to make any meaningful change that the electorate expect?
It should also stop putting the blame for their dismal performance on foreign workers, undocumented persons and refugees to divert attention from their shortcomings. This was a tactic often used by UMNO-BN for several years. Divide and rule only destroys our nation, politicians should stop pretending to be heroes.