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Election 2022: An emotional rollercoaster ride – and then, new Hope

We must also push for reforms to our institutions and for the deepening of democracy and a decentralisation of federal powers

Photo finish: Anwar Ibrahim became PM after a post-election cliff-hanger - ANWAR IBRAHIM OFFICIAL/FACEBOOK

It was an emotional rollercoaster, from polling night on 19 November to the announcement at lunch time on 24 November – five days of hope and despair to find out who would form the next government.

Many were glued to their mobile phones for the latest updates. At various points, it looked as if we would have a government made up predominantly of one ethnicity and religious background foisted on the country, leaving minorities poorly represented.

And so, this election season even made many people ‘religious’. A friend of mine, who is hardly religious or spiritually inclined, said, “I have never prayed so hard in my entire life!”

Many had done all they could for this election – acting as polling agents, talking to friends, helping with transporting postal ballots – and now they prayed.

Indeed, many prayed hard for a positive outcome to the election, for a more inclusive government that would bring together people of various religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, cultures and socioeconomic classes.

But as the days rolled by after polling, that dream grew elusive and it looked as if only a miracle could resolve the political impasse. And so, when news finally broke that Anwar Ibrahim was to be the new Prime Minister of Malaysia, a palpable sigh of relief and thanksgiving spread across many parts of the nation.

For Anwar, it was a vindication of his struggle of 24 years in the political wilderness, including long spells in jail, his perseverance finally paying off in a nail-biting photo finish.

Now he brings a reformist agenda, zero tolerance of corruption (much needed!) and a more inclusive approach to government that has been sorely lacking. Along with much local and international goodwill.

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But it’s going to be a difficult balancing act for Anwar. His cabinet will include former foes and political rivals, a few coalitions and a range of political parties – some of them with varying agendas and manifestos. This balancing act will require the wisdom of several Solomons.

Mind you, not everyone is celebrating. This general election has exposed deep divisions – especially between the support bases of the two main coalitions in the peninsula.

Worse, we are often not aware of each other’s different worlds as we live cocooned inside our own social bubbles or echo chambers in social media.

It did not help that the election campaign involving certain parties was laced with divisive racial and religious rhetoric that often demonised the other.

Civil society groups monitoring the media found what seemed to be “a well-coordinated and paid attempt on social media” to generate fear and hatred of a certain ethnic group and of a political party after the election.

The education system too may have played a role in influencing young minds to fear, or even shun, a more inclusive society and government. This has to change if we are to move forward.

So we have serious work ahead in building bridges and healing the rifts in society. It will also be crucial to select the most suitable ministers for the portfolios of finance, education, healthcare, environment, agriculture and national unity.

But we cannot leave it to the politicians or the political parties alone to spearhead the quest for reforms. Many in the new government may not be reform-minded. Some of them may have been part of the problem in our communal-based political system that has encouraged campaigning and voting along ethnic and even conservative religious lines.

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It is during times of economic difficulty, wealth and income inequalities, and lack of hope for the future when ordinary people feel most insecure about the future. Poor educational standards do not help to empower the people. This then makes them ripe for the picking by those who use religion and race to manipulate the people, especially young minds.

So apart from bridge-building efforts, all of us must remind the parties in power about the serious issues affecting the people and the need for a more inclusive approach. We must continue to play a part in lobbying for this approach to drive policymaking.

This was the reason over 50 civil society groups put forward the People’s Agenda – to shape the political discourse ahead of, during and beyond the general election.

It is reassuring that the new prime minister recognises key aspects of this agenda – that the new government has to raise the people’s quality of life and living standards and create a more vibrant economy.

We must also push for reforms to our institutions and for the deepening of democracy and a decentralisation of federal powers.

Given that our first-past-the-post parliamentary system leaves little room for many political activists who may be on the fringes or outside the main political parties, we must demand the restoration of local government elections.

This way, concerned local activists can also get involved in issues at the local level. They will then have a platform to be part of the decision-making process at the local level or to stop environmentally damaging projects, such as ecologically damaging highways and land reclamation projects, in their tracks.

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Among us, we need visionary, more inclusive leaders to step forward.

At least we have the space and a chance now. We have been given a new lease of life and fresh hope. The nation is in a rut but we can rescue it. We can dream dreams of a Malaysia that will harness the full potential of its people and empower them – a Malaysia where everyone is valued and where no one is marginalised.

Isn’t this what the kingdom of God looks like — a place where the least, the lost and the last will be given their rightful place under the sun, a place where everyone can live life to the full?

May God bless Malaysia!

This piece was first published in the Malaysian Catholic Herald

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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