Malaysians are heaving a collective sigh of relief, now that a unity government has been formed after days of political impasse and the emotional rollercoaster they were put through.
Nonetheless, it is feared that divisive political campaigning executed in the run-up to polling day might have the effect of further polarising our multi-ethnic and mult-ireligious society at our own peril.
During the campaign period, one ethnic community was pitted against another in the frenzy of certain political parties or politicians to woo the electorate to the side of the respective parties.
Hate speech, as a result, was used as a convenient weapon to achieve electoral triumph, made effective and widened the audience on social media platforms, particularly TikTok.
For instance, an ethnic Chinese-based party was demonised as communist while Christians were alleged to have dark designs – without a shred of evidence.
It was equally repulsive to watch a video clip that went viral, in which an ethnic Chinese politician welcomed the expected disunity within the Malay community so that the latter would be easily overwhelmed by the Chinese community and their political associates from a position of strength.
Such an offensive narrative is definitely not a formula for peaceful coexistence in the country.
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Slander, or fitnah, which is supposed to be a cardinal sin particularly for Muslims, was harnessed to the hilt by certain parties.
While divisive politics laced with racial bigotry and religious extremism may work effectively to the benefit of certain political parties, it obviously does not bode well for diverse Malaysia.
For the sake of the nation and its people, the resultant hate and suspicion among different communities must be arrested and at the same time addressed urgently and seriously by all concerned people.
Efforts must be made by the communities to help heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon members of our society. Here, religious leaders, among others, can play a significant role in fostering mutual understanding, respect and harmonious relations. Religions are no obstacle to bridge-building; only some of their followers are.
The unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is expected to initiate policies and programmes that could help ease ethnic and religious tensions and subsequently forge social cohesion.
Moreover, an inclusive approach to governance that has been impressed upon Anwar by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong must be the guiding principle of his unity government.
In particular, an inclusive economic policy that aims to alleviate poverty among the poor and the needy irrespective of ethnic backgrounds must be conveyed convincingly to the people. This is especially so when the economy is still finding its feet.
Hopefully, such a universal approach will not be seen as neglecting the welfare of the needy Malays, some of whom have been misled to believe they will be the losers and be alienated in their own homeland as a result.
Very much in the spirit of inclusivity and social justice, development projects and funds must also be fairly distributed to the people in the Borneo territories as well as other such poorer states as Kelantan so that they will feel part of the federation, with the attending benefits of membership.
In this regard, leaders of these regions must see to it that federal funding allocations are well spent for the benefit of the ordinary people, especially those living in the interior.
Education is another vital area of policy implementation where the importance of accepting and celebrating diversity that is found in our society can be emphasised. It is also a place where, say, government scholarships are awarded fairly to the deserving, irrespective of ethnic, religious and regional backgrounds.
No less challenging is for Anwar to convince his partners in government of multiple ideological differences that inclusivist policies are the only way forward for Malaysia.
It is not going to be an easy task for the prime minister as some partners have been so used to racial exclusivism and using different approaches over the years. But they must be persuaded along those lines for the sake of the people, especially those who have sought meaningful change.
A nation can only move on when there is social cohesion and its members of diverse backgrounds feel they have a vital stake in it. – The Malaysian Insight