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GE15 is finally upon us. The dates have been set. The campaign is about to begin in earnest. The stakes couldn’t be higher. We have come to a critical juncture – if we don’t stop the rot, wage all-out war against corruption and rebuild our national institutions, it might be too difficult for the generations that come after us to reverse the decline. 

If UMNO-BN forms the next government, our fledgling democracy, our justice system as well as our prosperity and well-being will all be seriously jeopardised. Criminals will walk free. The plunder of public funds will rise exponentially. Our ethnic and religious communities will drift further apart. Malaysia will end up Southeast Asia’s economic backwater.

If UMNO forms the next government, Zahid Hamidi will become prime minister. He’s simply too ambitious to pass up the opportunity. Having UMNO back will be bad enough; an UMNO government under Zahid Hamidi will be particularly disastrous.

Despite the multitude of coalitions and political parties, our choices are limited. Both UMNO-BN and Perikatan Nasional offer the same tired old politics of race and religion. They have shown themselves to be both incompetent and unprincipled. They represent the past we have to break from; not the future we must embrace. 

For millions of Malaysians, only Pakatan Harapan offers a glimmer of hope for that better Malaysia we all want to see. PH is, however, not making it easy for us be inspired enough to come out in droves to support them. 

The callous and insensitive way they have handled popular politicians like Charles Santiago, Wong Tack, Maria Chin Abdullah and R Sivarasa as well as their reluctance to embrace MUDA, Parti Socialist Malaysia and Gerak Independent candidates has been disheartening. It looks like PH leaders are prioritising their own ambitions at a time when voters want to see unity among all like-minded parties. 

It is particularly discouraging that PH leaders have been willing to reach out to UMNO or Bersatu in the past but cannot find the will to work with PSM or Muda or Gerak Independent. It is not too late to reconsider their misguided rejection of hugely popular candidates in favour of more subservient, lesser-known ones.

Whatever it is, the battle is now enjoined. The political situation is very fluid; voters are increasingly discerning and critical. Old assumptions about voting patterns no longer hold true. And neither do old racial and religious narratives command the same allegiance as before. The era of the single dominant party might well be over; UMNO, for example, no longer enjoys the commanding position it once did. 

What this means is that PH has a better than even chance of obtaining enough seats in parliament to have the first go at forming the next government. If it gains enough seats, it might even be able to outmanoeuvre the different power alignments that will emerge post-GE15. 

But it is by no means a sure thing. Anwar’s recent announcement that PH has 100 seats “in the bag” is not helpful. What’s worse, it sounds too much like his previous “strong, formidable and convincing majority” claim. No one can afford to take voters for granted anymore.

What will make a real difference on polling day is a strong voter turn-out. Thus far – and admittedly it is still early days yet – there is no sign of the kind of fever-pitch fervour and passion that animated voters in 2018 when more than 82% turned up to vote. 

Clearly, it’s going to take a huge effort to overcome voter apathy, to convince voters that it is absolutely vital to vote come hell or high water.

PH cannot do it on its own. It needs to harness the power of all reform-minded Malaysians – not just like-minded political parties but civil society groups of every stripe (environmentalists, human rights campaigners, pro-democracy, labour and migrant-rights activists, etc). They all have a stake in this campaign; they all have a reason to come out and support PH and help carry it across the finish line. It’s the only way to secure a strong, formidable and convincing win.

If PH can harness the power of partnership, quickly heal the divisions from their mismanagement of candidate selection and truly unite all reform-minded Malaysians, it might just win enough seats to form the next government. 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | November 1st 2022]