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The campaign has begun in earnest. Flags have sprouted all over the city like ‘lalang’. Everywhere ‘ceramahs’ are in full swing.  Parliamentarians who usually flash by in their Vellfires have come down to earth, shaking hands and working up a sweat with dire warnings, big promises and desperate appeals for support. 

Listening to some of their speeches on this first day of the campaign, I can’t help feeling many of our politicians talk down to voters or take them for granted.

When Pakatan Harapan hopefuls talk to non-Malay crowds, they take for granted that non-Malays will basically vote for them because PH is the only multiracial coalition now left standing. If they, the voters, don’t like the corruption and racism of parties like UMNO, PPBM and Pejuang or the religious extremism of PAS, who else do they vote for? 

And they cannot opt out because if they don’t support PH, the racists and religious extremists win. They are caught between a rock and a hard place.

The biggest challenge PH faces now is getting all the jaded and disillusioned non-Malay voters plus the fence sitters to make the effort to trek down to polling stations on November 19. If enough of them don’t turn up, PH could be in trouble.

Many Malay voters are caught in the same trap too. They might not like the racism and corruption of UMNO and PN or the religious extremism and hypocrisy of PAS but if they do nothing, PH wins. 

And that will be seen as a setback because it will mean that the non-Malays, especially the much-despised DAP – full of communists, chauvinists and Christian evangelists – end up ruling their beloved Tanah Melayu. That’s what they have been repeatedly told and that’s what they are hearing yet again in this election campaign. It’s a narrative that may be losing its appeal but it remains a factor. Certainly UMNO, PN and GTA are counting on it win votes.

PH’s path to victory then hinges on a combination of two factors – the overwhelming support of non-Malay voters and a deeply divided Malay vote. Generally, while the non-Malays have nowhere else to park their vote, Malay voters have four coalitions – PH, BN, PN and GTA – to choose from. 

Progressive Malay voters will lean towards PH; the conservative Malay vote will be divided between the other three coalitions. Gerrymandering reduced the power of the non-Malay vote; a fractured Malay polity will now diffuse the power of the Malay vote. It is one of the reasons why many predict that no single coalition will get even a simple majority. 

With both Malay and non-Malay voters caught in the race conundrum, the issues that ought to matter – good governance, corruption, economic policy, justice, education, cost of living, etc – are being ignored. Worse still, all this focus on race and religion has resulted in uninspiring men and women being offered as candidates to parliament. 

After more than 60 years of independence, it is tragic that our elections are not about but leadership, ideas and polices but about who scares us less.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 6th November 2022]