Two Electoral Defeats in a Row–Wake Up Call for the ” New”Malaysia Government

March 4, 2019

Two Electoral Defeats in a Row–Wake Up Call for the ” New”Malaysia Government

by Sharifah Munirah Alatas

Pakatan Harapan (PH)  lost two by-elections in  just one month.

Last month, Barisan Nasional (BN) won its first post-GE14 by-election in Cameron Highlands. On Saturday, in Semenyih, it claimed its second victory.

In Cameron Highlands, the majority was 3,239 votes, and in Semenyih it was 1,914. Voter turnout in the Balakong, Seri Setia and Sungai Kandis by-elections were below the 50% mark. Cameron Highlands and Semenyih commanded higher percentages, 68.7% and 73.24% respectively.

They reveal that Malaysians are seasoned democratically. We are capable of voting one party out, in search of a better alternative. This comes only nine months after a previous “better alternative”.

The burning question now is, how will all the elected individuals in government chart their trajectory towards the fundamental task of “making our lives better”?

Since PH’s loss in Cameron Highlands, harebrained policies and schemes have been dished out to us. We may see more of these disappointments, post-Semenyih.

The latest flying car dream is a glaring disappointment. Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof claimed a week ago that it is a prototype targeted at transport service companies, and is not for sale to the general public.

Image result for malaysia's flying car

Why embark on this project now when there are millions of other housing, health, “rice, fish and vegetable” issues facing the public? These are the unsolved problems that are turning the public away from PH.

Image result for Defeat in Seminyih

I have not heard or read of any member of the public who is jumping for joy with the flying car prototype. The minister tried to calm nerves by saying that local technology would be used to attract foreign investment. The voters of Semenyih have proven that there are egalitarian, more democratic ways of attracting foreign investment.

Needless to say, spending about RM1 million on flying technology is a “cheap” way of skirting the problem of our public transport system.

On March 1, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said his ministry was open to the idea of building a new hospital in Semenyih.

One day after the by-election, Mahathir blamed the UMNO-PAS alliance and the nation’s debt for PH’s loss in Semenyih.

We hope this means that PH will scrap the plan to build the hospital in Semenyih. Building hospitals do not come cheap. Semenyih residents are not interested in a hospital. Instead, re-allocate funds towards widening the roads, easing traffic congestion and upgrading the public transportation system.

These are what the residents want, but nobody is listening to them. I should know, because I am one such resident.

The Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) has still not been recognised. It is a black mark in PH’s report card.

The public is convinced that PH is still committed to the “Malay agenda” when Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government “needs to consider the feelings of the Malays”.

Even Arshad Ayub, Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) founding father, believes that Malaysia has reached a point where UiTM is ready to accept non-Malay students, albeit at the post-graduate level.

The public is fed up with the lack of meritocracy exercised by our institutions of higher education. It is not alien to me. Our culture of meritocracy is stunted, and it is driving PH supporters away.

The abolition of the goods and services tax (GST) has increased the price of goods. Tolls have not been reduced, nationally. The recent move to replace the toll system at four highways with congestion charges does not impress the public.

The Finance Ministry’s “zero-based budgeting approach” is goal-specific, rather than based on the BN-era budget calculation. The share for development has decreased to 17.4% of total expenditure. Instead, the share of the operating budget increased by 10.4%, reflecting sizeable emoluments attributed to the bloated civil service.

Despite Mahathir’s bemoaning the huge size of our civil service (almost 1.6 million), there are no policies in sight to trim it.

Rural Malaysia has accepted their lot at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They are less interested in former PM Najib Razak’s conviction in the 1MDB scandal. This explains why BN is still very influential in grassroots Malaysia.

The reason, of course, is BN’s (in collusion with PAS’) ability to contextualise development within an ethno-religious framework. PH seems to be following suit, as indicated by the abrupt U-turn on ICERD late last year.

But BN has more magnetic power, backed by decades of “familiarity” among the rural masses. PH will not have the staying power if they do not pay attention to economic and education reforms that would otherwise benefit the grassroots.

Reform-minded, urban Malays will be the first to re-orientate their loyalties after feeling cheated and disillusioned. Will the non-Malays then resort to forming a third coalition out of desperation?

The Malays, Islam and the “war for Malay support” have resurfaced as the stalwart of post-GE14 politics. As we race towards GE15, another scenario awaits us. A growing prejudice based on religio-ethics has started to boil.

The door to ijtihad seems to be closing rapidly. TV1 airs daily religious programmes dedicated to textual interpretations of the Quran. Contents are restricted to deconstructing Arabic words and sentences. These programmes are not focused on the cognitive processes needed to adapt the Quranic message to our pluralistic, socio-cultural milieu.

Mahathir has often lamented how our national schools have become religious schools. Since PH came to power, though, I have not noticed any changes to our national television stations.

Besides our schools and universities, the television functions as an education tool as well. It is time our ministries affect policy reforms that reach the grassroots level. It is not good enough to “look into the issue” or delay by forming one intra-ministerial committee after another.

BN continues to capture the rural Malay psyche by latching onto a skewed interpretation of Islam through the print media and television. A sizeable group of progressive Muslims in Malaysia are aware of these tricks but seem to accept the lesser of two evils.

In the midst of PH’s mounting setbacks, (in fulfilling their election promises), reform-minded Malays are finding comfort in BN and PAS.

The by-election in Semenyih, home to 46.3% Malays and 33.7% Chinese, is proof of this.

Muhammad Aiman Zainali’s candidacy proved a disaster because he was simply the wrong choice. He did not constructively address an iota of the issues facing Semenyih residents.

Neither did he try to win over the community by recommending solutions to the problems residents face. He did not even play the race and religion card, the way BN did.

Twenty million Malaysians realise that it was ridiculous for Aiman to contest. Merely being of “likeable personality” or the son-in-law of the deceased is not a game-changer. Lest we forget, nepotism was one of the main reasons BN fell from power.

We can expect the next few years leading up to GE15 to be checkered by communal politics. Prejudice and growing extremism are on the horizon. PH needs to work in unison, to implement reform-oriented policies amidst the racial and religious divide we are experiencing.

Most importantly, PH has to make inroads to the grassroots. It takes courage, effort and political will.

Our leaders have to be humble, work hard and listen to the people. Our democratic system implores them to do so. If they do not, greed, arrogance and megalomania will be their first class ticket out of Putrajaya.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

9 thoughts on “Two Electoral Defeats in a Row–Wake Up Call for the ” New”Malaysia Government

  1. I hear a lot of “wake up” call, “message” to the govt, but its still the same thing out there with everyone defining what the problem and agenda is.

    PH lost in Cameron Highland and Semenyih is NOT because of PH failure to fufilled its manifesto. PH failure to fufilled its manifesto should have resulted in only no gains in Cameron Highland and Semenyih, not a lost. The lost in Cameron Highland and Semenyih is underwritten by TRIBALISM – religo and racial divide to the point IT MAKES NO SENSE..

    Najib, UMNO and now PAS is PROVEN to be corrupt, abusive of power and liars. Why did so many Semenyih voters who supposedly voted incumbent for decades, did not vote the incumbent PH govt? The Semenyih voters in GE-14 were partisan and remained partisan regardless how wrong their party was and is. THAT is what is wrong with the result.

    Azmin Ali is right about one thing it is racial and national problem.. BUT HE AGAIN SHOW THE PROBLEM when he says no apology for bumi agenda. Firstly WHAT IS THE BUMI AGENDA – UMNO/BN defined it mythically – overextended the original intent of the founders of the country. Tajuddin Ramli defines the bumi agenda as helping even Malay millionaires meaning its to make all Malay millionaires. Is that what Azmin define as “bumi agenda”?? Secondly, the idea that the debate is over the limits of govt power over something like “bumi agenda” reeks as fascist and self-serving of Azmin. The power of govt is LIMITED proven fact. There is no such thing guarantee of success at any cost for such a big agenda as the “bumi agenda”/.

    You cannot solve deep seated tribalism by pandering to it. You have to confront it even if you do it without being cruel and always offering something better.

    • //Azmin Ali is right about one thing it is racial and national problem.. BUT HE AGAIN SHOW THE PROBLEM when he says no apology for bumi agenda.
      The nons definitely need to shrug. To be politically correct, it allows the Melayu figure how best not to layu and choose for themselves between the two. On a pragmatic side, it gives a chance for both parties to see a need to see the nons as Malaysians. Oh well, many second caste are too comfortable to care. They are secured, no matter who wins, while the nation continues to layu away.

  2. Nine months had passed since the historic May 9th election victory for PH, and an otherwise election defeat for BN.

    On account of my own personal – as well as my family’s – experience so far after that historic day, and on account of the experience of others (which I have had the opportunity to read about and listen to indirectly from the media, as well as obtain information about directly from interactions with those people whom I have come across), the message seems to be that we are all not experiencing substantial improvements in the quality of our lives even with a new government in place in Putrajaya. We could go so far as to say that things are, more or less, “the same” under PH now as they were under BN then. The comment made by our dear DPM Datuk Seri Wan Azizah that the Semenyih by election loss should be taken as a message (of sort) for PH to commence to study issues in depth is, although comforting, disturbing at the same time. The reason I say so is because, it indicates that PH probably had gone about its business of governing for the last 9 months in a state of not knowing and realising that it is clueless about issues (otherwise why the need to start an in-depth study now, following the by-election loss?). Perhaps it is these “unknowns” – the blind spots – critical and important as they are but unfortunately hidden from view, which had, unbeknownst to PH, contributed to the downward slide in the political fortune it is currently experiencing, as well as the administrative shortcomings which the public perceived it is demonstrating thus far? But every cloud has a silver lining; and the silver lining here is that PH has made an admission – albeit indirectly – through the announcement made by the DPM (of the need to study deeply issues) that it has realised its ignorance of these critical and important blind spots.

    Therefore, if the public could be patient with BN and endured 9 years of kleptocratic rule under Dato Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak without hearing any such admission of shortcomings and mistakes, then surely the public could, and would be willing to endure with the PH government’s shortcomings for the last 9 months, most especially as PH, in contrast with BN, at least owns up to its shortcomings by way of admitting – albeit indirectly – that it is clueless (about the critical and important blind spots) by, above all else, continue to lend the PH government the support it needs from them – all in the hope that PH would, given time, be able to uncover these blind spots and take corrective actions speedily thereafter (after all, the head of the PH government is s medical doctor by qualification who, most probably, understands so well the need for decisive actions when patients’ lives are at stake)?

    PH most probably, and I believe most certainly, has good intentions, and may indeed is working its back side off on the administrative front, and their leaders may perhaps, at the moment, feel that their hard work and good intentions are under-appreciated by the public – I would be if I am in their position (isn’t it human nature to feel so?).

    All is not loss for PH though, judging by the argument presented above.

    • POlitics is all about perceptions. PH govt must be SEEN to be doing things for the people i.e. passing reform bill after reform bill, and putting big time thieves of the previous 1Malayasia regime in jail.
      Is PH perceived to be doing these ??

      Taking a look at history, during troubled times, even minority governments can take action, get things done and get support from the people e.g.Jewish President of France the socialist Leon Blum (at that time there was a lot of anti-semitism and sympathy for fascism amongst the French) managed to pass a lot of reform bills although his “Popular Front” govt only lasted for a short while i.e. June 1936 to June 1937 and only two months in 1938.

      Also, Christian Socialist Canadian premier of Saskatchewan province Tommy Douglas, fought and fought and finally passed the first Medicare-type programme in a Canadian province. (He faced heavy resistance from all the vested interests). This was adopted by the other Canadian provinces later on. Many Canadians remember Tommy Douglas with reverence for his work on Medicare.

    • Thank you Dr Phua Kai Lit for asking the question (quote), “Is PH perceived to be doing these??”. I guess, if I were to attempt to answer it, I would give a NO for an answer. But if I would be allowed to propose my two cents worth, here is what it would be: I propose that if we would choose to be patient with the new government by giving them the benefit of doubt, that would result in the introduction and implementation of the same kinds of inspiring public policy changes which are similar in terms of impact to the examples you brought to light in your comment. We could then, as a follow-up to this proposition, ask the question as to what we could do – and how we would go about doing – to inspire those kinds of changes from our lowly position at the grassroot level of society. In other words, regardless of who and where we are, what would we have done to inflame & inspire those same kinds of public policy changes from the new government?

  3. To start a new Malaysia, it’s time for a first female PM, Wan Azizah.

    Most Malay/Muslim male ‘ leaders ‘ are more interested in bullying, threat, intimidation and fighting…….you know, Ego lebih besar dari telor kind!

  4. Politics is perception.

    Mahathir’s PR machinery is……Kadir Jasin.

    This is not the 1980s.

    The days of a handful of TV stations and papers amounting to public discourse are over.

    Set up a proper comms team.

    One that gets social media.

  5. Because of Harapan’s inaction against racist talks and demos, and Dr M’s loony explanations for the extension of ketuanan policies, I had predicted before the by-elections in a blog (old boys from my alma mater) that the 90% non-Malay votes would be history. The nons votes did not materialise during the GE because of Mathathir: it’s safe to say that if he and his party were not in Harapan, even more nons would’ve voted for that party. Harapan should realize that the educated Malays would NOT support a party that thrives on dividing Malaysians on the basis of race and religion; neither would over 90% of non-Malays. This combination alone would defeat BN time and again, especially when the gerrymandering of constituencies are corrected. I’ll say it again: Harapan must take seriously its Manisfesto and implement it immediately.

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