Ethnic-based voting and young urban voters in GE13 ― David CE Tneh

15 May

MAY 15 ― With the 13th general election in Malaysia officially over, political analysts are now dissecting the results keenly, and with the recent catch phrase “Chinese Tsunami” being openly repudiated by countless political analysts, one can conclude that voting trends that are based on race-based political parties in Malaysia are now becoming obsolete.

Caught in this dilemma would be mainstream political parties in the National Front or “Barisan National” whose past formula of inter-racial collaboration and power sharing formulated during the British pre-independence days of the 1950’s facing tougher days ahead in the current 21st century and the future 14th general election.

The shift in voting patterns occurred during the 12th General Election in 2008 where Malaysians have voted across ethnic lines and supported the coalition of opposition parties, namely Pakatan Rakyat. The opposition alliance appeared to have consolidated into a more formidable alliance in the 13th General Election thus strengthening concept of a two coalition system and this offered an alternative to Malaysians, young and old, who have grown tired of Barisan National’s five decade rule that was constantly marred by perceptions of corruption, power abuses, and racial politics.

The noticeable shift in voting trends of Malaysians, especially Generation X and Y youths, have contributed to Barisan National losing their customary two-thirds majority in Parliament and the shocking lost of 4 states and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur in 2008. A series of major rallies such as Hindraf, Bersih and anti-Lynas rallies have also created political awareness among youths on matters such as race relations, electoral reforms and environmental concerns which further consolidated civil society movement in Malaysia. Civil society movements that have been on the rise since 2007, have also been seen a huge participation by youths in these rallies.

The electoral reform NGO, Bersih is the most successful and influential civil society movement in Malaysia that has played a tremendous role in creating political awareness among youths and creating the ground swell in NGO participation in Malaysian politics. It is an undeniable fact that civil society movement have indeed out a dent on BN’s popularity and reputation in the last two general elections.

As the number of voting individuals increases annually, issues such as race and religion espoused by Umno-led BN no longer hold water with the majority of Generation X and Y individuals who constitute more than 50 per cent of the Malaysian electoral roll. Such polemics do not interest young urban Malaysians, instead, issues such as corruption, employment, rising cost of living, and escalating price of properties and high car prices are now the major concerns of this group. Although BN have initiated several Government Transformation Programmes (GTPs) and National Key Research Areas (NKRAs), all of these are insufficient to placate the majority of youths and urban dwellers who are left out of cash handouts such as BRIM, hence the urban vs rural divide in contemporary Malaysian politics which is set to widen in the future. The rural voters are still BN’s main supporters and the effectiveness of the BN machinery and money are the two factors that have consolidated BN’s power in the rural areas, especially in East Malaysia. Nevertheless, with the urban to rural migration among young voters increasing every year, BN’s pools of traditional supporters are shrinking.

This brings to light the weaknesses of BN’s formulaic power sharing concept where race-based political parties have to garner support from their respective ethnic groups. This concept is irrelevant to the younger voters who do not consider ethnicity or religion as fundamentally important as their identity as Malaysians as a whole. The term “Chinese Tsunami” is inaccurate because it was fundamentally not a Chinese shift but Malaysian voters have voted en bloc Pakatan candidates whom they believe to be more trustworthy. Thus, it seems ironic that Barisan National leaders are still harping about the importance of ethnic Chinese representation in the Malaysian Cabinet when the Malaysian voters in general are seeing themselves more Malaysian citizens than segregated individuals living in a country.

This is also another reason why the Chinese community in general have brazenly rejected Chinese political parties such as the MCA, SAPP, SUPP and this also includes Gerakan with its multiracial background. Political representation is not essential because most Chinese Malaysians feel there is no difference whether they are represented officially or not represented at all. In addition, these Chinese political parties are unfortunate because they are part of the BN coalition, and with Umno being the most domineering party, such parties are seen to be playing second fiddle to Umno-led BN.

In terms of the digital divide between the urban and the rural, younger urban voters are adept technologically and keep themselves abreast with the latest news in social networking sites but this gap will be bridged as internet connectivity widens in Malaysia. This brings to light the role of digital communication such as Facebook and Twitter, which played a significant role in the 12th and 13th general elections. Post-election events such as the “Suara Rakyat, Suara Keramat” rally that drew 100,000 participants to the Kelana Jaya stadium and the almost 80,000 in attendance at Batu Kawan stadium, Penang, are proof of the effectiveness of social media. In this area, PR parties, especially the DAP have the edge as their dynamic online campaigns are more appealing to the youths and this is partly because of the youth factor in the DAP. Contrast this to the abysmal “Love is in the Air” and “Beribu-ribu Tahniah” YouTube videos done by MCA and MIC members that went viral for the wrong reasons and you would have a stark contrast in terms of quality, creativity and appeal.

 The cyberspace is thus the most popular, influential and effective medium affecting the hearts and minds of Generation X and Y voters as compared to the mainstream media of printed newspapers, television, and radio which might further see a decline in popularity in post-elections Malaysia. Mainstream media press such as Utusan Malaysia’s reputation for race baiting currently draws flak from most Malaysians and has turned alternative media sites to be more credible sources for political news than the mainstream press.

Currently, the political scenario in Malaysia is changing as more and younger Malaysians see the need to unite under the Malaysian flag. Events such as the May 13 racial riots no longer can work on the minds of the younger voters who are now more impressed with issues of economic competency, national development, quality of living, equality and justice at the national level, and Pakatan seems to embody these qualities effectively than the BN coalition.

What is of interest to younger voters right now would be multi-racial representation and equal power sharing concept and for this PR seems to be the more popular choice among youths as they offer a fresher alternative as compared to the older BN coalition.

Again, one of the most important pull-factor for PR would be their youth appeal seen in their cadre of young leaders. Pakatan Rakyat has always appealed to the urban crowd with politicians such as Nurul Izzah Anwar, Rafizi Ramli, Tony Pua, Hannah Yeoh, N. Surendran and Badrul Hisham Shaharin. Pakatan’s young leaders are more in sync with the aspirations of the young voters who in turn find the young, dynamic and tech-savvy PR leaders to be more responsive, dynamic, and approachable.

In essence, Malaysia’s political landscape is changed forever after the 13th general election. Race-based politics will have to be replaced in the coming future as more and more Malaysians reject racism and racial and religious politicking. With more and more countries progressing and developing ahead of Malaysia regionally and internationally, the only obstacle to the great leap forward is Malaysia’s internal political bickering centred on race and religion. The country’s only hope for transformation thus lies in the younger generation who will dictate the fate of the country in the 14th general election.

* David reads The Malaysian Insider and thinks that the future of the country lies in one’s own thinking.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.



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