Race and religion still the main issue in elections

(MMO) – Human rights group Pusat Komas today said that it found the topics of race and religion made up a huge percentage of the three main coalition’s communication strategies during the Melaka polls last November.

Pusat Komas said this during the unveiling of The Melaka State Election Social-Media Monitoring Project on Racial and Religious Politics: Implications for Coming Elections that saw it collaborating with Zanroo Malaysia to monitor social media conversations during the state election.

The group said that in its research, it found that Barisan Nasional (BN) ranked the highest on the topic of race — particularly in terms of race-based policies — where it pushed the narrative of Bumiputera rights and privileges and the need to uphold the national language.

“Race and religion accounted for 25 per cent of BN’s communication strategy, where most of the messages were used to attack PH for being hypocritical in promoting a Malaysia for all Malaysians,” the report read.

“For instance, BN’s spokesman claimed that PH was the one that was trying to politicise the ‘Timah’ issue to create controversy against the government, despite them being the ‘mastermind’ behind the issue — claiming that Timah was given approval during PH administration.

Pusat Komas added that some messages were also linked to PAS and Muafakat Nasional, Umno’s coalition with the Islamist party, claiming that this was in line with Umno’s stance that it had not neglected the rights and benefits of other races and religions and to treated everyone with respect.

As for Perikatan Nasional (PN), the group found that the coalition promoted candidates based on religious factors and called for unity of the religious community, with key messages by the coalition most in PAS’s Penyatuan Ummah.

“By holding strong to Islamic values and morality, PAS is promoting their candidates as the right choice to be part of the state government,” the report read.

“The coalition also promoted the former chief minister as the better candidate to govern the state based on previous track record via discussions and policy suggestions on issues like floods.”

As for Pakatan Harapan (PH), the largest proportion of messages during the Melaka state election also carried a political theme, with the coalition promoting former chief minister Adly Zahari as the better candidate to govern the state based on his previous track record via discussions and policy suggestions on issues like floods.

“They also mentioned that BN and PN’s response to the Timah issue shows that these parties are neglecting the rights and benefits of the non-Bumiputera, reiterating that PH is there to create a Malaysia that is not ruled by racial policies,” the report said.

Pusat Komas then said that its research found that the use of race and religion by coalition parties, particularly to champion and defend their own ethnicity and religion, appeared to be an important tool for coalition parties to appeal to voters of a particular race or religion.

“Though there were coalitions who were banking on messages of unity, the ongoing exchanges between coalition parties accusing one another of being racist may become more prominent, diluting the message conveyed,” it said.

“It is important to note that if race and religion continue to be used by coalition parties in upcoming elections, it may further exacerbate interethnic tension and hinder nation-building exercises.”

Pusat Komas then urged politicians and political parties to move away from the use of race and religion in politics and pursue policy actions that truly benefit constituents of all races and religions and not favour a particular ethnic group.

“It is ironic that on one hand they are calling for a united Malaysia through the #KeluargaMalaysia campaign and the recent launch of the National Unity Blueprint and National Unity Action Plan 2021-2030, while on the other hand, they are campaigning for a particular ethnic and religious group,” the report read.

“Therefore, we call upon all politicians and political parties to practice what they preach and not backtrack on the policies that they introduce at the federal level. As elected representatives, they have a responsibility for all Malaysian citizens and not a particular ethnic and religious group.”