Moral outrage: Malaysia’s election gamechanger?

Lim Teck Ghee, Free Malaysia Today

The next few weeks are likely to feature a surfeit of views on how voters should respond to the 15th general election and the issues that may influence the outcome of the polls on Nov 19. There is already no shortage of news and analysis.

Underscoring these themes are the perennial election issues dealing with racial and religious concerns. We can expect these preoccupations again to feature prominently.

However, the extent to which they can play a crucial role in the outcome is not clear.

How will competing Malay parties affect the outcome of GE15?

Can the emergence of multiple Malay-based parties vying for the community’s vote see a toning down of the anti-non-Malay sentiment and rhetoric as they focus on each other’s deficiencies?

Will we see a doubling down of earlier successful tactics focusing on the potential erosion of Malay and Islamic rights and privileges to ensure that this issue continues to be uppermost in the minds of Malay voters?

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s latest party offering in Pejuang party and the hastily cobbled Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA) may not win many votes but they will definitely play on the Malay sense of insecurity and drive Malay candidates and parties to more extreme positions in portraying themselves as the real champions of Malay rights and hegemony.

PAS can be expected to generate the most exclusively Malay-Muslim electoral manifesto to retain its appeal to the Malay and religious heartland. But it is also positioning itself as a “kingmaker” linking the other Malay parties.

The latest party disclosure that it is open to working with Bersatu, Umno, and Pejuang right up to nomination day to “secure the unity of the ummah” is an admission of its limited electoral clout with the larger Malaysian electorate.

It is also a clear indication that after the election, PAS is open to bedding with any winning coalition with the sole exception of Pakatan Harapan (PH), which the Islamic party is determined to keep out of power as it includes the Chinese-dominated DAP with its perceived pro-secular position.

Will urban voters show up?

Away from rural Malaysia, urban voters and parties have been dismissed as unlikely to make much impact on the election outcome due to the gerrymandering which has favoured rural voters by as much as a factor of six.

In GE14, for example, the urban Bangi parliamentary seat in Selangor had 178,790 voters compared with the 29,752 voters in Perak’s rural Lenggang parliamentary seat.

Today’s urban voters are clearly more fatigued due to the political uncertainty and upheavals that have engulfed PH, their coalition of preference since its formation. But there is no evidence that urban Malaysians, young or old, are more apathetic.

More cynical, yes. But the vast majority appear determined to resist surrendering their democratic rights, including the right to choose the government of their choice.

The latest budget letdown for private sector households, the hit on incomes arising from the inflationary upsurge, and the widespread perception that the election timing is ill-advised in view of the looming flood season will definitely be factors playing on the minds of many urbanites as they go to the voting booths.

Umno the early favourite

The current betting is on Umno with its well-oiled superior rural grassroots machinery leading Barisan Nasional (BN) to victory. But what may prove to be a game-changer is Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s speech at a recent MIC event.

He had described GE15 as “the mother of all general elections” and warned that not only he and former prime minister Najib Razak could be prosecuted if BN loses again but also a host of other BN leaders, including his deputy Mohamad Hasan, Umno’s Hishammuddin Hussein, MIC president S A Vigneswaran and deputy president M Saravanan, as well as MCA president Wee Ka Siong.

Zahid’s attempt to pass this speech, which went viral on social media, as a joke has not been successful. Will this become BN’s Achilles heel?

Moral outrage as the potential gamechanger

One common factor that may unite rural and urban voters is the deepening moral outrage with past and recent political developments. Moral outrage among large segments of the public has grown with every misstep, abuse and misgovernance by the dominant political parties.

This moral outrage cuts across race, religion, age, gender and state lines. It is found in peninsular Malaysia as well as Sabah and Sarawak, despite their different political agendas and is directed at all political parties – some less, others much more.

Beginning with the Sheraton Move and pushback against political “frogs” seen as betraying the public trust, the loss of faith in government was dramatically captured by the white flag movement during the pandemic crisis.

Today it is reaching its peak with the current string of corruption cases involving the Umno “court cluster” and the controversy over the littoral combat ship project.

We have seen moral outrage with the transgressions of parties and individual politicians playing a decisive role in determining the fate of governments in other countries.

This sense of moral outrage in Malaysia may well overcome voter traditional party loyalty, and even the handouts and other enticements that accompany every election. Should that happen we may well see a second electoral tsunami for the country.