Politicians stoke fear as Malaysia faces elections

Mustafa K. Anuar

The writer says fear-mongers should not be fearful of harnessing our ethnic and religious diversity for peace and progress of our beloved Malaysia. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, July 11, 2023.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Anuar

FEDERAL Territories Umno Youth information chief Wan Agyl Wan Hassan recently urged competing parties to cease fear-mongering as an instrument to gain people’s support ahead of the August 12 state elections.

This was because fear-mongering often involved the act of depicting one’s political rival as an existential threat to the ethnic community the other party supposedly represents.

In other words, fear-mongering is divisive as it often carries the narrative of us-versus-them along ethnic lines, which is clearly unhealthy in a multiethnic Malaysia.

Wan Agyl’s expressed concern couldn’t have come at a better time, especially when racial politics is expected to still be played in the run-up to the state elections despite the warning issued by the authorities against the exploitation of the 3Rs – race, religion and royalty.

Fear-mongering is equivalent to the scare tactic used by your mother during the formative years, threatening that the policeman would come after you if you fell out of line.

The big difference is that this is a socially divisive game played by seasoned, adult politicians desperate to get support from members of their respective communities to the detriment of ethnic relations.

It is fear that is consciously manufactured not only to ensure loyalty among community members, but also for them to be grateful to the politicians or parties concerned for the professed desire to protect the interests of their community.

In some instances, fear-mongering is also aimed at distracting voters from the weaknesses of the politicians or political parties concerned.

This may include their lack of clear policies on how to grow the economy and how to improve the living standards of the poor and the marginalised.

Racial narratives can even emerge out of an otherwise simple act of encouraging people to come out to vote.

A video clip that has gone viral depicted caretaker Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor as reprimanding presumably the Malay voters for insisting on financial help before they would make the move to return to Kedah to vote.

In contrast, he said, “they” would come back from Taiwan, China, Singapore, the US and Australia – without even asking for financial aid – to vote for Pakatan Harapan so that “they” could colonise “our land”. One would assume that “they” are largely the non-Malays.

Such a narrative resonates with that of Sanusi’s party leader Abdul Hadi Awang, who recently reportedly said DAP is perpetuating the plan started by the colonial British to destroy Malay and Bumiputera supremacy with the support of Malays “who have forgotten their roots”. DAP is often a backhanded reference to the Chinese community.

Obviously, this is a strong accusation thrown at the Chinese-based party that happens to be in alliance with Malay-based Umno, PKR and Amanah, people who supposedly have lost their “Malay-ness”. This probably is seen as an unholy alliance as far as Hadi and his ilk are concerned.

Hence, if we were to follow through the accusation to its logical conclusion, there’s no prize for guessing as to who merits to wear the crown of the protector of “Malay supremacy”.

But then, it doesn’t help either if DAP is indeed embroiled in an ethno-religious controversy as party chairman Lim Guan Eng was alleged to have warned Penang people to not vote for Perikatan Nasional as it would destroy temples in Penang if the coalition were to take over the state government after the state elections.

Lim denied having made such a statement, blaming it on certain quarters who deliberately twisted it.

A lesson to be learned here is that politicians have to be as prudent as possible when making public statements, especially when the temperature is rising.

Besides, there’s always some people lurking in the corner, waiting to make use of the 3Rs to turn the tide in their favour, in the hope of gaining a vote swing.

If history is instructive, we may want to be reminded of what happened in Sabah on October 18, 1990 when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, then leader of opposition Semangat 46, met Parti Bersatu Sabah leader Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

Pairin told Razaleigh, who was also the leader of the opposition coalition Gagasan Rakyat, that his party intended to dump Barisan Nasional, which was led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for Tengku Razaleigh’s coalition.

During this visit, Pairin gave Tengku Razaleigh an ethnic Kadazan headgear (sigah) to wear as a token of friendship.

The mainstream media, which backed BN, covered it in such a way as to make the sigah appear to have a cross on it, thereby giving the Malaysian public, particularly the Malay-Muslim voters, the impression that Tengku Razaleigh was in cohort with a political party whose members are predominantly Christian.

This, of course, did not help to improve ethno-religious relations in the country then, nor did it promote the political fortunes of Tengku Razaleigh and his coalition in the 1990 general election.

The media landscape may have changed to some extent since then, but the narrative among those whose playbook is filled with race and religion, generally remains the same.

Such fear-mongers should not be fearful of harnessing our ethnic and religious diversity for peace and progress of our beloved nation. – July 11, 2023.

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  • "Such a narrative resonates with that of Sanusis party leader Abdul Hadi Awang, who recently reportedly said DAP is perpetuating the plan started by the colonial British to destroy Malay and Bumiputera supremacy with the support of Malays who have forgotten their roots. They had a plan? Is that why they fought the Japanese to free Malaya? Or helped out in Borneo when Indonesia tried to annex territory illegally? Of course, the British were defending British businesses operating in the area but that was not the only motivation.
    When a country allows its history to be forgotten, or distorted then this sort of disinformation is easily believed, especially as a growing section of society is not being educated in the full curriculum but attending religious schools that do not teach the history of the Nation (or much else). Uneducated people are easily manipulated so they are key to the success of parties wishing to impose their views on the rest of the population.

    Posted 11 months ago by Malaysia New hope · Reply