The result wasn’t entirely unexpected, but there are lessons to be learned, says Anil Netto.
What are the lessons to be learned from the Cameron Highlands parliamentary by-election defeat for Pakatan Harapan today?
Although Pakatan Harapan’s share of the valid votes cast rose from 40% (in the 2018 general election) to 41% at this by-election, it was not enough to make a dent on the combined Umno/BN-Pas effort of 56% this time, slightly down from the MIC/BN-Pas total of 57% last year. (Pas did not contest this time unlike in the general election last year, when they fielded a candidate.)
So the general trend is not unexpected, in terms of the share of the popular vote.
Still, the thing to bear in mind is you can’t beat Umno and Pas when it comes to playing the race-religion card. No other party is going to win more votes by pandering to the racial and religious conservative lobby – because no matter what it does, it will never be enough to outdo these two parties.
Umno and Pas are the masters of this race-and-religion game, seasoned hands if you like.
Learn the lessons of history: Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah tried to go one up on Umno with his Semangat 46 but failed in the 1990 general election. In the wake of that and desperately pandering to racial sentiments, he even renamed his party Parti Melayu Semangat 46 – but eventually the party folded up and he crawled back to Umno.
Even Umno founder Onn Jaafar, after he failed to make much headway with his breakaway multi-ethnic Independence of Malaya Party in the 1955 election, tried to woo Umno’s racial support base with his subsequent Parti Negara… but to no avail.
So no point pandering to the divisive racial and religious lobby. If Pakatan wants to go down that road, it will end up as Barisan Nasional 2.0. And that will be the end of the new Malaysia dream.
So dare to be different and inclusive. Turn away from free-market neoliberal inclinations.
Come up with genuine policies that will improve the people’s quality of life: better education, universal public healthcare (please, no private insurance companies), affordable housing, decent public transport across the country (not a third national car), affordable food…
Empower and uplift the lives of the marginalised (eg Felda settlers, Orang Asli), irrespective of ethnicity and religion.
These are the things that will make a difference to people’s everyday lives. And along the way, show the people a different, more inclusive path to the new Malaysia, where everyone has a place.