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Politicians stoke fear as Malaysia faces elections

Ethno-religious fear-mongering is divisive as it often carries the narrative of us versus them

Zunar with a cartoon depicting how deep-rooted racial and religious politics is - ALIRAN

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Federal Territories Umno youth wing 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 12 August 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 multi-ethnic 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 three Rs – race, religion and royalty.

Fear-mongering is equivalent to the scare tactic used by your mother during your 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.

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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 ethnic minorities.

Such a narrative resonates with that of Sanusi’s party leader, Hadi Awang, who recently reportedly said the DAP is perpetuating the plan started by the colonial British to destroy ethnic Malay and bumiputra supremacy with the support of Malays “who have forgotten their roots”. The 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 who merits to wear the crown of protector of “Malay supremacy”.

But then, it doesn’t help either if the 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.

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

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

Besides, there are always some people lurking in the corner, waiting to make use of the three Rs 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 18 October 1990, when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the then leader of the 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, then led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for Razaleigh’s coalition.

During this visit, Pairin gave 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 Malay-Muslim voters, the impression that Razaleigh was in cahoots 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 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.

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Such fear-mongers should not be fearful of harnessing our ethnic and religious diversity for the peace and progress of our beloved nation. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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