The ‘greening’ outcome of the recent bruising general election caught many people by surprise, especially the Malay-based Umno, Pakatan Harapan (PH) and concerned Malaysians.
They were shocked and concerned that Perikatan Nasional (PN) in general and the Islamist Pas in particular managed to capture 14 parliamentary seats in Kelantan, eight in Terengganu, three in Perlis and 14 in Kedah. Hence, the ‘greening’ of the eastern and northern Malay-belt states of the peninsula.
Not only that, PN also made a large sweep in other peninsular states, with 10 out of 24 parliamentary seats in Perak (42%), seven of 15 in Pahang (47%), six of 16 in Selangor (38%), three of six in Malacca (50%) and three mainland seats of 16 in Penang (19%). And more recently, PN won an additional parliamentary seat in Padang Serai, Kedah.
Such an electoral upshot largely indicates a big swing among Malay voters towards a political party they thought could provide spiritual solace in a world that appeared turbulent and uncertain.
But perhaps more importantly, Pas is also seen as an essential bulwark against any attempt to weaken the status of Islam and the Malay “special position” by ‘the enemies’, who may be dangerously communist, immoral, ungodly, anti-Islam or Islamophobic (or a combination of these).
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It would seem that hardline Islam, as a result, has found a home in the hearts of many Malays who fear the seeming threats that emanate from ‘the enemies of the faith’.
In a sense, the line has been drawn in the sand.
On the other hand, the Islam that appears ‘greener’ on the other side is cause for concern for some Muslims in other parts of the country who are used to moderation in the practice of their religion and their interaction with people of other faiths.
This development is also predictably disturbing for minorities of other faiths, who rightly value and expect mutual respect and trust – not fear and suspicion – in order to live peacefully in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia.
Detractors of PN, particularly of Pas, fear that racial bigotry, xenophobia, religious extremism and misogyny have found expression in various forms in the brand of Islam that has been perpetuated over the years.
In response, certain quarters argued that the territories of Sabah and Sarawak, which are predominantly Christian, can serve as a vital Borneo bloc against the rising tide of the green forces in the federation.
Besides, the diversity in Borneo is also seen as another factor that can combat the green onslaught. The Borneo people not only embrace but also live diversity, with ethnicities and religions weaving through their daily lives and even their families.
Additionally, it was contended that a combined force of parliamentary seats in Borneo could provide political leverage for both Sabah and Sarawak to help shape the federal government that is a shade ‘less green’.
This regional bloc may be considered a ‘solution’ to the far-right politics of the Islamist party, but it does not bode well in the long run to have the country being split along religious lines. National cohesion is not made of this.
Nor would it solve issues of religious extremism and racial bigotry within the peninsula itself. Incidentally, there is no quick fix to these challenges.
One of the things that the federal government needs to look into on a long-term basis is a revamp of the schooling system, the standards of which have left much to be desired.
The national curriculum should be redesigned so that schoolchildren can grow up as young adults who have critical faculties to rigorously assess information that is fed to them and make informed decisions.
They should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff – an ability that becomes handy particularly when the time comes for them to go to the ballot box.
The national schools must also adopt a national outlook to pave the groundwork for schoolchildren to embrace diversity and enable them to coexist and work peacefully with people who are different from them.
Religious institutions under the watch of the federal government and the states governed by the PH-Barisan Nasional combo may see to it that the threat of religious extremism is blunted.
The benefits of inclusivity that the ‘unity government’ is promoting must be felt by all Malaysians, particularly those who reside in poverty-stricken and marginalised areas of the Malay heartland.
It is imperative that these people be given a new lease of life by offering them improved standards of living through better schools, good healthcare systems and financial and technical assistance for small businesses, among other public facilities.
Equally important is that development funds are disbursed with transparency, accountability and fairness so that the public is assured that the people’s money is well spent.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s recent warning of the immediate sacking of any minister found abusing power and indulging in corruption is a step in the right direction.
Such prudence and mechanism against corruption can gain badly needed trust, especially from people in the Malay heartland who have seen too many cases of power abuse and corruption in the past.
The many challenges notwithstanding, the ‘unity government’ must forge ahead after making the commitment to work for the benefit of all Malaysians, irrespective of their hues and stripes. – The Malaysian Insight