The upcoming Johor polls look exciting given that a quarter of the candidates are youth (under-40s), and that 37 women and many parties – some newbies – are competing in a crowded field.
Apart from newly registered youth-based Muda, which supposedly represents the concerns and interests of the young generation, other parties – including those helmed by old and seasoned politicians – are also fielding young, as well as women, candidates.
This political strategy is largely aimed at wooing young and women voters in Johor following the recent implementation of the automatic voter registration and Undi18, with an assumption that young voters have different concerns that need to be addressed.
Youth are also thought to be a game-changer by some.
A total of 239 candidates are vying for the 56 seats in the state assembly. They come from three established coalitions – Barisan Nasional (56 candidates), Perikatan Nasional (56) and Pakatan Harapan (50) – and parties like Pejuang (42), Muda (7), Warisan (6), Parti Bangsa Malaysia (4), Putra (1), Parti Sosialis Malaysia (1) and 16 independents.
Indeed, it is a crowded place where straight fights are impossible. This also means that the opposition is so far divided against the resurrected BN.
Also intriguing is the fact that political allies in the federal government are fiercely competing with one another in a way that reminds us of the adage “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”
‘Friendly fires’ have been shot at the Johor hustings between allies in the ruling pact, like in previous by-elections. For instance, while Bersatu does not mind going to bed with BN in Putrajaya, it berates the emergence of BN candidates deemed unholy supporters of the “court cluster” and corruption in general.
Pas, too, is still holding on to federal power despite president Hadi Awang reportedly calling Umno, its ally in the federal government, a “lame duck”.
Johor Umno deputy chief Nur Jazlan Mohamed recently took a potshot at Pas, saying that the party is devoid of ideas but livid about polygamy and ridiculous ways of how husbands should treat their wives.
This says a lot about the fractured Muafakat Nasional, a pact which ironically was forged by Pas and Umno in 2019 with the supposed aim of uniting the ummah and gaining their support.
Umno has also been mocked for having allowed a convicted felon in the shape of Najib Razak to help lead its electoral campaign in Johor, with the battle cry employed by his supporters “Malu apa, Bossku?” (What is there to be ashamed of, Boss?).
Cynics may be tempted to draw a parallel of such political ironies, which overwhelm the ruling parties to a Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome.
While the ruling parties appear to be quarrelsome with each other in Johor, they do have similar traits in that they are driven by ethno-religious politics and goals.
And not to forget: these Putrajaya allies also got together in a plot called the Sheraton Move in February 2020, triggering the collapse of the then PH government, which had promised substantive social reform.
The kind of politics pursued by the ruling pact often resulted in a wedge being driven between ethnic communities in our multi-ethnic society. That said, advocates of such divisive politics tend to garner support and votes from those who prefer identity politics that valorises exclusivity.
It is in this context that fresher and dynamic narratives are hoped for from the young and women candidates, many of whom are novices.
The challenge for the young and new candidates is to not be hindered by the baggage of the old. This is the very baggage that has held the nation back from making great strides in socioeconomic and political development.
Given the present political environment, can the contenders, especially the newcomers, have the political will to pave the way for a much better Malaysia, a path from which many hardened leaders had shied away owing to vested interests?
While the presence of many candidates may make the Johor voters feel spoiled for choices, what should really matter to the latter is the former’s quality and calibre.
Recent political developments in the country indicate that there is an urgent need for politicians who can become committed representatives of the people.
It is important for the candidates, particularly the young and first-timers, to appreciate that being elected as state assembly members carries the heavy responsibility of serving the people. It is not a passport to self-enrichment and self-aggrandisement at the expense of the people.
In this regard, corruption should not eventually become a way of life for some of these contenders.
While it is important to address issues of basic necessities and infrastructure, such as employment, the cost of living, housing, a reformed education system, improved healthcare and better public transport, these politicians should also deal with such larger concerns as climate change, the environment, institutional reform, justice, accountability and integrity.
Competing politicians in general should strive to be different in significant ways, such as the principles they uphold and socioeconomic objectives pursued, to enable Johor voters to make an informed and better decision as much as possible. Separating the wheat from the chaff is, therefore, crucial. – The Malaysian Insight