Malaysian elections: a “powder keg” of ethnic tension and societal cracks

Malaysian elections: a “powder keg” of ethnic tension and societal cracks

Malaysia swore in its fourth prime minister in four years amidst the climate of ongoing political instability within November. The sudden dissolution of Sabri Yaakob’s government plus prompt snap political election also resulted in the particular country’s first ever hung parliament.

According to Malaysia’s metabolic rate, a party or coalition is required to win 112 of 222 chairs in order to form a number government. But simply by winning only 82 seats, the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition emerged as the frontrunner leaving the country inside a state of political limbo. Ultimately, the constitutional monarch associated with Malaysia, Yang di-Pertuan Agong, stepped into state Anwar Ibrahim, the leading applicant, prime minister to  an opposition-led govt.  

While the Malaysian canton seemingly aligned on their own to political applicants, parties, and coalitions along the lines of economic plan and trustworthiness in the build-up to the election, the hung parliament revealed that political instability triggers a positive return to societal department and fragmentation together ethnic lines.  

Ethnic marginalisation is a constitutional issue

Ethnic Chinese and Indian native Malaysians are commonly considered ‘second-class’ people, with political elites benefitting from particular safeguards in Article 153 of the Malaysian constitution, which usually privileges Malays, and also the native populations associated with Sabah and Sarawak, over the country’s ethnic minorities.

Jobless Malaysian Indian, Mahendran Kelepan, 41, postures with his daughter Sharmati Mahendran, 5, a month before the 2018 polls. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP 

While the Malay people represents 50. 4% of the total populace,   23. 7% is Chinese plus 7. 1% is usually Indian, many of whom came to Malaysia as labourers in the eighteenth and 20th centuries. While Malaysia was rich in natural resources, its population had been small, with its labour force being beneath 2 million till the 20th century. To fill this gap, British colonialists introduced Indian labourers in order to Malaysia to work on rubber plantations and Chinese labourers to work in tin mines, leaving most economic development to Indian and Chinese immigrants.  

Ultimately, ethnic Malays found themselves at an economic disadvantage upon independence, leading the particular post-colonial government to generate provisions to promote and protect the Malay majority.  

As a result, cultural Malays have appreciated constitutional privileges considering that Malaysia’s independence in 1957, as well as other provisions that include the particular safeguarding of public service positions, scholarships, educational and exercising privileges, and permits and licences, for the Malay population. Initially intended as an yes action programme to fix the economic marginalisation of ethnic Malays brought on by British colonial rule, these provisions now breed resentment with many ethnic minorities calling it oppression. There are growing concerns over the country’s segregated schooling system, because of religious schooling specifications, language divisions and restrictions, and even value, with some calling it an “educational apartheid”. According to Index Mundi’s Ethnic Discrimination Survey , Malaysia features because the second most hurtful country globally, second only to South Africa.  

This latest record-setting politics turmoil resulted in a resurgence of ethnic tensions, with both police and social media platform TikTok urging Malaysians to refrain from publicising violent and inflammatory content online after a series of videos featuring weapons and referencing the country’s good bloody race riots. The videos referenced the 1969 13 May Incident in which an estimated eight hundred died on the roads of Kuala Lumpur.

Therefore, it seems that ethnic tensions in Malaysia are simmering just below the top, ready to boil over and dissolve any ‘pseudo’ unity, when politics instability becomes a lot of. It is only an issue of time before the powder keg explodes once again.

Malaysian line inside a polling station in Bera, during the 15th general political election in Bera, Malaysia’s Pahang state upon 19 November, 2022. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP

Political unrest

While the nation provides experienced rapid modernisation and economic development, race relations continue to be fragile. The trauma of the 13 May Incident continues to live on in the nation’s collective memory, with many politicians warning against challenging Article 153 as well as its privileging of the Malay population, in the name of peace.

This particular fragility was sorely felt in the country’s most recent constitutional problems in February 2020. Ultimately, political elites reconfigured coalition alliances, removing the particular then-prime minister Mahatir Mohamad from workplace and overturning the end result of the 2018 federal election. Not only did this undermine the electorate’s decision, however the resulting political uncertainty also greatly impeded its ability to react to the Covid-19 pandemic , exacerbating the challenges of many Malaysian citizens. Legislators were slow to determine restrictions and regulations, and vaccine shortages were rampant. This saga has also led to soaring inflation and food costs.  

This crisis had not been as short-lived because everyone expected. The resignation of Mahatir Mohamad in 2020 after only two years in office led to the appointment associated with Muhyiddin Yassin because the new prime ressortchef (umgangssprachlich) placing one of the opposition coalitions, Perikatan Nasional, in power. But unelected  by the Malaysian people and subsequently struggling for legitimacy, Yassin resigned in August 2021, causing the office to Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who reinstated the dominant coalition Barisan Lokal back in power. Only one year later, Yaakob’s parliament was blended and the November 2022 snap polls led to the election of Anwar Ibrahim, reputed for his zero threshold attitude towards corruption, as a new political leader.  

This outcome represents only one of a series of quick, successive changes in management, ultimately signalling a period of great political turmoil and coalition fragmentation. Many are now expecting that the government borne out of this year’s take election, the 15th general election (GE15), will represent an interval of political stability. Malaysians can only hope that Anwar will complete his five-year term and give the economy a chance to recuperate.  

Malaysia’s new Primary Minister Anwar Ibrahim signing documents on his first day at the top Minister’s Office within Putrajaya. Photo: Wazari Wazir/AFP

Believe in as a key in order to stability?

A Universiti Utara Malaysia survey conducted prior to the election suggests that the Malaysian electorate was primarily concerned with a candidate’s trustworthiness plus perceived capacity for corruption, rather than with ethnic allegiances. Given the surge in ethnic tensions in the consequences of the hung parliament, however , this ‘pseudo’ unity quickly evaporated with the onset of political turmoil. The survey showed that will Muhyiddin Yassin plus Anwar Ibrahim had been perceived to be the most trustworthy leaders in the land. This focus on rely on is unsurprising in a country where data corruption is a growing worry.

Since recently as 2015, Malaysia was marred by a state capture scandal, known as the 1MDB scandal. Great in the state advancement fund, the 1MDB fund, were syphoned off and used to buy luxuries – such as jewellery, residence and art – and even to fund the Golden Globe award-winning film The Wolf of Wall Street. The proliferation of corruption and embezzlement scandals in the Malaysian newscycle appears to have led to the electorate prioritising anti-corruption policies over the correction of ethnic marginalisation.   Given his pledge to fight corruption, it is unsurprising that Anwar arrived as the frontrunner within the GE15. However , his victory short of 30 parliamentary seats and the hung parliament triggering a resurgence in ethnic tensions, apparently anti-corruption and financial policies were unable to sufficiently unite Malaysians across ethnic groups.    

Corruption, nevertheless , is not the only way that money played a significant role in this year’s election. In the wake up of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Malaysian economic climate has struggled, with pumpiing raising by 3. 1% between January plus August 2022. Likewise, according to a Fitch Solutions prediction, the country’s GDP growth will fall to 4% in 2023 from the nine. 4% growth characterising the first three quarters of 2022. Therefore, the promotion associated with economic growth and job creation had been at the forefront of most voters’ minds.

The importance of their state of the economy within the GE15 was additional exacerbated by the embrace youth voters. This particular being the first common election since the 2019 constitutional amendment lowering the voting age through 21 to 18, an additional 6 million constituents were added to the particular voters’ roll. Furthermore, these constituents were particularly concerned with economic growth and the suggested policies put forward by various candidates. This really is unsurprising given that youngsters unemployment has been steadily increasing since 2019, currently standing with 15. 6% . Furthermore, the memory of the 1969 race riots is, naturally, falling in the minds’ of Malaysia’s 20-year olds. And so, these young voters no doubt prioritise their own job opportunities and economic prosperity over ethnic sections.  

Economic and anti-corruption policies were consequently top of brain for the Malaysian constituency – not the reformation of Malay affirmative action programs, which disadvantage Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese plus Indian populations. But with civic and politics rights informing financial rights and possibilities, these marginalised groups will not be able to improve their economic prospects while  jobs and scholarship grants continue to be reserved for that Malay community. The cap on economic freedoms will remain securely in place.

Keeping this inevitability in mind, the sooner the particular marginalisation is tackled, the better. Suppression is only going to grow resentment and anger. This year’s hung parliament is a clear example of how these two emotions carry on and build in Malaysia – any semblance of unity more than anti-corruption and economic policies is a fallacy. Unless this marginalisation is addressed, it really is only a matter of your time before these ethnic tensions manifest directly into physical violence. Steam should be released slowly prior to society combusts.

Stephanie Wild will be assistant editor in the Journal of Politics Risk and a creative copywriter for The Dandelion Philosophy, a the socially-conscious, global business.