Now that the reverberations from Donald Trump’s shock win of the US presidency are more or less piping down — except for some who can’t come to terms with it! — what can we learn from this?
From my perspective, just one thing: Don’t antagonize any section of the voting public!
If politicians introduce policies and initiatives which make any sizeable group of voters uneasy and feel slighted, it will become apparent on the ballot paper — like it has in the recent US presidential elections.
Mostly white middle-class America was largely responsible for Trump’s triumph. According to BBC News, whites made up 70% of the electorate in the elections. There was an increase in white, working class votes for the Republican candidate. These votes traditionally went to the Democrats but in this election they switched to Trump.
Trump tapped into the underlying concerns of white middle-class America, such as jobs, housing, loans, religion (mostly Christian in background) and other middle-class issues which the Democrats either ignored, dismissed, neglected or sacrificed to appease their special-interests supporters (Hispanics, blacks, LGBT groups, the working class). Many white, middle-class Americans supported the Democratic agenda but it seemed to have backfired because their concerns were left unattended. In Trump they found legitimacy for their concerns.
A similar scenario may be playing out here in Malaysia. The Malay vote is split. Umno and the alliance it leads, the Barisan Nasional (BN), has suffered as a result of the attrition in Malay and non-Malay support. The are hanging on as the ruling government by the skin of their teeth, mainly due to East Malaysian support (In Sabah that seems to be breaking down, too, with many leaving Umno to join Warisan, the new opposition front there.)
The opposition, on the other hand, won on urban Malay and non-Malay support. They are seeking all sorts of ways to increase Malay and East Malaysian bumiputra support and apparently making some headway in Sabah. In Peninsular Malaysia, however, getting more Malay support is an uphill task.
The problem is understandable: If Malays give the opposition their support, will their own Malay concerns be addressed? Or, will they be sacrificed for the “greater good” of reforms and inclusiveness? As long as the Malays — and, especially, those in Umno — feel that their interests may be sold out or put at risk, they will be wary of switching sides.
Some of them are certainly absurdly belligerent, but many — like in the case of many white middle-class Americans — are willing to support the Opposition agenda but there must be strong assurances that their interests would also be included. The current trend to antagonize them because of the stupidity of a few will only reinforce their wariness and may result in a swing back to the BN.
It doesn’t pay to antagonize any group of voters, and, particularly, if they are the bulk of the votes, which, in Malaysia are the bumiputras.
The opposition needs to think carefully of the initiative they take to unseat incumbent Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his BN government. Under no circumstances should they antagonize Umno supporters for the sake of getting rid of one man, for the simple reason that a swing from this block of voters will give the opposition the majority they want.
That’s the reason why Bersih 2 (The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) must be cautioned about its Nov 19 rally. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t hold a rally. But, it must be confident that it won’t pit one group of Malays and their supporters against another group of Malays and their supporters. Going on a confrontational-collision course with the other side at the risk of violence will estrange the very Malays whose support is being wooed. That would be the opposition’s loss in the general elections.
A better alternative may be to be peacemakers. In America, even if a joker becomes president, the country will remain stable because there is rule of law and institutions abide by it. In Malaysia, everyone interprets the law to their advantage, and a nasty confrontation may be adverse to the nation.
I believe, elder statesmen, especially, must take the initiative to reach out to their former supporters in Umno and to East Malaysian bumiputras in peace. A fatherly, non-confrontational, peaceful gesture to include Malay interests rather than sideline them will yield positive results, and, it will be good for all in the nation.