Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently said that the 14th general election (GE14) will be held within the next 180 days, which is six months from now. Apart from political parties, there has not been much enthusiasm from citizens, or, at least, not much that has been expressed in anticipation of GE14.
Perhaps, people are just fatigued. Despite huge support for the opposition in the past three elections, the status quo remains. It’s as if the Barisan Nasional (BN) can’t be dislodged. Well, in the past, perhaps. But, in the current realities, there’s a good chance for the opposition alliance, Pakatan Harapan (PH), to take over the reins of government.
It all depends on which side the voters, especially the Malays and East Malaysians, pick. The Malay vote is clearly split. With Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi) now with PH, some support from Umno’s (the Malay-based party now leading the incumbent BN government) traditional base may have left.
What kind of Malay support, then, remains with Umno? The BN component parties and the mostly rural vote that have kept them in power. The latter are the largely conservative Malays. The urban Malays and the Malay intelligentsia are mostly in Selangor, which is an opposition-held state. Many other Malays who can’t identify with conservative Islam are now in the PH camp.
Those remaining in Umno’s support base are conservative. These and those like them are the ones Umno is now courting, presumably with PAS’s (Malaysian Islamic party) help.
Voters need to know well in advance of GE14 what kind of people the opposing sides represent. If they vote for the BN, they will be casting a vote in favour of Islamic conservatism because that’s the kind of people left to Umno to woo over to their side.
BN parties representing minorities will inevitably be supporting the rise of Islamic conservatism with their continued support of Umno. For the sake of the East Malaysian vote, which has a Christian majority in Sarawak and a significant percentage of Christians in Sabah, Umno may downplay conservative Islamic elements in their effort to win more of the Muslim vote.
If Umno’s strategy succeeds, they will be committed to deliver to their conservative Islamic support and that may put minority interests at risk.
Christian-based parties in Sabah and Sarawak have to think through carefully of the extent they will bend over backwards to accommodate Umno’s efforts to win the conservative Islamic vote.
Continued support of a party which has no choice but to reach out to the conservative Islamic factions in the country can only backfire and the losers will only be minority groups.
Who we vote into power in GE14 will determine if we inadvertently open the door for conservative Islam to gain a larger say in government or if we close the door to it.