Could Malaysian politics finally be reaching puberty?

Could Malaysian politics finally be reaching puberty?
By Zan Azlee

There is something about this coming general election that just seems a little bit off. It could be because it is some sort of a snap election before the actual five-year term is over and also the fact that it would seem that caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was pressured into dissolving Parliament by his Umno superiors.

It could also be because of voter and political fatigue. In the last four years, we have seen too much instability and infighting that we are just sick and tired of it. We saw this happening after the 2013 general election when Pakatan Rakyat had won the popular vote but lost the election. Remember the Black 505 rally?

But it could also be because this coming election is an election that we are all just unsure about. Everything that is familiar when it comes to politics and elections in Malaysia does not exist currently. Let me sound it out and you all just hear me out for a bit.

Is there a favourite to win?

For 63 years, Malaysians have been so used to seeing only one government, which is the BN government. They have been so dominant in every single general election that for the last decades, it has always been a given that they will win. The only drama is to predict and see how big or small the winning majority margin would be.

This happened in 2008 when BN won the election but saw the opposition parliamentary seats increase and also the fall of five state assemblies from BN hands. It was a big leap forward considering the times. Everyone knew BN would win, but the win wasn’t as big.

It happened again in 2013. BN still won the general election to form the government. But more seats fell to the opposition, and they no longer had a bulk two-thirds majority in Parliament. Nevertheless, the incumbents and favourites still won and that was it.

However, this time around, because of what happened in the 2018 general election when Pakatan Harapan finally managed to demolish BN and win the government, things are different. The people have already seen that BN is no longer invincible and can actually lose.

But we also know that the win was short-lived, and all kinds of political wrangling took place and we saw component parties of BN eventually coming back into power in the government. Honestly, I think this has screwed up the emotional stability of the people. Maybe more people are jaded now and just frustrated.

No longer clear and strong coalitions

Again, for six decades, we have seen a dominant BN coalition that won over and over again. The opposition existed but was not very united until probably between 2004 and 2008 when they finally formed Pakatan Rakyat (which eventually evolved into Pakatan Harapan).

Basically, it was clear-cut because there were two teams going against each other. It’s like football. Brazil vs Spain. Liverpool vs Manchester United. Selangor vs Johor Darul Takzim. It was easy to fire up and motivate the people to vote (no matter which side they wanted to support).

It is a different story today. There are at least three coalitions that will be heading into the election separately – BN, Harapan and Perikatan Nasional (PN). Then there are also the East Malaysia coalitions like Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS).

The people can’t see clearly who could win because it is highly unlikely that a single coalition would be able to form the government on its own. What would most likely happen is that a few coalitions might enter into a post-election agreement to form a government.

This means that it could be unclear what the government would look like and this is probably causing some anxiety for the people. Whatever clear manifestos that each coalition has will be diluted if an agreement happens because there are bound to be compromises between the parties.

The young voters’ element

There is also the youth factor because after Undi18 was passed, we now have an increase in the number of voters, specifically those between the ages of 18 and 21. Malaysian politicians have never had to pay attention to this age group before and it seems they still aren’t paying enough attention.

There has also been an increase in voters who have passed 21 years of age, and so the accumulated increment of new voters is estimated to be almost six million people. Although the percentage of these voters isn’t in the majority (it comes up to about 28 percent of total voters), it is still quite significant.

Many people seem to think that the youth are still a little bit immature to be given the responsibility to determine the government, but I beg to differ. They know what they want, and they are very responsible and rational. If the politicians don’t pay attention to them, then they (the politicians) might have to suffer the consequences in the polls.

News and information

If I give you a history of the development of the news media in Malaysia, this article could go on for way too long. But suffice to say, that the news media today is way different than it was thirty or twenty years ago when there were only a limited number of news outlets (and many were monopolised by those in power).

Today, there are numerous news outlets that it would be impossible for us to be able to consume everything comprehensively. That’s not even counting social media where non-news outlets (including politicians and political parties) can also spread their voices and expressions.

The people are so exposed, aware and informed about everything (of course, the risk of being misinformed is high too!). What this means is that voters who are going to the polls would have processed all that they know in order to make the best decision that they deem is fit for them. This can be quite unpredictable too when you factor in the points I mentioned above.

But to be honest, I see all of this as very positive and progressive developments in the Malaysian political landscape. Basically, it disperses the centralisation of power and authority to make it more equal. Isn’t there a favourite that you can see winning? Then great because it means that it is open enough for the best man to win.

Will there be a post-election agreement among those who have won seats? Most likely and although we won’t know what the agreement would look like now, the give-and-take process will mean that it will be a win-win one. The fact that no coalition can be so strong also means that the agreement will most likely be honoured.

Is the youth vote going to be unpredictable? Yes, and that is great too because who else has more at stake in the future of the country other than youth? We need fresh ideas and approaches anyway. If we are to just rely on the veterans who have been around, what good will that bring? Just take a look at how it’s gone so far, right?

So, is the 2022 general election going to be the mother of all elections? I guess I can’t answer that definitively. But I can say that it might be the actual tipping point of when our political scene could start going through puberty and maturing into adulthood. Let’s see how it goes.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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