Why should the world be concerned about the Malaysia’s election?
The Malaysia’s May 5th election witnessed a record turnout rate of 85% and concluded with the Barisan Nasional (BN) winning 60% of the parliament seats with only 41% of the total votes, inspiring accusations of gerrymandering.1 The campaigning and election process was tainted with allegations of phantom voters, ‘indelible’ ink, missing boxes and blackout which engendered protests in Malaysia over the incumbent’s political credibility.2 The election worsened the divide between believers of ethnic diversity and proponents of racist policies, which can tear the intricate social fabric in this pro-Malay society and create distrust in the ruling party. While Malaysians have expressed disappointment over the election results and have made use of physical demonstrations and virtual social media platforms like Facebook to express their agony (such as by switching to pitch black profile pictures to mock the blackout during the election), this alleged electoral fraud has not garnered sufficient attention from superpowers like the United States or even neighbouring brother like Singapore. I argue that countries should be worried about the election chicanery as it can potentially weaken the political belief of democracy and world trade.
The Malaysians have absolute reasons to worry about the election artifice. Firstly, if the acts of gerrymandering and results manipulations are proven true, it exposes the questionable level of integrity in their country’s top leaders. The election commission which currently reports to the Prime Minister’s office has insisted that the elections results are hard truths that the opposition has to accept despite wide disbelief among the opposition supporters.3 A loss of faith in the election and political system spells troubles for future governance where political disputes may hinder the implementation of necessary policies to reform the nation. Secondly, the Malaysians ought to worry about the social stability of their nation after the election. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) remains as a racially-divisive and pro-Malay part of BN to appeal to rural Malays. Mr Najid has also blamed BN’s losses on a ‘Chinese tsunami’ which spurred anti-Chinese headlines in the press.4 Ethnic animosity, although may not grow to the same scale as the one that culminated in the violent 13 May 1969 incident, is clearly present and is set to rekindle following greater alienation of the Chinese from the pro-Malay society. Thirdly, the economic uncertainty following the election is a concern to Malaysians. Datuk Hamidi, the newly-appointed Home Minister commented that non-believers of the election results should ‘pack up and emigrate’. This statement demonstrated his sheer ignorance of the issues of brain drain in Malaysia and the danger of the nation losing its competitive edge as countries such as China and India develop as manufacturing hubs and African nations open their rich natural resources to the world. It is estimated that 10% of Malaysia’s tertiary-educated workforce has left and the Malaysian government faces an arduous task in attracting them back to the nation despite offering better job opportunities and tax breaks.5 Furthermore, although China is not likely to sacrifice its current trade ties with Malaysia because of an election fraud (China often turns a blind eye to abuse of civil rights to achieve their economic agenda6), trade volumes between the two nations may stagnant or experience staggering growth as the Malaysian Chinese who are important bridges migrate.7 Therefore, Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity, should be concerned about the future development of their nation as the election fraud can produce negative political, social and economic implications.
While opposition rallies have mushroomed after the election to protest against the election fraud, nations other than Malaysia do not seem to be paying sufficient attention to the election outcome. Mr Anwar commented sarcastically that Mr Obama is impervious to the outrage in Malaysia8 and has even recognised the BN as the incoming ruling party for self-vested reason that Malaysia stays as a potential partner for asylum seekers.9 It is, however, not surprising to understand why countries are maintaining a neutral stance against this election outcome. Governments in the distant United States or even contiguous Singapore have their own problems to resolve and Malaysians’ problems are definitely not their priorities. The Singapore government faces the challenge of a potent opposition who have just won a recent by-election10 and the Obama administration has its own share of worries over arms legislation and infringement of citizens’ privacy through Prism.11 Logically, working with the BN also offers political and economic stability as the BN has held powers since post-British colonial periods. Furthermore, governments worldwide should probably be aware by now that the ultimate decisions on any claims of election fraud lie in the hands of the legal (or unfortunately political) systems in the respective nations and foreign governments do not have actual influence on them. The United States have previously taken a strong stance against unfair election practices but it now chooses to play supportive roles to newly-elected governments even in clearly corrupt results such as those in Egypt and Iran.12,13 It is arguably wise to avoid criticising incoming political parties to avoid jeopardising future ties.
Although there are valid reasons to remain neutral or to give clear signals to disgruntled Malaysians that foreign nation is not going to intervene in their domestic issues (such as in the case of Singapore suspending the work permits of Malaysian protesters demonstrating in Merlion Park14), I argue that this stance is dangerous as the world ought to be as concerned about the election fraud and outcome just like the discontented Malaysians. Malaysia is one of the few democratic nations in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the international group second only to the United Nations. By turning a blind eye to this particular election outcome, foreign countries, especially those founded on democracy, indirectly send the signal that it is alright to compromise political belief as long as their countries’ interests are guarded. The other member states in OIC are either governed by authoritarianism or often experienced unfair elections. The Malaysia election incident may encourage similar incidents in the future, allowing election malpractices to propagate and bloom. Next, by accepting the election outcome at face value, foreign nations are also suggesting to their own citizens that civil rights are secondary to stability and self-vested interests. Undoubtedly, this may appeal to some citizens who feel that their governments should focus on domestic governance instead of intervening in international affairs. However, citizens should worry that other countries would behave the same way should similar incidents happen in their nations. Lastly, opposition rallies and dissatisfaction that are sprouting in Malaysia can clearly affects investors’ mood and disrupt productive work. Malaysia shares important trade relations in oil and tin with the world and also on agricultural produce with neighbouring nations. In addition, it is also the largest the Islamic banking and financial centre.15 Countries need to worry about the cost of public discontentment escalating into riots that can undermine trades.
Election frauds are not uncommon in today’s world and many people around the world have chosen not to take part in voting either for fear of security or due to their lack of confidence in the election process.16 However, Malaysia had a record turnout rate, showing that its people are yearning for the eradication of cronyism that has corrupt the nation. The enthusiasm of the Malaysians was perversely met with election fraud, which unsurprisingly, gave rise to widespread anger and protest movements in the nation. It is justified for the Malaysians to worry about the future developments in their nation and countries around the world ought to be as concerned as well. The election outcome may seem to offer political and economic stability but this is just but a temporary benefit. By condoning election fraud in Malaysia, a major Islamic country, democratic countries are sending a wrong signal to other Islamic states that they can turn a blind eye to abuse of civil rights as long as their interests are affected. This may give rise to a nonchalant attitude and come back to haunt the world should similar incidents happen in the future. Furthermore, dissatisfaction among the Malaysians may erupt into riots that can harm international trades considering Malaysia’s role as a major tin producer and Islamic banking centre. Mr Najid’s promise to reform the nation’s corrupt system and achieve a 1Malaysia goal is laudable. It seems likely that the claims of election fraud would be overturned and the BN would remain as the ruling party for the next five years. The opposition party should thus try to work with the BN to develop a truly diverse and multi-cultural Malaysian society but at the same time, try to use the next five years to grow as a stronger alternative to the BN. Likewise, foreign countries need to pay close attention to the BN’s governance and make use of teachable opportunities to remind the BN of their promise to their citizens. In this way, Malaysia can become a constructive Islamic partner to the world and demonstrate the possibility of a synergy between democracy and the Islam religion.
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3. The Economist (2013). "Tawdry victory." Retrieved 15-6-2013, 2013, from http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21577375-government-scrapes-homeallegedly-aided-vote-rigging-tawdry-victory.
4. The Economist (2013). "Malaysia’s election: A dangerous result." Retrieved 15-6-2013, 2013, from http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21577390-after-tainted-election-victory-najib-razak-needs-show-his-reformist-mettle-dangerous.
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9. Yaxley L. (2013). "Xenophon accuses Labor of ignoring Malaysia election fraud." Retrieved 15-6-2013, 2013, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-05-06/4672856.
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12. Maza C. (2012). "Egypt Presidential Election Results: Muslim Brotherhood Victory Forces Obama to Rethink U.S. Middle East Policy." Retrieved 15-6-2013, 2013, from http://www.policymic.com/articles/9705/egypt-presidential-election-results-muslim-brotherhood-victory-forces-obama-to-rethink-u-s-middle-east-policy.
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