MALAYSIA’S 15th General Election (GE15) on Nov 19 is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the future direction of this nation’s politics. If no party or coalition wins a thundering majority, an era of coalition politics, like the one under caretaker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and scores of parliamentary democracies around the world, may become the norm.
This is not altogether a bad thing if one looks at the significant Constitutional reforms brought about by the shaky but enduring coalition headed by Ismail Sabri and his ability to work with the Opposition on matters of common interest.
A very significant reform was the anti-party hopping law that may reduce political opportunism and contribute to government stability.
Sabah and Sarawak may be able to change the country’s political landscape by determining which party or coalition forms the next Federal Government.
This is because Sabah has 25 seats in the Dewan Rakyat and Sarawak 31. Their 56 Members of Parliament, if united, constitute 50% of the magic number of 112 (of the total 222 seats) to form the Federal Government.
Federal-state relations, especially with Sabah and Sarawak, will have to accommodate state assertiveness in some areas. The heavy central bias in our federal system may be corrected.
If the election does not produce a steam-roller majority in the Dewan Rakyat (as elections did from 1957 to 2008), this may consolidate the role of Parliament as the grand inquest of the nation to keep the political Executive answerable, accountable and responsible to the representatives of the people.
Among the unprecedented aspects of the 2022 electoral exercise is that, for the first time in Malaysian electoral history, 18-year-olds are eligible to cast their vote and, most remarkably, to contest a seat in the Dewan Rakyat and the state assemblies. This is due to the commendable Undi18 electoral reform of 2022. There may be a significant impact of the newfound power of young citizens on national policies and priorities.
About 6.23 million eligible electors who did not register as voters will now have an automatic right to participate in democracy’s iconic exercise because of AVR, automatic voter registration.
As a consequence of electoral reforms, the electorate’s size has increased massively from 15 million voters in 2017 to 21.7 million in 2022.
Of these eligible voters, 51% are said to be below 40 years of age.
This may encourage those ensconced in power to redraw the nation’s priorities and show more sensitivity to issues that impact the youth: education, scholarships, employment opportunities, inflation and public transport.
However, a counter factor is that most of the nation’s youth reside in urban areas which are generally under-represented in our mal-proportioned electoral constituencies.
There is also the problem of young voter apathy in many parts of the world, including Britain.
Another unprecedented factor in GE15 is that it is primarily for the federal legislature and not for the state assemblies: 10 out of 13 states have refused the federal invitation, as is their Constitutional right, to dissolve their assemblies and hold concurrent elections with this premature federal exercise.
This means that voters in 10 states plus the Federal Territories will be issued with only one (federal election) ballot paper. Voters in three states will be required to fill out two ballot papers – one for the federal and the other for the state legislature.
Whoever wins the federal election will have to work with PAS-led state governments in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu; Pakatan-led governments in Penang, Negri Sembilan and Selangor; and Barisan Nasional-led governments in Johor, Melaka, Pahang, Perak and Perlis.
Sabah is governed by its state-based Gabungan Rakyat Sabah coalition and Sarawak by the Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition.
Unlike in Singapore and 21 other countries where voting is mandatory, in Malaysia voting is a civic responsibility but not a legal duty.
One hopes, however, that all voters will go out to vote. Not voting is giving up your voice and refusing to participate in a process that may affect the quality of your life and the rights of your community and your future generations.
Voting is an opportunity for desirable changes to the laws and policies that affect our future.
Vote for the best candidates irrespective of their party affiliation, religion, race or gender.
There are good and bad candidates in every political party and organisation. Support candidates with integrity and ability. Support candidates who are clean, competent and caring. There are quite a few.
Support candidates whose platform reflects your hopes, aspirations and dreams for yourself and your nation.
Break away from the tired old rhetoric of identity politics. Do not let the emotional appeal of race and religion divert you from the pervasive issues of unemployment, inflation and predatory development policies that cause environmental degradation.
Express your concern against widespread corruption and your desire for integrity, good governance, economic development, poverty eradication, quality education and good infrastructure.
Please remember: Every vote matters.
Emeritus Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi holds the Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair at Universiti Malaya.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.