PETALING JAYA, Feb 9 — The federal Opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) may seek to appeal to voters in this year’s general elections by bringing up nostalgic “good times” in the past under the team of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a forum was told.
Amrita Malhi, a Southeast Asian historian who is also a visiting fellow at Australian National University, was referring to the period when Dr Mahathir and Anwar were the prime minister and deputy prime minister.
Amrita said it was “put to me very explicitly by the Opposition’s strategy people” for the focus to be on the “glory days of the Mahathir-Anwar team” during the “superb time” of 1990s when Malaysia was at its peak and before the struggles from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis began.
She said the federal Opposition’s election campaign would likely be about returning to the good times where there was easy interaction among multiracial Malaysians, noting: “But of course with the proviso as well, getting into place institutional reform to ensure the original dream team can finish only their good work and not their bad work.
“So we have to protect the nation from the bad work they did, but we need to allow them to get back together to finish their project which is to deliver multiracial happiness and prosperity,” she said when talking about one of the possible electoral campaign strategies that the federal Opposition may use.
Former Umno president Dr Mahathir now chairs both the new Opposition party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and the federal Opposition PH, while Anwar is de facto leader of the Opposition party PKR.
Earlier, Amrita spoke of how the federal Opposition had from the 2008 elections worked at demonstrating a multiracial narrative such as making the conscious effort to switch between languages at ceramahs or political speeches for the multilingual crowd and focusing on cross-racial issues such as grocery prices, public transport and alleged electoral fraud; and subsequently dialling up nostalgia levels by reminding voters of “simpler times” of multiracial harmony in the past.
Malaysia Muda activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri said there is only an illusion of change and no real alternative being offered by the federal Opposition, with many voters especially the youths feeling that they are “being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils” and are told that they will be responsible for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition’s return to power in the next elections if they do not vote for the federal Opposition.
While being curious of the reasons of disillusionment driving the youth’s #UndiRosak or spoilt votes campaign, Fadiah said Malaysians are often talked down the moment they try to be critical of politicians and that marginalised voices such as the youths are dismissed by those who do not want a disruption to their bid for the federal Opposition to win.
“What’s wrong with this narrative? It’s very problematic, because it somehow reduces your human dignity, it reduces your rights to just the act of voting,” she said.
The #UndiRosak campaign calling voters to spoil their votes is driven by among other things, dissatisfaction against PH and the announcement that Dr Mahathir would be its candidate for prime minister if the federal Opposition wins the next elections.
The argument that someone who does not vote has no right to voice their opinions is also problematic, as everyone including non-voters and non-citizens should be able to participate in the democratic political process, Fadiah said.
Fadiah said local electoral politics now only revolves around “pragmatism” with voters shamed the moment they talk about ideals and principles, but highlighted the importance of giving space for Malaysians to be critical of the government and Opposition to keep up with changing times and to find solutions to problems such as racism and inequality.
“Everything revolves around you have to vote because you don’t want BN, Umno to be in power, but you are never allowed to be critical of the Opposition for example. You are never allowed to question what are their policies, what are you going to present, you are never even allowed to criticise them when they do something that you cannot accept,” she said of the current dominant political narrative that has to be changed.
She said there was also a need to revive the phrase “people power” that has lost its meaning over time because Malaysians are dependent on the political elites to change for them.
The forum titled “GE14: The polls, the money, the stakes” hosted yesterday by the Australian National University (ANU) Malaysia Institute and Gerakbudaya also had two others as its speakers, namely pollster Merdeka Centre programmes director Ibrahim Suffian and Universiti Malaya’s Professor Edmund Terence Gomez.