We have just witnessed the unbelievable results of the 14th general election (GE14) with a change of government from the Barisan Nasional (BN) to Pakatan Harapan (PH). Most opinion polls, academics and commentators did not forecast the scale of PH victory nor the mass movement on the ground ushering in a new age for democracy and good governance in Malaysia.
As one reflects on these events, we cannot but acknowledge the hand of God in events of the world and a response to pray for a just and fair government for a better Malaysia for all Malaysians. With a new government in place at both the Federal and many State levels, let us continue to pray for our leaders to govern with justice and fairness and be accountable to the people with the fear of God in their hearts.
As I reflect on GE14 and the future, let me highlight three key points that will require Christians as responsible citizens to continue to play their role in society as salt and light (Matt.5:13-14).
It is amazing to see the peaceful transition of power. While the Election Commission did not play an independent role nor make the announcements of election results early, nonetheless by June 10, 2018, a new Prime Minister had been sworn in and eventually the Deputy Prime Minister and other key Ministers appointed to the Cabinet.
In the past, the May 13 bogeyman would be released to instil fear among the people that any change would result in bloodshed; however, this was not true. Malaysians of all ethnic communities voted for change and the majority of parliamentary seats went to PH. In my assessment, this is not just a Chinese, or Indian or Malay or Dusun-Kadazan or Iban tsunami but a Malaysia tsunami and desire for change.
We need to keep reminding politicians that this is the reality and get them to downplay both race and religion in the choices people make. The majority had voted for change, which resulted in a peaceful transition that surprised the world, especially our ASEAN neighbours. We must continue to remember that this change, from South to North – Johor, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Perak, Penang, and Kedah – and Sabah in East Malaysia, was possible because of the silent Malay voters who switched from BN to PH.
We can take this peaceful transition for granted but as Christian citizens of Malaysia we must play the peace-maker and peace-builder role (Matt. 5:9), ensuring our close relationship with people of all ethnic communities. We must foster peaceful living and a greater sense of appreciation of our diversity. We must see all as God’s creation and the covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:9) as a dimension that needs to be captured in Malaysian society so as to build a rainbow community of all people.
While PH secured a majority of the parliamentary seats to form the Federal Government, we must recognise that it secured only 47.9% of the popular vote. BN secured 33.8% and a majority of the parliamentary seats in Malay-Muslim majority constituencies while PAS won 16.9%, also in Malay-Muslim majority areas. Based on popular showing, almost half of the voters in GE14 did not support PH. There are therefore some major implications.
The major one is that PAS managed to form the state government in Kelantan and Terengganu. They won a significant number of seats in Kedah and almost became kingmakers in Perak. Altogether, they won 18 parliamentary seats. It was forecasted that they would not be able to win a single parliamentary seat. There is a strong Islamic following, which Prof. Shamsul calls the “moral constituency”. This core group, especially from the Malay-Muslim community, are ideological supporters of PAS and would not vote for BN or PH. Likewise we must recognise that Umno captured a majority of the Malay majority parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia, i.e. 47 parliamentary seats.
We need to reflect and note that there are different aspirations and visions in the remaking of a Malaysian society. A simple illustration is the threefold aspiration for Malaysia. There is the Muslim or Islamic dominant view where the Islamic laws will become supreme over civil law. There is a Malay-Malaysia where the ethnic Malay is dominant and others have a place; the other communities will be subservient to the majority race. Here, ethnicity and religion play a role in an ethno-religious nationalist way. The third is a Malaysia for all Malaysians but one which still holds a Constitutional balance between equality of Article 8 and the special position of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, including Article 153’s legitimate interest of others.
We have witnessed the differing views and contestation on the appointment of a non-Malay-Muslim Finance Minister and the Attorney General. In both cases, the Prime Minister went by the guidelines of the Federal Constitution but not by the sentiments of sections of the Malaysian society.
Some have said change and reform had been too rapid; others had disagreed. We must be wise and at the same time, engage with all sections with the right constitutional understanding. Over the years, there has been much distortion of knowledge and understanding. We must have open conversations but at the same time, be sensitive to all views and aspirations.
Often, Christian citizens are isolated and therefore, we must enter the public space, exercising our democratic rights and engaging with especially Malay and Muslim groups. For that we must improve our Bahasa Malaysia communication skill and develop an appreciation of the Malay culture. We could engage at both formal and informal levels but key is building friendship and fostering good neighbourliness. We need to understand the Malay-Muslim narrative and play a role in ensuring that it becomes a Malaysian narrative and not an exclusively extreme race and religion one.
The new PH government has ushered in political and economic institutional reforms. These were promised in the PH manifesto in strengthening good governance, accountability and human rights. The setting up of various special committees is testament to the political will. The major role is one of reviewing the separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and legislature in line with the Federal Constitution. In this context, the repeal of oppressive legislation and space for democratic freedom is most critical. The 1MDB abuses and national debt are other major challenges for the new government.
Within the Christian community are major talented and professionally qualified people who could volunteer their time for the institutional reforms. Those with legal expertise, financial and banking including investments, audit and financial controls, administration and execution could all volunteer for national service to strengthen the process of reform. Civil society provides a good avenue. Civil society organisations (CSO) have created a CSO platform for Reform, with KOMAS providing coordination. CSO have organised themselves in thematic areas and have been making collective presentations to the Institutional Reform Committee (IRC). At a second level, CSO are also seeking to relate directly with Ministries and agencies directing specific matters on women and children, security laws, human rights and election reform, etc.
On May 28, 2018, I had the opportunity to lead a team from the CSO platform to meet all the five IRC members. They were open to hear our views, especially on addressing ethnic relations and conflict, poverty and inequality as well as fostering a human rights culture. Christian citizens could play an active role in religious freedom issues and concerns for all religious groups. More than inter-religious dialogue is engagement and trust building to resolve conflicts. One proposed system could be community mediation centres.
As Christian citizens, we can monitor the promises made via the PH Manifesto, 100-day promises, and the institutional reform for greater openness, transparency, accountability and fairness to all communities. We need to pray for the Cabinet, all members of parliament, and members of the judiciary as well as the civil service (1 Tim. 2: 1-2). Let us pray that all will carry out their services without fear or favour. Imperative is that we abide by the advice of a mother as found in Proverbs 31:8-9. We must become the voice of the voiceless, irrespective of ethnicity and religion. More well qualified Christians should apply for government service and play an effective role as Joseph (Gen. 41:39-40) and Daniel (Dan. 1:18-21).
Many of us can see the rise in patriotic feelings for the nation, especially in the way Malaysians have been responding to the Government’s crowdfunding initiative, Tabung Harapan Fund. As citizens, we can do our part in assisting the Federal Government in settling its debts caused by the previous administration’s mismanagement of funds. Whether big or small, we can respond through this vehicle, and also be found faithful as Scripture instructs us to pay our taxes (Rom. 13:6).
But most of all as Christian citizens, we must do what is good as required by God and act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). May God give us the vision and strength in our responsibility as citizens of Malaysia.
Denison Jayasooria is Practice Professor for public advocacy & Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, UKM. He and his wife, Datin Rose Cheng Jayasooria, worship at DUMC, PJ where he is advisor of the Citizens Network for a Better Malaysia CNBM).
By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria “Your Vote is Useless Unless you cast It. Asian Beacon” Issue 50 #1 Jan-March 2018