New government but still stuck in old game

SEPTEMBER 2 — IT is no surprise that Pakatan Harapan (PH) has suddenly found itself on the wrong side of the youths. Surely the euphoria of a regime change cannot last forever.

A recent study by think tank Iman Research, based on focus group discussions with the demographic, found that youths feel suspicious towards the coalition, despite voting them into power.

The bulk of the suspicion is focused on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with many cynical about his political past and hold him responsible for some of the country’s human rights atrocities.

A majority was worried about the return of “Mahathirism” — what some call the mix of political ruthlessness, a pro-Malay attitude, privatisation, and sweetheart deals for allies and cronies.

They also felt that Dr Mahathir has risen in power and authority as the prime minister, even as PH pledged reforms to curtail the power of the office.

The study found youths were frustrated by the persistent attack on the previous administration and its policies, caring more about what the PH government aims to do next rather than exposés about the past.

The same study also found youths, especially young women, furious with Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s handling of the child marriage issue — accusing her of doing little, being vague, and hiding behind “religious excuses.”

She was also criticised for being seen as politically weak — seemingly acting as a political puppet or seat warmer who acts on the instruction of her husband, Anwar Ibrahim.

Now is the chance for the New Malaysia government to throw out the old playbook and truly do things differently. — Picture by Commons.wikimedia.org
Now is the chance for the New Malaysia government to throw out the old playbook and truly do things differently. — Picture by Commons.wikimedia.org

In a forum the same week, a researcher with independent pollster Merdeka Center found that youth’s satisfaction with PH has dropped significantly as the government reached its 100th day.

Empowered by renewed freedom of speech, the youths became more daring when speaking up against PH’s policies and blunders.

We may have a new government after May 9, but the fact remains that they remain chained to the old political game and playing by the same rules.

Prior to the election, PH had touted the duo of Dr Mahathir and Anwar as a return to the momentous administration prior to 1998.

Today, this feels more and more like a trap that may keep Malaysia 20 years back.

Part of the problem is the composition of PH leadership, especially Dr Mahathir’s PPBM, and the Cabinet — which includes those formerly in Umno and BN, a concern among the youths in the Iman Research study.

But even more worrying and vexing is the insistence of PH to continue playing with racial and religious cards. This is the chance for the country to move beyond such a framework of politics, and yet PH still ends up getting dragged down by such issues.

Its main opposition is now Umno, a Malay nationalist party whose six-decade dominance was due to subverting the Bumiputera, and PAS, an Islamist party blinded and dulled by faith — it is no surprise that it will continue to harp on Malays and Islam.

It is the only way they know how to operate, and it is the only way they feel they can survive and stay relevant.

But PH, a multicultural coalition despite an uneasy alliance with another Malay nationalist party and a Muslim democrat one, should move beyond this myopic way of government.

Putrajaya should know better to not be too defensive when it comes to issues such as the use of Malay language and recognising UEC in education.

And it must not continue disenfranchising the LGBT community just to burnish its Islamic image, especially when members of the government remain painfully ignorant and simply too dense to understand the issues beyond their narrow religious lens.

Just this past week, both Dr Wan Azizah and minister in charge of religious affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa continued to talk about the issue when the controversy has long quieted down — not to offer much-needed solace and support for the marginalised, but merely to defend themselves and tarnish whatever bad image PH now has when it comes to discrimination.

Many young Malaysians voted PH not necessarily for the then opposition pact, but mostly to vote BN out — in order to open up opportunities and possibilities for a better future, that was before this totally shut down by the previous regime.

That better future may not even come from PH, or not ever, if it continues its current trajectory.

For youths, inspiration can be found in the crop of political parties across the world that are led by fresh faces with no political baggage, that stand not only on the platform of social justice, but more importantly inclusivity.

We see that with our neighbour’s Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI), which recently called on PH after the polls.

The leftist PSI is staunchly pluralist and progressive, and is not ashamed to focus on women’s rights — with its chairman itself a woman, former journalist Grace Natalie, 36.

It does not accept former members of other parties. Its members must register before they turn 45, and most of its members are as young as the 20-30 years old bracket.

In the United States, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been making waves since last year, with its wide variety of progressive stances in environment, feminism, and opposition to capitalism, racism, and imperialism.

In June, DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, shockingly defeated a Democrat congressman in a primary race, and is currently one of the youngest nominees for the Congress.

Six weeks later, another DSA member Rashida Tlaib, 42, won another primary, and since she was unopposed, will become the first Muslim Palestinian-American woman in Congress.

It is not as if Malaysia does not have its young talents and idealists. But without such a platform, they may have to just defer to the old men in their parties, who have little incentive to let fresher mentalities and progressive focus prevail, besides mere tokenism.

Left behind in the game, our young politicians may just succumb to the same old playbook. And the youths, and Malaysia, will keep on losing.