Malaysians started going to the polls this morning to elect a new parliament. New in this election: Malaysia won six million new voters, due to the lowering of the right to vote to 18 years and automatic registration on the electoral lists. With this electorate of unprecedented size and a diversification of political offers, these elections are thus subject to many unknowns. But the ethnic question remains the big factor.
From our correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, Gabrielle Marshals
While the Malaysian press is already naming this ballot “ the most uncertain in the history of the country », one thing remains certain: the Malaysians do not shun the ballot box. Turnout is up, along with hopes of a return to stability after two years of political uncertaintyfor these voters in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur:
” I came thinking of my children, my grandchildren, I am waiting for them to change “says Shaima. ” I am 78 year. Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country but I hope that this election will allow us to find harmony and will be done without tension. Jabar continues.
Shaima and Jabar went to vote early this morning, to avoid being trapped by the heavy rains predicted for this afternoon, which could disrupt this poll.
They waited more than an hour to be able to enter the voting booth, where for the first time cell phones are prohibited. The measure is intended to combat corruption risksby making it impossible for parties to pay voters who would send them a photo of themselves in the voting booth, with a ballot choosing their candidate.
The ethnic question at the heart of the elections
All eyes are on the majority Muslim Malay ethnic group in the country. Because for decades Malaysia has implemented very advanced policies of positive discrimination in order to favor the Malays, considered disadvantaged compared to the Indian and Chinese minorities of the country. Representing 63% of the population, the Malays remain, vote after vote, the key electorate. A demographic reality that pushes many political camps to try everything to seduce them.
Malaysia may come out of two years of political uncertainty, economic and health, for its politicians, the election is above all a question of ethnicity. Mahathir Mohamad, veteran of Malaysian politics and new candidate, assumes it bluntly when he speaks:
Whether we are sorry or not, people vote according to their ethnicity and a candidate of Chinese origin in a Malay village will never win.
And when asked about what differentiates his party from other Malaysian nationalist parties, his answer does not bother with great explanations either:
It’s true that today there are many pro-Malaysian political parties today, but there are good Malays and bad Malays, choose the good Malays!
Choosing between all the Malay parties is one of the challenges of this election, with now no less than four political parties positioning themselves as the defenders of this ethnic group. The diversity of supply generates more and more identity discourses in an attempt to convince them, notes Oh Ei Sun, Malaysian researcher at the Institute of International Affairs in Singapore:
It’s a vicious circle. These different parties feed their own rhetoric, which encourages others to outbid.
A diversity of supply which could also compromise the chances of finding an absolute majority and relaunch the practice of opportunistic and fragile alliance games, to which Malaysia has subscribed in recent years.
In Malaysia, ethnicity plays an important role in elections
” Malaysia has never known political stability »
While the country has seen three Prime Ministers succeed each other in 3 years, the main issue of these elections “ is the aspect of political stability ” and the ” cleansing of the malaysian political class “, according to Victor Germain, specialist in Malaysia and former researcher at the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (Irserm).
The big issue in these elections is the aspect of political stability. In fact, there are two. There is political stability, since Malaysia has never known that: we don’t talk about it. However, it is a big economic player in Southeast Asia, and it is a complete slump where nobody understands anything and the Malaysians themselves are completely tired. So, quite quickly, we could have a lack of interest and a return of this political class, from the Umno [Organisation nationale unifiée malaise], which is completely corrupted. And what is at stake is both political stability and the “cleansing”, “grooming” of the Malaysian political class. And to this, we must add something else, even if the great candidates for the post of Prime Minister are old, it is the involvement of young people. Youth are not apathetic in Malaysia. Youth thinks, youth is free-spirited. Malaysia is not a dictatorship. It is a democracy in the strict sense, but not in the Russian way. But, in any case, it is true that young people are not very involved in politics and that very often, especially among the Malays, there is a lot of clientelism: we say to ourselves “we must keep the ethnic consensus because that allows the majority of young people to have jobs
“Malaysia has never known political stability”, explains Victor Germain, specialist in Malaysia and former research fellow at Irserm.
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