No national referendum can 45% electorate make?

By Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau, Tuaran MP, UPKO’s Honorary President,
Executive Chairman, WISDOM Foundation


KOTA KINABALU: The Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) framing of the six Malayan states’ elections as a national referendum that can dispose the Federation’s Unity Government exposes both its Malayan- centrism and majoritarianism.

The six Malayan states combined have about 45% of the national electorate. Why should the second decision they made on their own now get to invalidate the decision made by voters from all 13 Malaysian states just nine months ago?

Do the voice of 55% other Malaysian voters – in Sabah, Sarawak, five other Malayan states, and three Federal Territories which are denied state-level elections – simply not count?

Lest Malayan-centrists forget, the Unity Government is supported by 54 out of 57 East Malaysian MPs, from 11 Borneo parties (UPKO, in PH; PBRS, in BN; PBB, PRS, SUPP, PDP, in GPS; Gagasan, PBS, STAR in GRS; KDM, PBM) and chapters of three national parties (DAP, PKR and UMNO). More than ever before, this Federal Government is ours. Segulai, sejalai!

The Unity Government would stay as long as we Borneo parties and parliamentarians support it. I hope my former colleagues, Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee (MP of Beluran, Sabah) and Datuk Ali Biju (MP of Saratok, Sarawak), will always remind their new Malayan partners not to forget or belittle Sabah and Sarawak.

In most cases, referenda are binding. Our state elections do not have binding effect on the composition and sustainability of the Federal Government. Whatever the state elections’ outcome, the Federal Government should stay in power until 18 December 2027.

Yes, voters indeed can vote based on their approval or disapproval of the Federal Government, making it a wind cock, a barometer, a thermometer, a litmus test, whatever you wanna call it, an indicator for the Federal Government to take note.
Such an indicator is not a referendum. It only produces a mid-term election.

In the United States, presidential elections take place every four years. On the third year, another national election takes place, for all 435 seats at the House of Representatives, one- third of Senatorial seats and a over 30 state governments. That’s the mid-term.

Most American Presidents suffered blows in mid-term elections. The Opposition party often seized the control of the House of Representatives and occasionally also of the Senate. But even when the Opposition party controlled both Houses, they won’t just impeach the president for their own candidate to take over.

Why not? American politicians understand well that the mid-term elections only elect, nationally, Representatives and Senators, not President. Even if the president’s popularity has declined, you cannot seize power. Otherwise, US presidential elections would become biannually, and not four years once.

Likewise, our state elections are to elect state elections and by extension, local councils which are appointed by the state government and implement state-level policies.

If we must talk about “referendum” with some real implications, then the state elections may be comparable to a “referendum” on how voters want their state- and local-level public life to be.

By voting or non-voting, voters in Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan can choose to make their states resemble more like or remain distinct from Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. Vice versa for voters of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.

In his first term, Kedah Menteri Besar Mohamad Sanusi has successfully closed down 4D outlets.

Would he someday ban cinemas as PAS did in Kelantan policy-cinema , or impose gender segregation in cinemas, as in Terengganu since 2020, two years after PAS came in power ate_56079 in the name of respect for Islam and morality?

State policies affect not only the rights and freedom of their residents, but also economic prospect, especially in both investment and tourism.

The alternatives between PN and PH-BN is often wrongly framed as a choice of more or less Islam, or more or less concessions given to the ethno-religious minorities.

You can see how flawed this framing is if you have been living amongst multifaith families and communities in Sabah and Sarawak.

Many amongst my Kadazandusun families and friends are pious Muslims. They pray five times a day, refrain from consuming alcohol and pork, and of course they do not gamble.

Do they want their values to be imposed on their non-Muslim families and friends, enforced by state and local authorities? Definitely no.

Because they do not see themselves or anyone else as Allah’s vigilantes on Earth, they are belittled by some Malayans, who sometimes even question their faith.

These Malayans cannot understand we should simply respect each other because we are equal citizens, created differently as equals by Allah, regardless what percentage one’s community constitute in the state or country.

For these Malayans, respect and right are functions of population number – if you have a larger number, you deserve more respect and rights. If you number declines, then the respect and rights conferred to you should also shrink.
Such thinking is called majoritarianism. And it is dangerous.

Majoritarianism leads to number warfare between political and religious leaders on how to convert or co-opt others’ followers. It naturally generates antagonism between domineering and resistance.

It seeks renegotiation of deals with every incremental change. That is how the spirit of inclusion, autonomy and mutual respect – both very Nusantara and Commonwealth (British liberalism) in spirit – in our Malaysia Agreement 1963 was ignored and eroded over 60 years.

This is perhaps why PN wants to frame the six states’ elections as a national referendum, even when 45% of eligible voters cannot make decision for the entire nation. They are just desperate for power.
We must speak up against majoritarianism, not just in state and local governance, but also in federal politics.
If you are a voter, please do so powerfully by simply turning up to vote on polling day, even though this is not a national referendum.

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