Kimanis by-election: Focus on shared prosperity vision over identity politics

Are we not exhausted of playing the race-religion agenda and motive in gaining support of the people?


IDENTITY politics, where race and religion play an undeniably powerful primordial force that could incite a community to be confrontational or hostile against another community, has taken root for quite a long time in Malaysia.

But are we not exhausted of playing the race-religion agenda and motive in gaining support of the people?

However, the question remains: Why do race and religion need to be politicised to win the rakyat’s votes in the first place? It is possible to champion the interests of the people without going overboard on matters related to race and religion.

The significance of racial and religious emotions lies within its capacity of bringing together or tearing apart communities. Thus, this is the reason politicians of all stripes are prone to arousing racial and religious sentiments to gain political mileage.

Malaysia has practised racial-based politics for decades, and politicians will harp on sensitive issues ostensibly on the pretext that they are representing their respective communities. This is unhealthy and toxic because such politicking does not promote national unity, but it undermines nation-building.

The defining characteristic in Malaysian politics is the division of citizens into Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera. While the motive and intent behind the classification are to ensure the Bumiputeras are not left behind in terms of socio-economic, non-Bumiputeras are made to feel marginalised.

So, the cycle of race and religion politicisation continues to dictate political debates and discourses. It is an unending pattern of race and religion exploitation to achieve political ends.

The then dominant Umno was renowned for playing up racial and religious issues on the pretext the party was the undoubted defender of Malay rights and Islam. It is now in a strategic alliance with PAS under Muafakat Nasional.

The upcoming Kimanis by-election in Sabah, which will be held on Jan 18, will not be any different from other elections in general. Identity politics will still be the focus of the campaign.

Although race and religion are not as politicised in East Malaysia compared to Peninsular Malaysia, the presence of Umno in the context of the newly formed Muafakat Nasional could bring a negative impact. The political division along racial and religious lines could heighten.

This is because the parties will be mainly identified with a certain race or religion, and therefore pitted against one another on that basis. It is arguable that Umno might want to tacitly play up the race and religion card, but in a subtle way by pitting PBS (Parti Bersatu Sabah) against Warisan.

Umno is already raising the issue of the Sabah temporary pass (PSS). In what amounts to dog-whistle politics, Umno is trying to insinuate that the Warisan-led Sabah state government is trying to bring in Muslim migrants from the southern Philippines via the PSS.

Ideally, race and religion should be an asset to bridge the gap and build harmony among communities and not a licence to play a “holier-than-thou” game. In the case of Sabah, the people are quite emphatic in not wanting to see a divisive culture on the basis of race and religion.

The Voters’ Intention to Vote (VIV) model formulated by EMIR Research Sdn Bhd indicates that racial and religious motives are not the contributing factors in voters’ intention to vote. In fact, the manifesto fulfilment and future expectation are what people anticipate.

The VIV model indicates that manifesto fulfilment and future expectations of the people are found to have a direct positive impact on the Government Satisfaction Index.

Why Does the Race-religion Approach Irrelevant to Sabah?

Sabah is blessed with a multi-ethnic and multireligious population. For the record, there are 42 ethnic groups with over 200 sub-ethnic groups with their own language, culture and beliefs. Despite its diversity, Sabah has always emphasised on unity and harmony.

Mohd Shafie has always highlighted the need to maintain the practice of recognising, accepting and respecting each other regardless of race and religion

The political landscape in Sabah is different than in Peninsular Malaysia. Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal has always highlighted the need to maintain the practice of recognising, accepting and respecting each other regardless of race and religion, and to always practise the moderate approach and avoid extremism, including in politics.

However, it is depressing to see there are efforts by several political parties that tend to promote and spread extreme race- or religion-based politics to deepen differences, and arouse anger and hate among the people in the hope of gaining political support.

There are many other matters that require critical attention and that are close to the heart of Sabahans. The access to basic facilities like proper roads, clean water, electricity, infrastructure and public transportation, not to mention access to technologies, employment and illegal immigration, remain issues to be addressed.

What Should We Focus On?

Kimanis is situated in the west coast division of Sabah. Most of the population in the district are involved in the aqua-cultural and agricultural sectors which make up their source of income.

Rich in natural resources, most of the land area in Kimanis are used for commodity plantation such as rubber, oil palm and watermelon. Most importantly, Kimanis is also well-known for its oil and gas resources, making it an important industrial town that creates jobs for the locals.

Political parties should focus on improving the local economy and the livelihood of the people. Therefore, political issues during the campaign should be about jobs, wages, transportation, infrastructure and access to basic facilities.

An example of this is the recent initiative by the head of fisheries and aquatic resources development to allocate budget to reconstruct and improve the 15-year-old impoverished jetty and fishery barn in Kimanis.

The poor state of the jetty and fisheries barn has affected more than 500 fishermen in the area. The reconstruction and upgrade will provide better facilities to cater to the fishermen.

Race and religion do not have a place in Kimanis. Attending issues at hand is what we need to focus on and is parallel to the country’s shared prosperity vision. 2020 is a year to see more development that is not exclusive, but rather inclusive.

Dayang Shuzaidah is a research analyst at EMIR Research. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.