Mohamad Radytio Nugrahanto – Indonesia
While it is true that Malaysia itself is having a sociopolitical tectonic shift after the surprising results on May 23, it should never be forgotten that Malaysia’s case brought tremendous changes for the region as well. There are several views on which Malaysia’s election brought changes.
Economic Point of View
The issue of Chinese investment stirred a lot of trouble in the region, not least because China was accused of trapping countries in the region with piles of debt on projects that would not necessarily add net positive in the economy of the country rather serve as a cosmetic investments for the country’s regime to make lofty promotion as if they had done much. This is because while the term of the loans is viewed as unfairly in the long-term, usually it was easy to get one from the Chinese. This is the case in Malaysia, where former Prime Minister Najib Razak managed to get a huge amount of loans from the Chinese being disguised as investments. Yet, the election results showed that Chinese investments can backfire badly, not only in terms of negative impact on the economy but also from the political point of view. In Malaysia’s case, Pakatan Harapan’s leader Mahathir Mohamad used the Chinese investments as a campaign issue, where he tapped into Malay nationalist sentiment by explaining the downsides of Chinese investments. this is successful, since, in the Malaysian state of Johor where Chinese investments’ impact were stroked the most, Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) had unexpectedly suffered defeat so serious that it was not only deprived them of the majority but gave one to Mahathir’s Pakatan. From now on, the leaders in Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia would attempt to distance themselves from the reality that they have signed economic deals with China. This holds true in Indonesia too where Jokowi supporters propagandize his infrastructural achievements while blurred any mention of the fact that those infrastructures are mainly funded by Chinese investment allegedly on unfair terms. Even in Vietnam, a country which shares both land border and communist ideology with China, the government in recent months have adopted hostile tone against the Chinese, following periodic people’s rally against Chinese interests within the country. In conclusion, leaders would think twice to borrow or invite investment from China.
The political point of View
The Malaysian election signaled the rest of Southeast Asia, mostly to ASEAN leaders, that old politics may expire soon? Gone is the era where they can use the mantra of stability or security to hold on to power. Now, people strive for populism and change, they would no longer fear the perceived radicalism, inexperience or age of the opposition. Instead, as in Malaysia’s case, they elected into office the opposition that never governed at national. Furthermore, when Pakatan enlisted a 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamed to be the Prime Minister candidate and promised to appoint more women and non-Malay figures into the cabinet, they gained the ‘radical’ label. Even then, it was the Pakatan which won the election. They showed the ASEAN leaders that fearmongering toward the opposition won’t work. This also materialized in the recently-conducted regional election in Indonesia. Despite the opposition Umma coalition of PKS-Gerindra-PAN were being held responsible for a series of terror attacks in recent years and its leaders were accused of inexperience at the national level, they managed to show strong performance in the election. At one case, a retired army General called Sudrajat who was never elected to any office is projected to win the regional election in West Java. This is mainly because he was painted as a symbol of change, that his political coalition was comprised of the Umma coalition, which represents the ascendancy of clerical power in Indonesia. However, on the downside, another leader took the lesson too far. In Cambodia, the incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen choose to push his allies in the judiciary to permanently barred opposition figures from running the election, despite previously promised to lax the rules that disadvantaging the opposition. Hun Sen is one of those ASEAN leaders who took advantage of Chinese investments to further his electoral advantage.
Societal point of view
Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim’s victory shows another first in Southeast Asia politics, where for the first time in the region’s political history, two political opponents joined hands under one umbrella of the coalition. This is all the more special since the Pakatan itself was already a coalition, most of the political pundits originally can’t even imagine how a coalition of coalitions could take down such an established power as BN. Yet, both the politicians exhibited that a strong will can overcome everything, including incumbency advantages. On a party level, this may pave the way for other aspiring leaders throughout Southeast Asia. Particularly, if the rival is a strong incumbent, you need to set aside your differences and get along together. Already in Thailand, the anti-junta elites started to build rapport among themselves. Take Thaksin Shinawatra, for instance, while he keeps pointing out Democrat party’s betrayal of democracy, he has also shown willingness to build a tactical alliance to win a majority or, at the very least, deprive junta-supported party (ies) of reaching the parliamentary majority. This is because while Thaksin is still popular and expected to muster as strong 40-45 % supports in the polls, he needs at least one party alliance to garner more than 50 % of the votes. On a society level, the people need to fathom the possibility that someday, their preferred political party may build a coalition with the party they don’t necessarily like in order to achieve victory. Furthermore, they need to see that if they manage to set aside petty differences and focus to defeat their actual opponent, they may achieve the same results that were achieved by Mahathir-Anwar coalition.
Suffice it say that Malaysian politics would never be the same in future and it will also shake the electoral politics in Southeast Asia and the region is expected to see more Pakatan Harapan-style coalition in the near future.
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