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Still Struggling With Bangsa Malaysia

Do you accept that this part of the world is the “Malay region”? You don’t? Then you need to leave Malaysia.

This is what some of our Malay Muslim youth think. Also, they believe that non-Malay Muslims can only hold important government posts such as Attorney General, Chief Justice or Finance Minister after they swear to accept Malay supremacy. And that despite dominating politics and government institutions, Malays are still threatened because non-Malays control the economy.

These were among the views expressed by Malay Muslim voters aged 18 to 20, many of them first time voters, in focus group discussions with Dr Abdul Muqit Muhammad, a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Malay Studies Academy.

These attitudes among this crucial cohort of voters have shaped the results of the 15th General Elections (GE15) in November last year and the state polls in August this year where political parties that played up racial and religious sentiments made huge gains in Malay heartland seats, says Abdul Muqit.

“Ethnic and identity politics is still strong in this country. [Even though] we constantly say we want a new kind of politics,” says Abdul Muqit, adding that instead of playing up racial and religious fears, Malaysians should be debating policies and laws.

“But that is not happening if we look at trends among younger voters,” he tells Sunday Star in a recent interview.

The discussions were conducted during and after GE15 and in the lead up to the six state elections in August.

Abdul Muqit and his colleagues interviewed small groups of young voters in Kelantan, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Pahang and Terengganu, and shared some of their preliminary findings with Sunday Star. Their full findings will be released at a soon-to-be-announced academic convention.

How they voted

About 7.8 million new voters were reportedly added to the electoral roll when the voting age was lowered to 18 and automatic voter registration was instituted. Of these, 3.8 million were 18-year-olds.

Opposition bloc Perikatan Nasional is led by Malay nationalist party Bersatu and Islamist party PAS. Its officials, such as Bersatu Youth leader Wan Zikri Afthar Ishak, attributed its stunning victories to support from young voters.

Public opinion research firm Merdeka Centre reported that in GE15, 37% of young voters chose Perikatan, 35% voted for Paka-tan Harapan, and 23% voted for Barisan Nasional, which is led by Umno.The Opposition bloc has used and continues to use religious rhetoric in its election campaigns. The most recent example of this was in the Pulai and Simpang Jeram by-elections in Johor, where Perikatan chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin declared that it was forbidden in Islam, or “haram”, to vote for its rival, Pakatan.

Bangsa Malaysia remains unresolved

The idea to study how first time voters related to politics and what they thought about concepts such as bangsa Malaysia occurred to Abdul Muqit during the first Pakatan Harapan administration which ran from 2018 to 2020.

“I set out to find out the attitudes of the Undi18 generation because the common assumption was that they would be open-minded, that they were more exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. That they won’t fall easily into the frame of identity politics like their parents did.

“What we found was the opposite. They actually reflected their parents’ perceptions about politics and nation-building.

“They won’t admit it themselves, but you can see the influence in the GE15 results,” says Abdul Muqit.

Perceptions usually attributed to older Malay Muslim voters, such as fear of non-Malays and the need for Malay-centric political parties, have been passed on to their children, he says.

The lack of dedicated civics education in public schools which could have introduced concepts such as Bangsa Malaysia and taught students about the Constitution and basic structures of government, creates a void of knowledge about Malaysian society among younger voters.

This vacuum is then filled by the world views of the older generation says Abdul Muqit.

What colours their attitudes even further is that when members of this generation looks for information on politics, they go to social media, especially TikTok.

“Narratives on TikTok have a strong connection to PAS because the party has dominated this platform for several years now. Many of their religious preachers are encouraged to create content on TikTok and they have become influencers.”

Another influential type of content creators among Malay Muslim youths are so-called experts who spew pseudo-history about Malaysia, says Abdul Muqit.

“So because you have no civics education in schools, this social media content becomes the source of political education for these youth.”

But the education system is not the only reason why such attitudes persist among a significant chunk of the population even after three generations have grown up in an independent Malaysia – Abdul Muqit argues that an even more important and structural cause is because Malaysians have not settled the fundamental question of what and who comprises Bangsa Malaysia.

“It’s why we can’t resolve challenges like meritocracy and decide who should receive affirmative action. The problems we have inherited today are due to this history of not solving the Bangsa Malaysia question.

“And it is made worse by identity politics,” he adds.

Source : The Star