Your Title

THE recent ongoing drama and tension over “sockgate” and related race and religious issues in the nation have led some observers in the country to reflect on how politics in the nation can be positively transformed by an East Malaysia-led or influenced wind. That this possibility is not an impossible dream can be inferred by these considerations.

Firstly, unlike in the Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak have historically been more tolerant and diverse in their racial and religious practices. This has enabled the state governments and society to resist and reject pressure from racial and religious extremist forces more easily.

By promoting inclusivity and pluralism, an East Malaysian wind is envisaged to help mitigate the influence of extremist ideologies from whatever quarter.

Secondly, is the much more multiracial and polyglot communities in the two states and the absence of the traumatic May 13 racial chapter of history which transformed Peninsula politics and society. Its dark shadow is still invoked by Peninsula politicians to stifle the nation’s progress to a psychologically and mentally liberated society.

An important, and third consideration is the forthcoming constituency redelineation exercise. Presently, Sabah and Sarawak account for 66, or 25%, of the 222 parliamentary seats. The next redelineation exercise will see the number of seats from the East increase to minimally 33% of the new total, and possibly as high as 50% of the new total number of parliamentary seats. This development has the potential to be a game-changing element in shaping politics and government in the country.

How might an East Malaysian wind in the form of parties and leadership bring much-needed change to the current political landscape? The possibilities run well beyond the ripple effects of the implementation of MA63 (Malaysia Agreement 1963) and realigning federal-state relations, which has been the main focus of East Malaysian parties to date.

From social cohesion to inclusive economic development, environmental sustainability to native rights, and education to infrastructure: there are numerous sectors where East Malaysia can lead the way in driving positive change. This East wind cannot be successful on its own.

The success of political transformation in Malaysia also hinges on the active participation of all stakeholders from East and West, especially the younger generation, including think tanks, professional elites, NGOs, media and businesses – big and small.

It is only through collective action and collaboration that we can overcome the barriers to change and build a progressive, more inclusive and equitable society.

Collaboration among stakeholders from wherever they are – and not just from Putrajaya and the capital cities – is key for leveraging local and regional interests and driving national change.

Here is a possible framework for how parties in East Malaysia can collaborate to form a cohesive bloc:

Identifying common goals and priorities

Parties in East Malaysia should convene to arrive at shared objectives and priorities that resonate with the people’s interests and aspirations.

Common goals can include identifying and effectively addressing the root causes of racial and religious tensions; strengthening the everyday ways to fight racism and injustice; and taking action against systemic discriminatory structures and policies that lead to inequalities in outcomes and beyond. This includes clamping down on extremism such as that we are witnessing with “sockgate” that threatens the spirit of multiracialism and impacts the livelihood of innocent employees and their families.

If action is not taken against errant divisive forces, we will see a greater outflow of local and foreign businesses and a downgrading of the nation’s attraction to new investment.

Once this balance has been restored, only then can we progress, as other countries in the region have, without the distractions from extremists and polarising forces intent on imposing their narrowly constricted racial and religious values onto the rest of the country.

Continuous dialogues among East Malaysian parties and stakeholders

Any ongoing dialogue and collaboration should be strengthened and expanded, allowing participating parties to engage other parties and stakeholders to discuss strategies, coordinate actions and address differences constructively.

Collaboration should extend beyond political parties to include civil society organisations, community leaders and grassroots movements.

By engaging with diverse stakeholders, the bloc can strengthen its legitimacy, broaden its support base and ensure that its agenda reflects the needs of the people.

As a united bloc, parties in East Malaysia can then leverage their collective influence to advocate for policy reforms and legislative initiatives that advance the two states and national interest. The bloc can also then use its political weight to more effectively negotiate with other political stakeholders.

Coordinating electoral strategies

Needless to say, political parties exploring opportunities for strategic collaboration to maximise their collective impact should begin discussions as early as possible to avoid potential problems and to start groundwork early on a common platform.

If candidate selection can be agreed upon sooner than later, voters will be more inclined to decide on the right candidate on election day.

Commitment to save Malaysia

East Malaysian parties now possess the advantage of being courted in national issues and policies due to the evolving and fluid political environment.

With the current power dynamics, contrasting ideologies and competing interests in the Peninsula, East Malaysian parties and politicians now hold the opportunity to drive bold messages and actions of reform and unity which can contribute to a better – and not the same – Malaysia.

It is not only numbers that count. It will be the combination of quality, pragmatism and idealism in the East wind that can make the difference in government and policy making and implementation that comes after the next general election.

This is drawn from a three-part series on East Malaysia and Malaysian politics by Lim Teck Ghee, Murray Hunter and Carolyn Khor. Comments:

$!Bringing wind of change in politics