In search of ‘Middle Malaysia’
Is “Middle Malaysia” a new breed of voters who want more accountability from the government? Or is it merely political sloganeering? Last Sunday, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng told members of his party that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) would have to take the middle ground and focus their efforts on these voters, as they can send the federal opposition to Putrajaya.
Lim, who is also Chief Minister of Penang, also said it was incumbent upon Pakatan Rakyat to create a more moderate, more tolerant Malaysia that is “Middle Malaysia.”
Ibrahim Suffian, who is the director of the independent research firm Merdeka Center, believes that the times have indeed changed over the past few decades and Malaysian voters are now more “sophisticated.” He is of the opinion that they will vote based on pragmatic issues rather than political allegiance, largely because they are more informed now about what is happening in the country.
“Middle Malaysia prefers co-operation not conflict, consultation instead of confrontation and an inclusive, shared society rather than an exclusive, separate society.
“We want no part of the extremist fringes with pronouncements and positions that frighten off any decent Malaysian,” Lim had said in his opening address during the DAP National Convention over the weekend in Ipoh.
Lim said the other component parties within PR such as PAS and PKR had also successfully taken the middle ground by addressing various issues, the latest being the controversy surrounding the usage of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.
However, many people remain divided over the identity of these “Middle Malaysians”.
“My take on the matter is that for the past five decades, Barisan National has had the key winning formula… thus managing in the past to occupy the centre stage. The ‘middle ground’ at that point of time meant capturing each ethnic group, something which component parties like Umno, MCA and MIC had managed to do.
“Right now, we’re looking at a situation where many of these same component parties have lost the middle ground. What constitutes the term ‘middle’ now does not mean capturing each ethnic group,” explained Ibrahim, who compared the “Middle Malaysia” of today to the Democrats in the United States.
He believes that DAP’s pitch to Middle Malaysia will help garner Pakatan Rakyat more votes in the next general election.
“Yes, it will help them (PR) in getting votes. The way constituencies are designed is that one-half are what you call mixed seats, which leaves the other half, or 45 per cent or so Malay-majority seats. Whichever party gains the support of the mixed seats as well as a substantial support of the Malay voters will get the numbers needed.”
He added that the people who occupy the middle ground right now are not necessarily politically-inclined and will vote based on issues of the day that concern Malaysians.
“We look at PAS’ position on the issue of ‘Allah’ and we can see that PAS is taking a middle path on the matter. This is a risk taken by PAS, as they are still somewhat counting on their hardcore voters to remain loyal.”
However, Ibrahim cautioned that as the next general election draws closer, what defines the current middle ground can also change again.
Not everyone shares Ibrahim’s optimism though.
Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a political analyst, is sceptical on “Middle Malaysians” being the majority of voters in the country and harshly criticised DAP for misconceiving the definition of “middle.”
“In Malaysia, there is no such thing as middle voters. They (DAP) have messed up their calculations. The idea of middle voters is in their imagination… if they do not conceptualise their ideas properly, it can backfire,” said Shamsul, director of the Institute of Ethnic Studies (Kita) in UKM.
The academic firmly believes that in the case of constituencies, voters are still split on an ethnic level, and not all voters necessarily reside in the area that they vote in.
He claims that 30 per cent of voters in a constituency are urban folk who come from rural areas, hence they have different interests in mind and do not care about “local issues.”
“The situation is like this. You have three types of constituencies in Malaysia; the Chinese, Malay/Bumiputeras and the mixed group. These groups, which make up 70 per cent of voters, are generally politically-inclined towards a certain party, be it opposition or government.
“This leaves the 30 per cent which I have mentioned earlier are not local voters… these are the only ones divided between voting on either the government or the opposition. Where are your middle voters then?” questioned Shamsul.
Barisan National had in the past commanded the support of “Middle Malaysians”, who represent the bulk of Malaysians, admits DAP’s Tony Pua.
He agreed that times have changed and now moderate Malaysians have an idea of the Malaysia that they would want to live in and Pakatan Rakyat has made it their responsibility to ensure that the notions of moderation, equality and justice for all are kept a tangible reality, not just dreams or ideals.
Pua, who is Petaling Jaya Utara MP, took great pains to explain that “Middle Malaysia” was not a slogan or a concept, rather a description of people in the centre of the Malaysian voting sphere.
“‘Middle Malaysians’ could be sitting on the fence or may not be on the fence when it comes to voting, but they share these moderate ideals about what our country should be. Barisan National’s old formula has been broken down. People no longer see race-based parties as viable or acceptable,” said Pua.
Whether they are indeed representative of “Middle Malaysia” or not, perhaps the time has come for Malaysians to decide on stability and results rather than political rhetoric.