Last month, Thomas Fann, who is the chairman of the electoral watchdog, Bersih, said that the six state (Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan) elections were about the governance of the states and had nothing to do with the federal government, the 3Rs (race, religion, royalty), or the national economy.
He said, “We have to elect better state governments and hold them accountable for their past performances and their future promises.”
However, many Malaysians disagree. Their reasons for going to the polls are different from those of Bersih.
They said the state polls will be a test of the eight-month old Unity Government led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
If Harapan does badly in the state elections, or if the status quo is maintained, then it will be a wake-up call for Anwar’s Madani government.
He will become a lame duck PM, and will rule over a disunited coalition in an already severely divided nation.
A bad result does not auger well for Anwar, Harapan or the Unity government in GE16.
Besides the state polls being a test of Anwar’s Madani administration, it is also a judgment of the effectiveness of Anwar’s leadership.
Thus far, he is struggling to persuade the Malays that he is not a stooge of the DAP, or that he is not a lapdog for Umno-Baru and also that he can protect the Malays and defend Islam better than PAS.
The state polls will also determine the effectiveness of Umno-Baru president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s leadership and more importantly, his future in politics.
Without Zahid and Umno-Baru, and a bad state polls outcome, then Anwar’s goose is cooked. The East Malaysian parties will then make their moves and may possibly gravitate towards the Perikatan Nasional coalition.
This will spell the end of Anwar’s tenure as PM.
Malaysians have also been left wondering if the outcome of the state polls will ascertain if Zahid’s alleged corruption trials will continue, or if the chess pieces have already been strategically positioned and charges against him miraculously dropped.
What will the rakyat’s reaction be if that were the case?
The state polls have also been a severe restraint and bind on columnists, reporters, sociopolitical observers and bloggers. They want the state polls to be over as quickly as possible.
With so much at stake for the politicians and big corporations, freedom of the media and freedom of expression are severely curtailed.
Writers are finding it increasingly difficult to write without fear or favor on issues which are meaningful and of importance to the rakyat.
Religion, race and the legal system have all been weaponized. Putrajaya is not helping because Anwar crisscrossing borders and visiting these states give credence to the belief that the state polls is a referendum on the federal government.
Lawsuits, demands for apology, police reports and threats against columnists and bloggers have been issued and made public in both mainstream and alternative newspapers and on social media.
With Malaysians treating the polls as a referendum on the Putrajaya government, it is a pity that the message by Bersih has been overshadowed.
People in their respective states are affected by local issues. Problems associated with water in one state may impact differently on the people in other states.
For instance, in Kelantan, water supply problems mean that the water coming out of the taps is like teh tarik.
In Selangor, water shortages are a frequent feature, and discharge of pollutants from factories affect the quality of water.
In Kedah, indiscriminate logging has caused flash floods such as the terrible tragedy of the recent flooding in the Baling area 13 months ago.
That is not to say that the other states do not have problems of flash flooding because climate change exacerbated by illegal logging has caused denudation and deforestation and has contributed to serious flooding issues in many states.
Local businesses and the way communities do business in their locality are state problems.
The state of Selangor with its many highly industrial facilities will have different rules and regulations on the more agricultural based industries of the northern states of Kedah and Kelantan, or the electronics-driven industry of Penang.
Tourism in each of the different states is also another local issue.
Penang boasts of its colonial past and centuries of foreign influence. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. Terengganu with is beaches, islands and history of culture and tradition is a haven for ecotourism.
The management of solid waste which includes household, industrial, commercial, construction waste and e-waste varies widely from state to state.
Both local environmental pollution and public health are affected by the effectiveness of a solid waste management program.
Does privatization work? In Sungai Petani, Kedah, residents have huge issues because the illegal burning of e-waste means they struggle to breathe clean air. And they have also found that the rivers and soils are contaminated because of the seepage of e-waste metals.
How do the local authorities deal with these issues?
All these are compelling reasons for the voters to heed Thomas’ advice.
A high voter turnout in the state polls is crucial if voters want to decide who will form the state government and how the state is administered by the local authorities.
Local issues affect local people. Don’t waste your vote!
- Malaysiakini: State polls not referendum on federal govt, Bersih reminds voters
- Free Malaysia Today: Sea of waste found on banks of Sungai Muda in Kedah
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)