Globally, 2016 was a watershed year for politics. Unexpected events, such as Brexit in the UK and the victory of Donald Trump in the US Presidential elections shook long-held certainties.
Some have seen these episodes that the obvious choice would be to appeal to the right-wing, anti-immigration rhetoric that made them a reality. But that ignores the other side of the story – the US of Trump and UK of Brexit was also the US of Bernie Sanders and the UK of Jeremy Corbyn – political figures that succeeded by pursuing radical agendas beyond the mainstream. Furthermore, the Trump and Brexit episodes happened partly because of the same reasons that propelled Sanders and Corbyn: a disillusionment with the prevalent economic system.
What does this have to do with Malaysia? With the continuous stoking of racial and religious sentiment by the UMNO-BN political establishment, it will be a matter of time before more extreme policies become more mainstream, before more demagogues become successful.
Same as elsewhere, the underlying tensions are economic. More Malaysians – of all races, but especially the Malays and Bumiputera that make up the majority of the poor – are being left behind. Young Malaysians suffer the most. They take on more and more debts. Education becomes more scarce and expensive. Available jobs, if any, are measly. Owning a home becomes an increasingly distant dream.
While the UMNO-BN administration becomes embroiled in more corruption scandals, it is only by offering the Malaysian public radical alternatives that addresses these concerns that the Opposition can prevent a ‘Donald Trump’ from winning power in Malaysia.