SEPTEMBER 22 — The recent launch of a new political party, Muda, is an interesting new move in Malaysian politics. Of course, the idea of a multi-racial, multi-religious political party in Malaysia is not, in itself, a new thing.
Since the days of Datuk Onn and the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), the idea of such a party has been floated many times over the years.
The track record of such parties, however, has not been especially stellar. IMP lost out to Umno and the Alliance in the race to win Merdeka; Gerakan made Penang its impregnable base for decades, but today is an abject shell of its former self; PKR won the most number of seats in the 14th General Election, but has been riven by division, and many continue to see the party as primarily a vehicle for the ambitions of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Muda is interesting. It is a party targeted towards younger voters, although not exclusively so. They promise a new politics of service, and disavow the race-based politics that has long been the animating framework of Malaysian politics since even before its inception as an independent nation. Brave and innovative; or naive and impudent?
There are some who dismiss Muda’s founder, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, as naive and impudent. How would this party appeal to an electorate that has long drawn its tribal lines along ethnic divisions? What does “middle Malaysia” really mean — is it merely code for the urban, Bangsar-bubble liberal youth? How would the party raise money?
Many questions remain. But what is especially interesting about the emergence of MUDA is its timing.
On one hand, the old political formulae are certainly breaking down. Barisan Nasional lost power after six decades in government. Longtime nemeses Umno and PAS are now bedfellows. The prime minister is the president of an Umno splinter party, when so many of such parties have come nowhere near to power at the Federal level.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the helm of yet another new Malay-based political party. Young Malays are gaining prominence in the leadership ranks of the DAP. Long-running factionalism in PKR has finally come out into the open.
The old political certainties of the past have been smashed up. New partnerships and coalitions are forming and breaking up. A new political consensus has yet to emerge, to take over from the old.
On the other hand, younger voters are becoming an increasingly important factor in Malaysian elections. These are voters who have lived their lives amidst rising economic prosperity, but fearful of what lies on the other side of this pandemic.
These are voters who take for granted the rapid economic growth of the past half century under BN rule, whose parents have benefited from the various institutions set up by the BN government — Mara, Felda, Tabung Haji — but whose most recent memory of Umno/BN rule is the spectre of 1MDB and the pillaging of those same institutions by politicians of the old guard.
These are voters who no longer depend on media that has been traditionally controlled by political parties, and now get their news from Facebook and Twitter and Cilisos and other media websites. They have far less loyalty to the BN political consensus, and their votes are up for grabs.
Can Muda take advantage of this unique season in Malaysian politics? Perhaps. The challenges are legion, and time is running short. But if its founders are willing and ready to play the long game, we might witness a new realignment in Malaysian politics, and Muda might well be on the leading edge of this disruptive revolution.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.