Voters are now beginning to place importance in issues that “transcend ethnic boundaries”, said Agus.
Although race-based politics will still be a part of the Malaysian political landscape, analysts have said that voters are more “mature” and moving away from casting their votes based on their ethnicity.
The analysts were responding to former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent remark that race will be the main issue in the 13th general election that must called by next April.
“It won’t be racial issues, but issues like the economy, justice, alternative media, corruption and young voters,” said Datuk Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff, a political analyst from UKM, in disagreement with Dr Mahathir’s view.
Pointing out that “these are universal issues that transcend ethnic boundaries”, Agus said that “both sides are going to face an uphill task” to win support from the Malaysian electorate.
Faisal Hazis, a political scientist from Unimas, said “racial politics has been in Malaysia for a long time” due to the “kind of policies the ruling party has adopted”.
“But racial politics has been slowly diluted,” Faisal said, adding that “there has been an emergence of new multiracial politics” over the past decade while agreeing that people now “discuss more on issues rather than race”.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan from the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) also said, “Society is trying to make up its mind on who to vote, as they decide they will look at issues instead of ethnic identities.”
However he noted that: “It has always been about race. To me what will happen as we get closer to elections, all ethnic-based political parties will make sure all issues are turned into ethnic-based issues”
“Their sole existence is based on fighting for ethnic-based issues; it is in their interest to do so.”
Wan Saiful said that “there [is] rhetoric on the need for multi-racial policies” by both the ruling Barisan National (BN) coalition and federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat but they have still failed to truly carry it out “in reality”.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has pushed his “1 Malaysia” concept in a bid to change BN’s image as a coalition made up of race-based parties, with the more prominent examples being Umno, MIC and MCA.
Najib’s administration had rolled out various plans to benefit the public regardless of race, including student vouchers and one-off RM500 handouts to low-income households under the Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) scheme.
The three main opposition parties — DAP, PAS and PKR — have also tried to show a multiracial stance.
Wan Saiful said all political parties “should focus on policies for Malaysians as a whole rather than harping on and on about ethnic groups.”
Earlier this week, Dr Mahathir had said BN’s weakness after losing its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament in the March 2008 election has forced the coalition to cater to various racial demands.
“In this country, we are very racist, even more than before. The next election is going to be about race. Who gives what, who gets what based on race. When the government is weak, it caters to demands which are not going to be good for the country in the long run,” he said.
Najib’s predecessor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, had also in March said: “We are always concerned about race. Because there is a tendency for certain parties to make use of these issues, as a way of getting support for them and creating problems for us.”