Will Donald Trump’s victory encourage UMNO to pursue a similarly divisive path in Malaysia?

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, 9th of November, 2016

Will Donald Trump’s victory encourage UMNO to pursue a similarly divisive path in Malaysia?

I, like many others, am still reeling from the shock of Donald Trump’s unlikely victory in the US presidential elections. Most polls showed Hillary Clinton having narrow to comfortable leads in the swing states. Most prediction models including fivethirtyeight.com and the New York Time’s Upshot were predicting a Clinton victory. While much will be said in the next few days by academics, analysts and pundits, to explain Trump’s unlikely victory, my greater fear is what his victory may spell for us in Malaysia.

Donald Trump eked out his stunning victory despite running a divisive campaign that played on the fears of the majority vis-à-vis the minorities, that made appeals to a narrow base of voters, that compelled Americans to look inwards rather than outwards and that was populist and short of policy substance. Not to mention the allegations of sexual assault that plagued his campaign just a month and a half ago.

My fear for Malaysia is that UMNO may be following a similar playbook in the run up to the 14th general elections. There may be some who hope that Trump’s victory over an establishment figure like Hillary Clinton may be a precursor to a BN-UMNO defeat in GE14 brought about by Malaysians who are sick and tired of the ruling regime. But what is more likely is that UMNO will use the same politics of fear and divisiveness to pit the majority against the minorities and to win by appealing to a narrow base.

We can already see some elements on this playbook in action. The tactics of the red shirts led by Jamal Yunos may be a precursor to more threats of violence. The recently proposed delimitation exercise was designed to dilute the effect of ethnically heterogenous or ‘mixed’ seats to enable UMNO to win by appealing to a narrower base. The attempts by UMNO to cosy up to PAS by allowing the amendment to Act 355 Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act to be tabled in parliament is also part of this playbook. My fear is that even more divisive strategies will be thought of and carried out in the run up to GE14.

These steps were already in UMNO’s playbook before Trump’s victory. My greatest fear for Malaysia is that Trump’s victory will only embolden those in UMNO seeking to maintain power by emulating and expanding the Trumpean ‘winning’ strategy.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang

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