Risks and Perceived Rewards of Resurgent Populism in Malaysia

The helpless actions of a certain populist politician in Malaysia reflect the dangers of playing up differences when a country needs unity.

Recently, Malaysia has experienced a clear upswing Populism It has permeated the nation’s political and social landscape, sparking debate and controversy. The case of Akmal Saleh, head of UMNO’s youth wing, and the unfortunate story of socks emblazoned with the word „Allah” is a poignant reflection of this trend. The incident is symptomatic of a larger, more concerned model of resurgent populist politics in Malaysia. This form of populism often emerges in response to threats to national identity, culture or socioeconomic status, promoting a return to the 'good old days’ of Malay political hegemony.

Malaysia, with it Economic inequalities, ethnic divisions and religious sentiments, fertile ground for populism. Populist politics appeals to the grievances of ordinary citizens against a perceived elite or establishment, or pits one group against another. Akmal Saleh’s incessant calls to boycott March 2024 A Convenience store chain For selling the aforesaid stockings and violence attacks The opposition to some stores underscores the power of identity politics. This uproar over the socks highlights not only a sense of misappropriation of Malay-Muslim religious symbols, but also the readiness of right-wing political actors to exploit such issues for broader populist agendas.

The essence of populism is its double-edged sword: it emphasizes the voice of the people while simplifying complex issues into 'us-versus-them’ narratives. In the case of Akmal and the socks, the incident escalated quickly over a small oversight, which the convenience store chain owner was quick to acknowledge. Apologized Because the litmus test for Malaysian non-Muslims’ respect for Islam and acceptance of Malaysia’s Islamic national identity. This is a perfect example of how populism operates, exploiting emotions and framing debates in a blunt manner that leaves little room for nuance or understanding.

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Unfortunately, the Prime Minister (Prime Minister) Anwar Ibrahim and the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Mohammad Naeem Mokhtar did not take the opportunity to elaborate on multiculturalism. Instead they asked someone else Officers handle the problem; After the release of their official statements, the Prime Minister clarified the matter Do not discuss Further. The sequel is unfortunate, but Malaysians could have used an honest conversation about heightened interfaith tensions. Even more unhelpfully, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) introduced Hotline Saying that is denigrating Islam. This is a one-sided solution; There is no hotline to report abuse of other religions or their followers.

The coalition government’s silence and lack of leadership adds to the narrative of renaissance populism. Non Malayalis are out of touch with a Malay majority. As a Malay nationalist party, Umno suffered after Zahid Hamidy brought the party to work with Pakatan Harapan and their arch-rival, the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Through a carefully crafted populist strategy, Akmal can be seen as the next generation leader to convince the Malays of Malaysia that UMNO is still waiting. It is based on the simplistic assumption that the Malays are looking for a savior to protect their special status and Islam, especially with the DAP (Malaysian Chinese Association, much stronger than MCA) now in government.

However, Malay discontent with UMNO runs deep; The party’s situation cannot be improved overnight. Akmal’s calls to boycott the convenience store used at least three attacks Molotov cocktail against its stores. By contrast, Pericadon National (PN) seemed more rational and moderate staying out Neglect.

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Akmal has been in the headlines for several such incidents. Other examples include his provocative questions about 'Malaysian identity’ (as a Muslim-majority country). That’s it (pork tea) as a traditional Malaysian food (if Muslims are prohibited from consuming pork), possible nomination Chinese New Villages As UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and year Dispute vernacular schoolsIt coincided with the parliamentary debates on School canteens Must be open during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Akmal took advantage of these events by accentuating or distorting their religious and ethnic elements. Populists are good at using it Emotions such as anger to rally support; Among Muslim Malaysians, it was felt insulted Islam The highest of the unforgiving. In this way, Akmal Saleh appears to be strategically close to the PN, which is not surprising since he has spent so much time there. Machines of PN In the recent Kola Kubu Baru by-election.

Akmal is not the first UMNO youth leader to use populist tactics. In 2005, the then UMNO youth leader, Hishammuddin Hussain, unsealed and stamped a Uri. Punch (a traditional Malay dagger) as a symbol of Malay supremacy in the UMNO General Assembly. This sparked concern among non-Malays, causing a significant backlash that cost the ruling coalition two-thirds of its parliamentary majority. 2008 General Election (GE). Such a populist move could be a miscalculation that could damage the party’s long-term survival.

The essence of populism is its double-edged sword: it emphasizes the voice of the people, while simplifying complex issues into 'us-versus-them’ narratives.

In the face of rising populism, there is an urgent need for a Malaysian leadership that fosters social cohesion, inclusiveness of winners, and interfaith and inter-racial empathy and understanding. the king, and fulfilling his promise to be a king, met with DAP and Umno leaders, including Akmal, to help put out the fire from the 'Allah Socks’ debacle. However, this did not stop him from continuing his populist attacks against DAP, such as questioning DAP for not protecting Malay entrepreneurs, which he ignored in order to prepare. Inappropriate video During Ramadan.

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Akmal’s resurgent populist rhetoric will continue till the next GE, which is due in 2027. Malaysia’s Malays have a chance to tell him at the ballot box if it works.

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