In this hybrid seminar, Datuk Dr Marzuki Mohamad and Mr Ibrahim Suffian discussed the “green wave” phenomenon in Malaysia and the surge in Malay/Muslim support for Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance at the expense of Barisan Nasional (BN) and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Focusing on the youth and the electorate in general, the speakers presented their opinions and findings on whether this growing support was based on their ideological affinity towards PN, or other factors such as economic pressures and discontent with BN.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME SEMINAR
Tuesday, 12 September 2023 — ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a seminar moderated by Dr Norshahril Saat (Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) titled “Malaysia’s ‘Perceived’ Green Wave: The Electorate and Youth Behaviour”. The seminar featured Datuk Dr Marzuki Mohamad’s and Mr Ibrahim Suffian’s findings on the factors that contributed to the rise in Malay/Muslim support for the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition during the 15th general election (GE15) in Malaysia. These findings were based on analysis of the election results, qualitative and quantitative survey results, and feedback from opinion leaders.
Dr Norshahril began the seminar with the notion of the Malaysian green wave from the last general election held in November 2022. PAS has scored a massive victory in the northern states of Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis. They then joined forces with Bersatu under the banner of Perikatan Nasional. Dr Norshahril stated that the so-called Green wave has been inadequately defined. Some have even dismissed it. Is there a trend of Malaysia becoming more conservative? Political parties responding to popular sentiment? Voters rejecting UMNO?
Building on Dr Norshahril’s opening remarks that the “green wave” has been inadequately defined or even dismissed by some analysts, Dr Marzuki began his presentation by explaining that there are two definitions of a green wave. One of its definitions is PAS’ growing electoral success and inroads into other states beyond its traditional strongholds. It has also been defined as Malaysia’s movement towards full-fledged Islamization. While the first definition is factually true, Dr Marzuki argued that a green wave in the form of the second definition does not exist.
He further explained that the growth in support for PAS is a result of the party’s partnership with moderate political parties rather than a maximization of its Islamist ideals. Conversely, Malay discontent with BN—or UMNO in particular—is due to cronyism and nepotism, in spite of its Islamic aspirations. Thus, rather than looking at the green wave as the strengthening of PAS’ Islamist agenda, it should be understood as the electorate’s growing discontent with BN and their distrust of PH. Dr Marzuki also highlighted that the growth in Malay support for PN closely mirrors that of Chinese support for PH and that the same standards of analysis should apply.
Dr Marzuki then expressed his opinion that there has been a gradual turn to de-Islamization and secularization in Malaysia. Highlighting that various Islamic institutions were set up during Mahathir Mohamad’s first premiership in the 1980s, there was a turn towards moderation and multiculturalism after his premiership. Citing examples such as Christians being given the constitutional right to use the word “Allah”, having shariah-based offences questioned in the Kelantan court, and civil society dismissing Islamic law and institutions as archaic and inconsistent, Dr Marzuki said that secularism forms the basic structure of Malaysian federal constitution and judicial proceedings.
Mr Ibrahim began his segment of the seminar by introducing a survey that was conducted among Malaysian Muslim youth in 2022. Some of the findings of the survey included the fact that 99.9% of Muslim youth have access to the internet, that they rely on social media for news, and that trust in public institutions has declined over the last five years. Focusing on Islam, it was revealed that 88 to 92 per cent of youth surveyed want the Qur’an to replace the Federal Constitution and that there are now more youth aged between 15 and 21 years old who are attending religious schools. Commenting on the green wave, Mr Ibrahim said that it would be wrong to say that it is an authoritarian phenomenon. He explained that there have been rising demands for more democratic freedoms, as indicated by the 66 per cent of survey respondents who want all Malaysians to receive equal treatment in contrast to 34 per cent who want the preservation of special rights.
Mr Ibrahim also explained that young Malaysians are distrustful of the government, politics, and the global economy and, therefore seek solace and find spiritual support in the values upheld by PAS. For example, they look to PAS for proper understanding on how to conduct prayers to ease suffering. UMNO, on the other hand, does not seem to be able to change, while PH are unable to get significant Malay support. PAS has also tried to moderate itself and has not been involved in public discourse on Shariah or hudud law.
The seminar had a total number of 122 participants online and offline. It concluded with a Question-and-Answer segment that addressed various themes such as the possibility of PN getting more non-Malay/Muslim votes, the contradiction among the youth who want more democratic freedoms but also want the Qur’an to replace the constitution, and how income and wealth inequality, coupled with wider economic concerns, would have an impact on ethnic relations and national politics. Further discussion continued on the theme of (de-)Islamization and secularization, and whether the Middle East had any role to play in contributing to the green wave.