Malaysia election: Urban voters will weigh economic offerings, trust issue

Senior fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute Dr Lee Hwok-Aun and ST's foreign editor Zakir Hussain discuss the difference between urban and rural voters in Malaysia and if younger voters tend to support the opposition.
The Kuala Lumpur City Centre. In urban areas of Peninsular Malaysia, government assistance measures like BR1M do not go very far because of the high cost of living.
The Kuala Lumpur City Centre. In urban areas of Peninsular Malaysia, government assistance measures like BR1M do not go very far because of the high cost of living.PHOTO: REUTERS

There is a complex of factors that comes into play for voters in urban areas of Peninsular Malaysia, which encompasses large cities and small towns, many of them represented by opposition MPs.

Economic strain and insecurity is such a prevalent theme; on the ground, low-and even middle-income households are struggling to make ends meet, or feel shortchanged by the system. In urban areas, government assistance measures like BR1M do not go very far because of the high cost of living, and middle-income households feel left out.

Voters will consider socio-economic offerings in Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifestos and the big ticket items that resound at rallies and in social media - but trust will also weigh heavily on their minds.

They will lean towards leaders and parties that can convince them that the government will put ordinary people's interests first, and that show integrity, compassion and competency. Issues of conscience, governance and dignity will also matter relatively more to the urban electorate.

The BN's recent corruption scandals and their effects on collective dignity will be pitched against its long track record of ushering in Malaysia's development.

Other issues, like the allegedly biased conduct of this general election and unfair treatment of PH, will also resonate on the ceramah (election rallies) trail and occupy voters' minds.

On the whole, I do not see BN regaining significant ground in urban areas, and it will be continually dependent on rural strongholds.

• Lee Hwok-Aun is a senior fellow at the Malaysia Studies Programme at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'Urban voters will weigh economic offerings, trust issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe