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Reflections on the leadership we need after GE15 and beyond

To those standing for election on November 19th, a reminder that it’s the country’s turn, not yours.

By Khairil Ahmad18 November 2022

The official campaign period for the fifteenth general election (GE15) is in its final days. On Saturday, Malaysians head to the ballot box to decide who will govern the country for the next five years. Over the last couple of weeks, parties and candidates have employed various strategies to reach out to voters, from different social media engagement methods to the good old ceramah rallies.

Public discourse has shifted significantly this time around compared to GE14. While the mood in 2018 was defined by the anger over 1MDB and the desire to get to the bottom of the scandal, GE15 is an arena in which the political and policy needs are to address the lingering health and economic effects of COVID-19 as well as the rapidly emerging global problem of inflation and climate change.

In that spirit, in the earlier days of the campaigning period, candidates focused on offering solutions to the current everyday problems faced by Malaysians. In addition to reminding their constituencies of promises made by party/coalition manifestos, most, if not all candidates, parliament or DUN, designed pledges that are specific to the communities they wish to serve, with promises ranging from rejuvenating local economies to providing local job opportunities to directly assisting disadvantaged groups in their constituencies.

This manifesto-focused campaigning strategy is a positive development towards strengthening a policy-driven political environment in the country. However, as the campaign period gathered momentum, it has been overshadowed by an increasing focus on the identity of Malaysia’s next prime minister. And as we now prepare to draw the curtains on the campaigns, it has pretty much become the centre-stage issue, used by party leaders to galvanise their support bases and court the votes of fence-sitters. 

This is not unexpected given the high stakes involved in the election. But it would be better if the candidates accompanied this with clear vision and solutions for the country for the coming challenging years ahead.

Why? Because what the country needs to avoid, after all the political, health, and economic upheavals that it has gone through in the last few years, is a dearth in leadership. Whoever wins the election will be presiding over difficult social and economic environments, addressing which requires not only immediate measures, but also ideas to mitigate their effects in the long term.

We have of course witnessed the emergence of a number of different ‘visions’ before, the brainchilds of respective former leaders who coined them. But the visions also died along with the departure of those personalities from the country’s political arena. What we will need after GE15 are visions that are translated into concrete action plans as well as implemented programmes – and visions that will survive the political careers of prime ministers or any politicians.

The leadership and the ideas need not only be visionary but also pragmatic and are translatable into concrete actions plans as well as implemented programmes. And given the fragmented nature of Malaysian politics, they will need to survive the personal careers of the leaders, which means having input and buy-in from all sides of the country’s political divide. We therefore need leadership that is visionary, pragmatic, and conciliatory.

For us to achieve that, we need to end the “it’s my turn” narrative for the candidacy of the country’s leadership. It should always be the country’s turn, and as Malaysia emerges from the pandemic’s aftermath, the next generation of leaders have to be allowed to come through to help shape the country’s future. Malaysians should be able to look forward to future GEs where the rallying cry is not who shouldn’t be prime minister, but who are the crop of leaders with the best ideas and working style.

* This article first appeared in the Malay Mail on 17 November 2022.

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