Malaysian Christians urged to vote responsibly
General elections in Malaysia on November 19 set to end years of political uncertainty
Supporters of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party wave party flags on the eve of the country’s 14th general elections in Alor Setar on May 8, 2018. (Photo: AFP)
An ecumenical forum in Malaysia has asked Christians to make an informed decision when voting to choose their leaders in the upcoming general elections.
“To vote is to stand up and be counted. God has entrusted us with this stewardship to work for the common good of all,” reads a pastoral letter from Archbishop Simon Pah, president of the Sarawak Association of Churches (ACS) published on October 31.
The ACS covers Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state in the northern part of the island of Borneo and the only Christian-majority state in the Muslim-majority country.
Bishop Poh, head of Catholic Archdiocese of Kuchingdeclared that the 15th general election on November 19 is the time to properly exercise their right to vote as responsible citizens of the country.
“It is about asking Christians to vote as responsible citizens of our country…as part of our moral responsibility in society and nation building,” Bishop Poh told the Borneo Post while explaining the letter.
The Prelate said the ACS does not endorse any politician or party.
The letter urged Christians not to vote blindly for popular candidates, but to look for the qualities that make them good leaders.
“The ACS urges members of the church to seek out and elect godly leaders who will secure the common good of all people of all races, religions, and social positions in our country,” the letter read.
A candidate “capable and competent, accountable and transparent, trustworthy, with integrity, as well as a God-fearing person who seeks to do what is right before God”, were the values that Christians were urged to seek.
The letter also added concern for the poor, honesty, not taking advantage of their position to exploit the poor and unprotected, a sense of justice and equality, “rejection of religious fundamentalism and bigotry, and protection of harmony” among other desirable traits for candidates.
The letter also reminded the Christian community that it must also cultivate the traits it demands of its leaders.
“Christians are called to strive for these qualities as part of our stewardship and leadership in the respective families, workplace and position of leadership entrusted to us,” the letter continues.
ACS has been cautious in its stance to maintain communal harmony and peace in Malaysia’s multicultural and interfaith socio-political landscape.
Muslims make up more than 60% of Malaysia’s approximately 32 million people. Buddhists are the largest minority at 20%, Christians 10% and about 6.3% are Hindus, according to government estimates from 2018.
Of Malaysia’s 13 states, Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo have about two-thirds of the country’s Christians where they make up one-third of the population, making them a major electoral bloc to register an election victory.
Sarawak is the largest state by land area where Christians constitute the majority with 1.2 million (50.1%) out of a population of 2.4 million. Muslims represent 800,000 (34.2%) and Buddhists about 300,000 (12.8%).
Protestants, mostly Anglicans, are the majority among Christian denominations.
Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia that holds national elections separate from federal elections. Under the Malaysian constitution, Sarawak enjoys a higher degree of autonomy than other states.
Political analysts say Malaysia’s long-ruling United National Malay Organization (UNMO) is set to win the general election as the opposition alliance remains in disarray due to power struggles and infighting.
The UNMO, a Malaysian nationalist party, has been in power continuously since independence in 1957. However, it became embroiled in corruption, particularly in the corruption of the 1MDB, and was defeated in the 2018 general election .
The multi-billion dollar 1MDB corruption scandal landed UNMO leader and former Prime Minister Najib Razak in jail.
The party has re-nominated current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as its candidate Prime Minister. Yaakob dissolved parliament on October 10 and called a snap election, saying it would end years of political uncertainty in the country.
About 21 million Malaysians are eligible to vote to elect lawmakers to the 222-seat lower house of parliament. To form the government, a party or coalition will have to win 112 seats.