By Sim Why Jean, Research Analyst (Politic), Institut Masa Depan Malaysia
HISTORY beckons this March 12. It marks the D-day where we will witness an unprecedented third election in less than six months, after Sarawak and Melaka.
The Johor state election could potentially pave the way for a shift in political landscape, with the inclusion of a new generation of voters.
Of some 2.6 million eligible voters in Johor, nearly 28 per cent or 750,000 are new voters aged 18 and above, with 173,177 voters aged between 18 and 20.
With an average increment of 20 to 30 per cent voters in all constituencies, the Johor polls is set to provide a litmus test as parties seek to gauge their barometer of support among all voters — one that will go down in the history books.
With the rising trend of political parties fielding more young professionals and women as candidates, there are encouraging signs of increasing political literacy and awareness among the public, with the ability to discern facts while keeping abreast with the latest developments,
Arguments on which parties are poised to win over the support of grassroots and fence-sitters may no longer hold water as voters’ sentiments have changed over time. The focal point is on championing the rights of voters by empowering them through an inclusive and people-centric agenda.
An accountable and transparent administration that offers good governance without undermining the principles of integrity is of paramount importance.
First-time voters should not be disenfranchised from exercising their voting rights. Coordinated efforts must be intensified to prevent low voter turnout as seen in the recent Melaka and Sarawak state polls, which saw record low turnouts of 65.9 per cent and 60.7 per cent respectively.
The Election Commission (EC), along with other stakeholders, should amplify voter-friendly initiatives to encourage and facilitate voters to achieve the targeted 70 per cent turnout rate.
For instance, the “Jom Kita Undi” campaign through social media could prove to be one of the more effective ways to get people to come out and cast their votes.
Other logistic issues, too, ought to be considered by the EC, including a possible delay in the delivery of postal ballot papers, streamlining of the standard operating procedures to allay voters’ fear of new variants’ threats, ensuring a smooth Vaccinated Travel Lane for voters to return home to vote, particularly those from Singapore, and the setting up of dedicated channels in embassies and high commissions to facilitate overseas postal voting.
Home to the Iskandar Malaysia and East Coast Economic Region economic corridors, Johor has played a pivotal role as one of the major contributors to Malaysia’s gross domestic product, with an annual average of three per cent — above the national average of 2.7 per cent per year between 2016 and 2020.
Given the pandemic’s prolonged trajectory, several pressing issues must be addressed, ranging from the recent hikes in food prices, and rising cost of living, to providing quality job opportunities with competitive wages and affordable housing.
It is crucial for all quarters to listen to the plight of the locals and understand their needs by taking heed of issues plaguing them in each district.
Environmental issues such as river pollution near Sungai Masai and Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru have been lingering for many years with no end in sight.
A more comprehensive river monitoring plan would help protect the livelihood of coastal fishermen by reviving mussel breeding and farming activities as well as the agro-tourism industry.
The Felda community deserves particular attention.
As part of the government’s commitment during the tenure of former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, continuous efforts such as debt settlement of Felda settlers amounting to RM8.3 billion, coupled with the issuance of RM9.9 billion government-guaranteed sukuk, aimed at easing the burden of the second and third generation of these settlers, were pertinently carried out.
On a macro sphere, an all-encompassing economic development will provide fresh impetus to reinvigorate the state’s recovery towards rebuilding a robust economy post-pandemic.
In this regard, the transformation agenda should be premised upon a balanced and sustainable development across all regions so that no one is left behind.
The state’s enormous potential as an economy powerhouse, with strategic gateway to spur economic and industrial growth, must be capitalised on.
Come what may, the Johor polls presents a golden opportunity for voters to participate in the democratic process and to determine the future of Johor for the next five years and beyond.