6 US Election Features that are Familiar to Malaysian Voters

Spitting Image Biden vs Trump
Credit: Spitting Image/Avalon

The American presidential election hasn’t finished yet, but it really feels that the leader of the free world is now becoming more Malaysianesque in its politics. Here are some observations so far that resonate:

1. Rhetoric trumps facts

Call Biden a socialist often enough, and you get the almost half the population believing you. It’s a visceral reaction among the Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade county and first-generation Vietnamese-Americans. Leave alone the fact the Donald Trump dodged fighting for the Southern Vietnamese government in the Vietnam war. Lesson for Malaysia: The rhetoric that DAP is a Chinese chauvinist party will always plague the DAP, unfairly, in my view.

2. Race-based politics is now a feature in American politics

It’s not outwardly spoken, but race-based politics are taking hold in the US (just check out Senator David Purdue’s racist interpretation of Kamala Harris’s name). Demographic changes are soon making whites the minority population in the United States, and this seems to have made a certain segment of the white population fearful and defensive. In Malaysia, although there really should be no fear of Malay Malaysians being the minority population, the age-old visceral fears about Chinese Malaysians (which is largely rhetoric) remain.

3. There is a huge world view divide among rural and urban voters

Urban counties in the US voted for progressiveness, rural counties voted for conservatism. Sometimes, this phenomenon is framed in language that says urban elite looking down on their rural counterparts. In Malaysia, we have the same phenomenon too, rural voters fear the unknown, and prefer the familiar, whereas urban voters want an agenda for change to progress ahead. What is clear though, that in both US and Malaysia, the onus is on the urban progressives to understand the fears of their rural counterparts, and address them. And they have to do this not from the urban enclaves of Arlington, Virginia or Bangsar, but from Granger, Iowa and Pendang, Kedah.

4. Rural votes carry more weight than urban votes

The US electoral system is designed by the original conception of the “United States” (where the individual state is the primary entity). So the US states, regardless of its current population, gets a certain number of historical electoral votes that count towards the presidential election. Win the state, and for the most part, you win all the votes which the state is allocated.

This has a familiar ring with Malaysian politics. It doesn’t matter what the population of our constituency is, each constituency delivers one federal MP. So whereas in Igan, Sarawak, 19,592 registered voters vote in 1 federal MP, in Bangi, Selangor, it takes 178,790 registered voters to vote in 1 federal MP. Simply put, the weight of the Igan vote is about 9 times than that of Bangi vote.

5. Winning the popular vote is irrelevant

This is not a new lesson, the US has experienced this in the 2000 Gore vs Bush presidential campaign and more recently, the 2016 Trump vs Clinton. Same for Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional since the 2013 elections. And now, they are part of the Malaysian Perikatan Nasional government even though they only won 36% of the popular vote in 2018.

6. Use all means to manipulate the vote

The Americans are beginning to use the same techniques that Malaysia has perfected over the years: How to increase your chances by gerrymandering, particularly with delineation of the American equivalent of our constituencies. But in addition, the Republican party pulls out all the stops to suppress votes in certain battleground states, e.g not allowing ex-felons to vote in Florida, and after that law was repealed, not allowing people who owe fines to vote.

Let’s bid welcome to the United States of America to the League of Developing Democracies!

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