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Malaysian Christians urged to vote responsibly

Malaysia's general election on Nov. 19 is expected to end years of political uncertainty

Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party supporters wave party flags on the eve of the country's 14th general election in Alor Setar on May 8, 2018

Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party supporters wave party flags on the eve of the country's 14th general election in Alor Setar on May 8, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 02, 2022 10:45 AM GMT

Updated: November 02, 2022 12:02 PM GMT

An ecumenical forum in Malaysia has asked Christians to take an informed decision while casting their votes to choose their leaders in the upcoming general election.

“To vote means to stand up and be counted. God has entrusted to us this stewardship to work for the common good of everyone,” reads a pastoral letter from Archbishop Simon Poh, chairman of the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) issued on Oct. 31.

The ACS covers Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia in the northern part of Borneo Island and the only Christian-majority state of the Muslim-majority country.

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Archbishop Poh, head of Kuching Catholic Archdiocese, said that the 15th general election on Nov. 19 is a time to properly exercise their voting rights as responsible citizens of the country.

“This is to ask Christians to vote as responsible citizens of our country… as part of our moral responsibility in society and nation building,” Archbishop Poh told the Borneo Post while explaining the letter.

The prelate said the ACS does not endorse any politicians or party.

The letter urged Christians to not cast their votes for popular candidates blindly but look for qualities that make them good leaders.

“ACS exhorts church members to seek and elect godly leaders who will ensure the common good of all people of all races, religions, and social standing in our nation,” the letter read.

A candidate being “capable and competent, accountable and transparent, trustworthy, having integrity, as well as a God-fearing person who seeks to do what is right before God,” were the values Christians were urged to look for.

The letter also added concern for the poor, honesty, not taking advantage of their position to exploit the poor and unprotected, sense of justice and equality, “rejecting religious fundamentalism and bigotry, and protecting harmony” among other desirable traits for the candidates.

The letter also reminded the Christian community that they must also cultivate the traits that they demand from their leaders.

“Christians are called to strive for these qualities as part of our stewardship and leadership in respective families, workplace, and position of leadership that have been entrusted to us,” the letter further read.

The ACS has been cautious in its stand to maintain communal harmony and peace across the multi-cultural and inter-denominational socio-political landscape in Malaysia.

Muslims make up more than 60 percent of Malaysia’s estimated 32 million people. Buddhists are the largest minority with 20 percent, Christians are 10 percent and about 6.3 percent are Hindus, according to 2018 government estimates.

Among Malaysia’s 13 states, Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo account for about two-thirds of the country’s Christians where they make up one-third of the population, making them a major voting bloc to register an election win.

Sarawak is the largest state in terms of area where Christians make up the majority with 1.2 million (50.1 percent) in a population of 2.4 million. Muslims make up 800,000 (34.2 percent) and Buddhists account for about 300,000 (12.8 percent).

Protestants, mostly Anglicans, are the majority among Christian denominations.

The Catholic Church has also a sizable following with more than 441,300 members spread in the Archdiocese of Kuching and Miri and Sibu dioceses.

Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia that holds state elections separately 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 Malays National Organization (UNMO) is expected to win the general election as the opposition alliance remains in disarray due to power struggles and infighting.

The UNMO, a Malay nationalist party, has been in power uninterrupted since independence in 1957. However, it got embroiled in corruption, especially in 1MDB graft, and was defeated in the 2018 general election.

The multi-billion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal has landed UNMO leader and former Prime Minister Najib Razak in jail.

The party has nominated current PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the Prime Minister candidate again. Yaakob dissolved the parliament on Oct. 10 and called snap elections, saying this 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 the parliament.  To form the government a party or coalition will need to win 112 seats.

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