Saturday, December 3, 2022

Polarisation and rural-urban divide in Malaysia not the same as in Brexit

Secara Rawak

I have been reading and watching with much enthusiasm the debate on Brexit, partly for academic reason as to try to further understand how democracy and parliamentary system of government function.

Brexit, coined from ‘Britain’ and ‘Exit’ is the term used to describe the process of asking the people in Britain through a referendum as to whether they wanted the country to remain with the European Union (EU) or to leave. On June 23, 2016 the British people voted to leave the EU.

I am writing this article not because I want to discuss whether Brexit may lead to the other countries in the EU to hold their own referendum on the issue, and hence to the eventual disintegration of the Union. In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit, some political elements in some EU countries have already mentioned about having a similar referendum to be held in their countries.

I am not interested in this article to talk about whether Brexit will create a chain reaction in Europe or whether the domino effects are going to happen there.

Neither is the writing about the discussion on whether Brexit will lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom. Unlike England, Scotland has voted to remain in the EU, and its First Minister has already hinted about calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence from the UK.

I am not writing this article to discuss how Brexit will affect international trade, the market systems, the European unity and world peace, or to discuss how Brexit may affect the outcomes of US elections to be held towards the end of this year.

I am also not interested to explain how Brexit is a victory for the ordinary people as some politicians in the UK have described it.

I am also not keen to know how Brexit can affect football transfers in the next few months. My favourite football team certainly needs to have some players from the continent to boost up its chances of winning the Premiership and the other competitions. The last time our team won the Premiership was in 1990, so the team really needs quality players from Europe to help it regains its past glory.

But there are three things that intrigued me about the Brexit. One is the integrity of the person who made the referendum possible. David Cameron gambled his political career when he called for the referendum and supported the ‘remain’ camp. He felt responsible for the defeat of his camp, and as a consequence he is going to resign as the British Prime Minister in October.

The outcomes of the referendum meant that he is no longer the right person to steward his country to a new direction. He does the most honourable thing by giving way to another person to take over from him 4 months from now. He is not clinging to his position even though he still could.

The other thing that intrigues me is the non-partisan nature of voting in the referendum. The Conservative and the Labour voters do not vote along party line. On issues such as this, it is most appropriate that the people are allowed to vote according to their conscience.

It has been said that non-partisan voting tends to favour conservative or traditional viewpoint and it is quite correct here as the Brexit is mostly driven by the conservatives.

Labour voters supported Brexit because of their own reasons, defying the opinion of party leaders. 90% of Labour MPs supported the ‘remain’ camp, but the majority of Labour voters supported the ‘leave’ camp.

The third thing that is of interest to me is the polarised nature of the supporters. For this referendum, the people in Britain are divided geographically with the those in the big cities like London overwhelming supporting the ‘remain’ camp, while those in the rural areas and countryside supported the ‘leave camp’. Industrial cities in the North of the country which have been Labour heartlands also supported the ‘leave’ camp.

So, there is a rural-urban divide in the way the British people voter in the referendum. There must be some fundamental reasons as to why the rural people or those who live in small cities voted for Brexit even though they may have been Labour supporters.

We have been grappled with this idea of polarisation for as long as we can remember. There is a clear rural-urban divide in Malaysian politics and in elections in the country. Polarisation in our country – it seems – is kind of an institutionalised concept – and is much more than just a geographical divide as is the case in Brexit.

In our state, those in the rural areas are still will the BN. Rural folks in Sarawak still need roads to be constructed, schools to be maintained, treated water supply, 24-hour electricity services, telecommunication capability, and so.

As the Labour voters have supported the conservative idea in the Brexit, the rural folks in Sarawak have given their votes to the BN, and the onus is on the government to fulfil their election promises and pledges, and to address the numerous issues affecting the rural community. –

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