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Syerleena: No green wave in Penang, people want good governance

March 8, 2023


An interview conducted by Fion Yap for Malaysiakini on the 8th of March, 2023:

Despite the “green wave” taking hold in the country’s northern states, DAP’s Seri Delima assemblyperson Syerleena Abdul Rashid believes it will not affect the forthcoming state election in Penang.


In an interview with Malaysiakini, Syerleena said the green wave - a term referring to major political wins in the last general election by PAS, which has a green flag - relies mostly on divisive racial and religious tactics.


She said while the green wave did have some impact on Pakatan Harapan, she believes that the people will eventually see through the strategy of Perikatan Nasional (PN).


So, while the alliance of PAS and Bersatu saw PN surging in the north and northeast in last November’s 15th general election (GE15), Syerleena thinks Penang voters will support Harapan for its good governance.


“If you want to push for sustainable changes, you need to have context and content, understand the policies and what the people have gone through.


“But all they (PN) do is keep talking about religion and race, that’s it. How could you repair the economy? They don’t talk about it.


“Although the results for GE15 at the federal level came as a shock to people in Penang, I do believe that when it comes to the state, people can see what this wave is about,” Syerleena said.


“I don’t see any longevity in this wave that they’ve created,” she said, adding that the people should not give it too much credit.


Young voters turning to PN


During GE15, the PKR stronghold of Permatang Pauh fell to PN, while the two Umno seats of Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor were also swept up by the green wave.


At the same time, Harapan kept the remaining 10 parliamentary seats in the state with Balik Pulau, a semi-rural mixed seat, being won by a marginal 1,582 votes.


Syerleena won with a huge majority of 42,610 in Bukit Bendera.


After the national polls, analysts warned that Harapan’s Malay majority seats in Penang might be at risk during the state election.


However, Syerleena stressed that the sentiment in each area varies and it cannot be generalised that Harapan finds it hard to attract support in rural areas or Malay majority seats.


She admitted that many were surprised at how a majority of youth voters went the other way instead of supporting the more progressive Harapan, as might have been expected.


“In Bukit Bendera, if you look at some Malay majority villages, the young voters in saluran 7, 8, 9 went to PN, while older voters in saluran 1 or 2 had a huge increase towards Harapan.


“So the older generations are more supportive of Harapan because they remember the good governance and the good politics that we demonstrate,” she said.


It is believed that short videos uploaded to TikTok by PN and its supporters played a role in attracting youth votes to the coalition.


However, some extreme videos spread anti-DAP and anti-Chinese statements, while also threatening to repeat the May 13, 1969, riots if PN did not win GE15. Those videos were then removed by the social media platform.


Commenting on this, Syerleena suggested that media literacy should be a compulsory subject from primary school onwards to guide students on understanding the messages behind social media content.


“The interesting part of TikTok is that you just watch and don’t really need to think much about the message behind that. (Sometimes) there are no words,” she added.


Challenging to switch voters’ perception


On how her coalition could challenge the growing support for PN, Syerleena said Harapan needs to connect with society and remind them of what good governance can do for the people and the economy, as experienced throughout the past 15 years under its administration.


“We were here for you during Covid-19, during the lowest of times. We got through a lot together and we can do this again,” she stressed.


She acknowledged that it would be a challenge for Harapan to change the perceptions of PAS and PN supporters just a few months prior to the state elections.


After all, she said the reason PN could succeed in dividing the people using fear and hate while playing up race and religion is due to the lack of mutual understanding among Malaysians.


“Since I became a state assemblyperson, I have been promoting the concept of ‘Kita Bangsa Malaysia’ (We are Malaysians).


“So, I’ve been creating videos to highlight the significance as well as do’s and don’ts for festivals of different ethnic groups.


“Differences in political ideology should not create enemies or divide people. Let’s just agree to disagree and be civil,” she said.


Turnout another challenge


Last October, Penang Harapan wanted to dissolve the state assembly concurrently with Parliament for GE15, but Harapan’s top federal leadership decided otherwise.


Since then, Malaysians have witnessed the formation of an unlikely collaborative government, comprising long-time adversaries Harapan and BN.


Looking back on this decision, Syerleena described it as a “blessing in disguise”, but warned that lower turnout remains a challenge in the coming six state assembly elections.


“I guess you can say it was a blessing in disguise because then (after GE15) we have these next few months to strategise.


“But also, with that being said, having a concurrent state and federal election would be so much better as it would be easier for the people, who would not have to come back (to the polling booth) twice.”


After winning office as Bukit Bendera MP, Syerleena will not defend her Seri Delima state seat nor contest in the state polls.


The six states - Harapan’s Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, as well as PAS’ Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, are expected to dissolve their state assemblies in June.

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