Johor’s Political Apathy
Johor has always been a stronghold for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. To give an idea of how badly the opposition is doing, the authors wrote that during the November 1999 elections, the opposition hadn’t even found enough volunteers to observe the vote counting two hours before polls closed. The results? Every single seat in Johor went to BN – a phenomenon unseen in any other Malaysian state.
It’s not that BN had done a particularly good job in Johor. Ironically, Malaysian news that Johoreans received from Singapore were relatively uncensored. They ought to have seen the negative aspects of the BN’s leadership more clearly than Malaysians in other states. Why did they show such overwhelming support for them?
The authors attributed this political apathy to the “Singapore effect”. With a much more vibrant Chinese language TV channel, they could receive from Singapore, most Johoreans don’t really care about whether the Malaysian government has been trying to suppress their Chinese identity. To many Johorean Chinese, Singapore was a perfect escape from the reality of their government.
The 13 May 1969 incident was probably the last time that Singapore and JB saw any major political conflict or demonstrations. Just as many Singaporeans view stability as their top priority, a lot of that attitude had rubbed off on Johoreans. As long as the wheels of commerce are spinning, there is no need to rock the boat. The Malaysian government’s policies were also somewhat muted when they arrived in Johor. The state’s economy was more dependent on Singapore’s policies than on directives handed down from KL.
Even though many migrants from northern states who moved here to escape the clutches of a government pandering to the wimps of religious fundamentalists (whom they voted strongly against), many of these new Johoreans soon settled in and became apathetic like their hosts. It’s the same with migrants from Ipoh who had always been strong supporters of the opposition. Once in JB, they saw no cause to fight for. There’s always Singapore. Malaysians from other states often remarked that while Johor is ahead of them economically, the southernmost state is politically backward and conservative.
This creates a vicious cycle. Electorate apathy led to a weak opposition and a weak opposition led to further electorate apathy. Signs of political participation were faint and feeble compared to other Malaysian states. DAP’s Madam Chan Jock Lan who had been diligently fighting for the rights of the Chinese minority, lamented over the difficulty of getting talented people in Johor to join her party. She said:
“Even if JB residents feel dissatisfied with the government, they will just complain and blow off some steam on the internet. They will not take any action to vote the government out. In this respect, they are very similar to the people on the other shore.”