MALAYSIANS are finding a way to travel together to the same place; or so we would like to think.
In reality, our divisions indicate that we are headed to different destinations.
The metaphor that describes the dilemma in front of us is elusive – a crossroads? However we describe this journey, it is clear that these 32 million Malaysians are not headed to the same destination.
And the point of no return is closer than we think.
Most Malaysians see politics through partisan lenses and are mostly attentive to how their team is doing. They are less likely to think about electoral integrity, the rule of law, corruption, as well as the integrity and morality of politicians.
The country is experiencing failures at both the elite and mass public levels.
Our political system is in crisis.
The current opposition – Pakatan Harapan and its supporters – appears committed to avoid a political system dominated by Barisan Nasional, which is aggressive in its attempt to preserve the political power of the major race in the country.
Politicians respond to signals from their extreme supporters by becoming extreme themselves. When they become party leaders, they are in a position to punish moderate members by backing more extreme candidates. This in turn leads to more appointments of more extremist candidates, and the cycle continues.
As voters become more concerned about party labels than ideology, they become less willing to vote these extremists out of office, allowing the cascading extremism to continue.
Even if political party supporters decide to punish extremists in their party, interest groups will encourage and reinforce the extremism.
In fact, leaders may just stop listening to supporters or ignore elections altogether. This is already happening – political parties postponing party polls till after a general election.
As voters make partisanship a core element of their self-identity and adopt policy stands in line with their party, polarisation reaches new and threatening heights.
The most likely outcome of increased polarisation is political paralysis, in which parties are more interested in preventing the other from winning than solving problems.
Politicians are so emboldened that they can publicly acknowledge their goal is obstruction, not solving problems; that is the most likely outcome of extreme polarisation.
The political landscape appears to be fractured beyond repair now. The divisions between citizens may be too great a gap to overcome.
A new administration may not be able to unite a population that seems to be increasingly divided.
No matter who becomes the next prime minister, the political landscape has shifted so much that civic life has been irrevocably altered in the country.
Chaos and uncertainty have become the new normal.
Despite the rhetoric from the ruling and opposition parties, both are part of a perpetual battle for the soul of the nation. This will not be decided in favour of one single idea.