Malaysia: A Race to the Finish Line

30 Apr, 2013    ·   3912

Aparupa Bhattacherjee on whether there are factors capable of overthrowing the ruling Barisan Nasional

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer

The atmosphere in Malaysia is febrile as the whole nation awaits the outcome of the 2013 elections.  The preparation of the elections, to be held on 5 May, is quite evident on the streets of Malaysia. The ruling Barisan National is cautious not to repeat the mistakes made in the last elections, where it lost the two-thirds majority. However, the hitch is that the strong coalition of the opposition parties does have a lot of factors that might work towards their favour. The Opposition People’s Alliance agenda revolves around issues such as corruption, cost of living, and minority rights, amongst others.

The question arises, are the factors capable of overthrowing the Barisan Nasional from power? What are these factors? Do these factors involve mistakes on behalf of the Barisan Nasional?

Favourable Factors for the Opposition
The Opposition Coalition that has been formed by nearly nine political parties is represented by the veteran leader Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar Ibrahim who has been Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is a seasoned and experienced leader. Moreover, his familiarity with Barisan Nasioanal can help to capitalise on tensions within the ruling party. Personality of Anwar Ibrahim is considered to be an additional asset to the opposition. In fact many political analysts consider the articulate, ambitious and experience Anwar Ibrahim as the binding force of the People Alliance, as the coalition is eclectic hotchpotch of Islamists, ethno-nationalists, non-Muslim ethnic minorities, socialist democrats and economic liberals. This Pan Islamist nature of the opposition may help to gain the minority vote bank. The two parties within the opposition, moderate People’s Justice Party and democratic Action party largely draws support from the ethnic Chinese minorities. This can be detrimental to the pro ethnic Malay ruling party’s poll performance. Although Anwar Ibrahim’s image had been discredited by charges of corruption and sexual misconduct, according to many Malaysians the charges were falsely framed against him, as he was seen as a growing threat by the ruling party.

Another issue that can bring luck to the Pekatan Rakyat or the People’s Alliance (the name of the opposition party) is the agenda of women issues. Dr. Wan Azizah who is the president of People’s Justice Party has the support of both Muslim and non Muslim voters. Pakatan Rakyat has listed many reforms for female voters in their agenda. These include, creation of a saving plan for lower income group widows; proposition of setting up a commission to look at solutions to sexual harassment and domestic violence; stricter laws against polygamy. People’s Alliance also bring up very vital issue in their agenda that if they form a government, laws will be introduced to give preference to local women rather than the foreigners as domestic helpers.

Is the Government digging its own grave?
Although the Barisan Nasional is headed by the charismatic leader Nazib Razak but mistakes on the part of the government can be a rationale for their failure. For instance the racial preference is still prominent in Malaysian society especially in property development markets where ethnic Malays still command discount and the prevailing quota system in higher education, makes Barisan Nasioanal’s titled toward favouring the ethnic Malays evident. There is a widespread allegations that illicit Malaysian citizenship have been granted to Muslim refugees who fled to the traditionally Christian state of Borneo from the fighting in the southern Philippines, on the condition that they vote for UMNO (United Malays National Organisation). Such religious politics is not new in Malaysian political history but this year these issues might hamper the minority vote bank as, the opposition leader is known as a liberal leader who can balance both Islam and other religions. Moreover two main controversies during the Najib Razak tenure have enough potential the change the political history of Malaysia. One, the investigation by the French into the allegations of kickbacks received from the sale of two submarines to Malaysia. Secondly, the mysterious death of the Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu who was touted as the key witness in the submarine deal. But perhaps the most capricious crisis remains in Sabah, where the state and federal authorities have failed to grasp the implication of the insurgency launched from Philippines, which not only left many people dead but also brought lot of criticism for the government in ability. Along with these issues the candidature of a large number of independent candidates might have a negative impact on the Barisan Nasional’s votes. A record number of two hundred and seventy independent candidates have signed up for the upcoming Malaysian elections. Interestingly, many of the independent candidates had either broken out of the ruling coalition or the opposition coalition. Although the probability of winning for majority of independent candidates are very less but the division in vote can bring a major change the electoral poll, especially when it comes to forming a government with two thirds majority.

The whole nation waits eagerly for the result of 5 May elections, to see whether a new political history will be created in Malaysia.