On April 10, 2018, the Malaysian Election Commission announced that a general election has been scheduled to take place on May 9th of this year. This is a controversial move and is regarded as a threat to the ruling coalition’s 61-year reign.
Barisan Nasional (BN) is the ruling coalition in Malaysia. Founded in 1973, the right-wing coalition has since become a strong ruling power. The coalition is the ruling party in the Parliament of Malaysia, with Chairman Najib Razak holding the role of Prime Minister since 2009. BN is also the largest coalition in 10 of the 13 state legislative assemblies within the Malaysian government.
Razak is expected to maintain control of Malaysia in the upcoming election, but he faces a number of challenges. In recent years, Malaysians have grown discontent with BN due to the rising cost of living and, most recently, a scandal at a state fund founded by Razak, in which an estimated $4.5 billion dollars was misappropriated. Furthermore, he is facing 92-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Mohamad is regarded as a significant threat to Razak.
A former leader of BN, Mohamad has put aside differences with politician Anwar Ibrahim, according to Al Jazeera. In this election, he represents opposition coalition Pakistan Harapan (PH), a left-leaning and centrist coalition. Formed in 2015, PH is the second largest coalition in Malaysia and has only continued to grow in numbers in recent years due to the rising discontent by the people.
In a statement regarding his candidacy, Mohamad said, “Our great focus is to save our beloved country. It wasn’t easy for the parties that were my enemies before to accept me, but they are aware of the importance of bringing down the current government.” He has expressed great concern over the corruption scandal, which led him to put aside differences with Ibrahim, who is currently in jail for sodomy. Ibrahim was once a protege of Mohamad, but in the ’90s Ibrahim was laid off and later charged with sodomy and corruption, according to Al Jazeera.
Should Mohamad win, PH plans to pardon Anwar of all charges and then place him in the role of prime minister, according to the coalition’s Secretary-General, Saifuddin Abdullah.
The election is to be held on a weekday and the Election Commission set an 11-day campaign period for the candidates. This is less than the period set for the 2013 election. This, combined with the fact that this is the first Malaysian election to be held on a weekday in nearly 20 years, has kindled fears of a low voter turnout. Critics have argued the shorter campaign period and choice of election day were purposefully chosen in an attempt to keep Razak in office, thus maintaining BN’s control of Malaysia in every level of government.
These fears area also combined with the Parliament’s decision to redraw electoral boundaries and passing a bill which allows the dissemination of fakes news. Critics of the election assert that all of these actions are being carried out purposefully to steal the election for Razak and BN.
In response the such criticism, the government of Malaysia and the Election Commission have released separate statements rejecting such accusations. The Commission also stated it has appointed 28 observers, half of which are international, to ensure a fair election result.
Despite these challenges, Mohamad has maintained his and his party’s confidence in a win. In a news conference, he stated, “We think we will be able to defeat Barisan Nasional in this election.”
Election analysts, however, have come forward saying Mohamad is in for a fight. Ibrahim Suffian, who works at polling firm Merdeka Centre, told Al Jazeera, “We have democratic institutions, but we also have practices that border on authoritarianism. And the ruling party has been in power so long that they’ve mastered the art of managing the competition, and working with the rules.”
Regardless of the final outcome, this election appears to be a turning point for Malaysian politics. BN will have to face the facts that they cannot continue to operate as they have win and not face repercussions and challenge. There will likely be a large push for transparency by the citizens of Malaysia as well as the opposition coalitions. Even if Razak maintains power, he will certainly have felt the tenuous nature of it, hopefully leading to change. At this time, however, only time will tell what the upcoming election holds for Malaysia.