Hung Parliament on the cards in Malaysian election?

Nov 19, 2022
Malaysia general election concept. close up hand of a person casting a ballot at elections during voting on canvas Malaysia flag background.

Malaysia goes to the polls on Saturday 19 November after two years of political turmoil that has seen two governments and three Prime Ministers fall.

Hammered by the effects of the pandemic and rising inflation, the economy is struggling, cost of living is skyrocketing, the ringgit is weak, tourists are only trickling back, unemployment is high, and the people are upset. How this will affect results this weekend – is the big kicker.

More importantly, two other factors will provide a delicious angle to this election.

Firstly, the lowering of the voting age to 18 and automatic voter registration has swelled the number of eligible voters by 6.23 million. How and whether these new and young voters exercise their rights will be interesting – as voter apathy and cynicism is high, with polls showing up to 70% of voters under 40 saying they do not trust politicians.

Secondly, the effect of the so-called ‘Sheraton Move’ in 2020 – a carefully orchestrated political coup at a local hotel that saw a slew of high-profile Pakatan MPs defect, bringing down the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) government – will be interesting.

The defectors and the BN opposition formed government with former Deputy PM Muhyiddin Yassin as PM. However, in August 2021, with Muhyiddin under fierce public criticism for his handling of the pandemic – BN made its move, withdrew its support, cobbled together a coalition, and returned to power with Ismail Sabri as PM.

The crowded field vying for control of the 222 seat Dewan Rakyat (the Lower House of Parliament) – is full of the usual suspects.

There is Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan coalition which won the 2018 election and was removed from power in the ‘Sheraton Move’, former PM Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance), former PM Mahathir Mohamad’s Gerakan Tanah Air (Homeland Movement), and PM Ismail Sabri’s Barisan Nasional (National Front), the incumbent government.

Basically, Malaysians have the choice of a multi-racial, centre-left Opposition alliance, and three right-wing conservative Malay-based coalitions that are expected to split votes with multi-cornered fights.

The choice of PM is hardly inspiring. The average age of the PM aspirants is 77 years– hardly a comfort to younger voters.

There is 97-year old Dr Mahathir, widely viewed as indirectly responsible for the infighting in Pakatan that led to the Sheraton Move by simply not being willing to relinquish power to Anwar, as he had agreed to. He is also seen as a non-reformer, and past his use-by date. His motley Gerakan coalition is expected to influence only a few seats on Saturday. Malaysians view him with some affection, but say he has had his chance, and that he needs to give it up.

Muhyiddin Yassin, one of the 2020 defectors whose Perikatan coalition governed after the fall of Pakatan, is expected to be one of the big winners this weekend. Malaysians are split on his record – mixed views on the handling of the pandemic and the economy but view him as a steady hand on the tiller. He is viewed as a moderate, which make him appealing to the undecided voters, including some non-Malays. But his coalition with BN which returned them to power has not gone down well with the electorate.

Then there is Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, who at 75, must realise this is probably his last chance to be PM. Polling shows him as preferred PM, with Pakatan expected to win the popular vote. Polls consistently show them as the preferred party of government and they are expected to pick up a swathe of urban and culturally-diverse seats, but whether enough to win government in their own right – remains to be seen.

And lastly, current PM Ismail Sabri and Barisan Nasional. Sabri is seen as nothing but a ‘safe’ option for BN, selected to deflect away criticism from the corruption, nepotism and cronyism that Malaysians seem to universally believe represents BN – to deliver them a strong result in the election. It is widely expected that if BN win, Sabri will be replaced with a hardliner. Most Malaysians I spoke to, including Malays, seem to have a visceral hatred of the presence of many of disgraced and jailed former PM Najib Razak’s cronies still within BN’s ranks.

The Malaysians I spoke to are sick of the political insecurity and jostling and are extremely cynical and distrustful of their politicians. There is also a lot of residual frustration at the fact that the two governments since the fall of Pakatan, were not ones that they had any say in putting into office. They just want a secure post-pandemic political scene. Whether this translates into a huge protest vote or voter swings will be something to watch on election night.

My predictions?

Based on polling and voter sentiment, I believe none of the parties will achieve the simple majority number of 112 seats to govern in their own right.

Inner-city and ethnic Chinese and Indian voters will stay with Anwar’s Pakatan, while the Malays will be split between Mahathir’s nostalgia, Barisan’s Sabri and his boring steady as she goes mantra, or Muhyiddin’s Perikatan as an opportunity to punish Barisan but an alternative to Anwar. The scenario is enticing.

I think Perikatan and Pakatan will be the big winners on Saturday – sweeping the majority of the seats. This will leave Muhyiddin Yassin and Anwar Ibrahim the closest to Putrajaya (the PM’s office).

I believe Barisan Nasional will be the big losers – and will be decimated. Mahathir’s Gerakan might win a few seats, but not enough to be kingmakers in the post-election negotiations.

The weeks post-election are likely to see intense politicking between the players, and the modus operandi of Malaysian politics – patronage, money, privilege, race relations, religion, conservative Islamic beliefs pitted against a much more educated, cosmopolitan, left-leaning younger generation, rural and urban issues – will all come into play.

By Sunday morning, we should have a pretty good idea of which way Malaysians want their politicians to go.

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