The run up to the 13th General Election on Sunday May 5 has been described as the dirtiest in Malaysian history. For the first time in 54 years the Barisan Nasional (BN) Government led by Prime Minister Najib Razak fears it may lose its grip on power. For the first time the Malaysian voter has a choice of a credible opposition, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) led by Anwar Ibrahim, which is mounting a strong challenge. Indications are that the main coalition partners of BN – the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and the Gerakan may suffer severe losses or even be wiped out. The United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) may also lose some seats to the Pan Islamic Party (PAS) of the opposition coalition.
The UM Centre for Democracy and Elections in a recent survey has put the PR ahead of the BN by 43% to 38%.
There also seems to be a genuine concern amongst BN politicians that if they lose the elections, there will be accountability and retribution for past misdeeds. This has led to a change in strategy and the battle lines, unfortunately, are being drawn on racial and religious grounds. This has always been a disturbing tactic used by all parties to garner support of the disgruntled racists and fundamentalists.
Fear mongering in the BN controlled media and in party propaganda is also raising its ugly head. The opposition is countering with an expose of BN excesses on the internet. Notably BN has at every election including this one resurrected the ghosts of May 13th 1969 when hundreds of people lost their lives in racial riots instigated by devious politicians which broke out after the elections. A film Tanda Putera (the Executioner Prince), a distorted version of the May 13th events, is being allegedly screened privately to Malay audiences to stir up hatred towards the Chinese.
Numerous full page advertisements also appear in the media daily designed to instill fear in non-Muslims- that a vote for the opposition will be a vote for PAS and hudud law, dismemberment of limbs as punishment for certain crimes.. The opposition has been highlighting poor governance, mismanagement of public funds, bribery and corruption by BN governments at the State and Federal levels for decades.
Of equal interest to the General Election is the battle for 12 State Governments which is being held simultaneously. Sarawak held its elections in 2011. Currently BN controls nine States and PR four. BN says it can win back 2 States and PR has hopes to retain its 4 States and capture at least 3 more BN States.
It is difficult to gauge voter sentiment because there are no independent surveys, but if the crowd attendance at party rallies is an indication of public support, the Opposition has a great chance of winning at least another 33 seats in a House of 222 seats to obtain a simple majority. It could also win a number of States .At the very least PR may make substantial gains.
As a casual observer of the Australian media I keep asking myself how a bombing in Boston is more important to Australia than an election in Kuala Lumpur?