December 4, 2022

While there are no reliable polls, there are growing signs of a seismic shift in voters in Malaysia’s upcoming 15th general election, due on November 19, with the possibility that no single coalition will hold the majority, suggesting a scramble suggests offer perks to splinter parties to form alliances large enough to rule.

The election was that of the Barisan Nasional, which lost to a disorganized and fractious Pakatan Harapan. But perceptions of inflation, rising unemployment and frustration with the country’s faltering education system, which is stacked against ethnic minorities, and the endemic corruption of Barisan leaders have all combined to diminish the ruling coalition’s hopes for poll dominance.

Inflation has been a global concern since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic triggered widespread consumer demand coupled with supply chain issues that disrupted the flow of consumer goods. But it has taken a toll on local governments and Malaysia is no different with an annual inflation rate of over 4.5 percent, with all-important food prices rising 6.8 percent in September after rising 7.2 percent in August percent were up, the steepest pace on record.

For the first time in recent history, a longtime observer with close ties to Barisan leaders said race and religion, which have traditionally dominated elections, are less of a factor.

“The ground has shifted,” he said. “No single party will have the majority.” The likelihood is that smaller parties, including Parti Bersatu led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, will play a dominant role as the grand coalitions achieve horse-trading for power, with the long-term Possibility that Muhyiddin could oust the leaders of the grand coalitions and end up as prime minister again. As in the past, the turmoil is likely to lead to an enlarged – and already swollen – cabinet and lucrative appointments to government-related companies.

Adding to the endemic problems of unemployment and inflation, a source said the dominant United Malays National Organization was “in a shithouse for lack of funds”. That’s because “the CEO of UMNO” is in Kajang prison.” That’s disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak, the party’s wealthy kingmaker who has amassed hundreds of millions of dollars through bribery and corruption, in part through theft by the now defunct 1Malaysia Development Bhd and in part by decades of military takeover bribes when he was Secretary of Defense.

Diplomats in Kuala Lumpur’s tight-knit embassy community are said to fear the return of the Barisan, pointing to a continuation of pay-as-you-go policies, pension appointments and a continued slide toward community disintegration. But Najib, who helped fund several by-elections that supported the Barisan’s return to power after the 2018 federal election debacle that ended 60 years of unbroken power, has so far refused to help a week before the election this time.

Additionally, the business community, unsure of which way the wind is blowing, largely refuses to contribute.

Add to this the murderous war between UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the Prime Minister, who took advantage of a power vacuum created when both Najib and Zahid were accused of corruption. Although Zahid was acquitted of one charge in October, he remains in the dock on a second, more serious charge of looting a charity he founded. Most observers believe he has little chance of avoiding conviction. While fighting that charge, Sabri has cemented his position.

Zahid did not fare well with an extraordinarily bland testimony at a Malaysian Indian Congress event last month, in which he warned that it was not just him and Najib who could face criminal prosecution if the Barisan did not return to power with his Deputy President Mohamad Hasan , UMNO Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, MIC President SA Vigneswaran and Vice President M. Saravanan, and Malaysian Chinese Association President Wee Ka Siong.

Zahid is said to have forced Sabri to hold the election this month in the middle of the monsoon season in hopes that torrential rains would dampen voter enthusiasm enough for UMNO’s superior organizing power to win a desperate victory. That and Zahid’s decision to depose some of the party’s senior warlords in favor of younger candidates has generated enough anger that some UMNO forces are reportedly secretly working against Zahid at his Bagan Datoh parliamentary seat in Perak.

With the Barisan’s money supply paralyzed, their leaders imprisoned or threatened, and factions vying for power, Pakatan Harapan, led by 75-year-old opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, should have an opportunity to return to power and rebuild address the reform agenda outlined in 2018.

While one well-informed source said Pakatan Harapan has patched ties between Anwar and Parti Keadilan Rakyat Vice-Chairman Rafizi Ramli enough to present a united front to push through the elections, others say Ramli is impatient and brusque and have thoroughly alienated other coalition parties. notably the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party.

“The DAP people literally hate Rafizi,” a longtime source told Asia Sentinel in October. “He’s smart, but a disruptor. He keeps telling these seniors, “It’s my way or the highway, and they’re not going to put up with it.”

Another source said Anwar, a fiery orator who has spent decades striving for power only to find himself repeatedly jailed on often fabricated charges, “does not appear to have a coordinated strategy with the DAP, Amana, etc. There seems to be no fire, enthusiasm, or drive motivation in Harapan. He is upset that Rafizi is commanding the PKR. He’s not the boss of his own business. But Rafizi cannot mobilize the coalition without him.”

The Malaysian United Democratic Alliance, founded in September 2020 as a multiracial and youth-centric party by Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, has attracted a growing number of young supporters and hopes to win four or five seats in the upcoming elections. With social media now rife and exposing the Barisan corruption to a young electorate, it represents a wild card for elections.

“The opposition has less money but they are fine, if UMNO spends 10 ringgit, the opposition spends 2,” a source said in a phone interview. “But they have workers who volunteer, so it’s not a big problem, especially in this election where Najib has closed his wallet.”

Despite a long list of apparent problems, the Barisan, with its impressive campaign machinery, persistent grip on the reins of government and the ability to schedule elections at a time of its choosing and to the detriment of the opposition, cannot be counted out to win the race, at least with a divided parliament and a strategy to lure the factions into his herd.