By: Murray Hunter
Although Malaysia’s general election left the country with a hanging parliament, voters have delivered trends that will shape the nation’s political landscape, including hammering at the scandal-ridden United Malays National Organization, whose 65-year reign may be coming to an end of political dominance.
Both Anwar Ibrahim, who fought for election as prime minister after three decades – and Muhyiddin Yassin, who was already prime minister – and Muhyiddin Yassin, who was already prime minister, claimed their respective coalitions had enough support among the 222 seats in parliament to to form the government, although they did not disclose which parties they had formed alliances with. Negotiations to form a government are ongoing.
However, it is clear that officials, the military, Malay professionals and young Malay voters have dumped UMNO to throw their support behind the ethnic Malay-nationalist Perikatan Nasional coalition led by Muhyiddin Yassin, 68, which was pushed through evidenced by the coalition victory in the nation’s political capital Putra Jaya.
Politicians who have dominated the government for decades have been shown the door, including 97-year-old two-time prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his son Mukhriz, and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who has sat in parliament for 46 years and has served as president and finance minister. Nurul Izzah Anwar. the daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, lost Permatang Puah, a seat the family held for many years. Khayry Jamaluddin, who was once considered the new face of UMNO, also lost.
None of the three coalitions vying for power appear to be commanding the numbers to form a simple majority, with some form of interdependent politics in order for a government to form. That means a period of intense horse-trading is likely to follow, making Sarawak’s leading Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), already ruling the state of East Malaysia, the obvious kingmaker after winning 22 out of 31 parliamentary seats, up from 19 in 2018. GPS has already held meetings with Anwar and Anthony Loke and separately with Muhyiddin and Abdul Hadi on forming a government.
GPS has two basic options, with advantages and disadvantages of both. The rural Islamist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, now the largest component of Perikatan Nasional, is unwelcome for its political Islamic policies, and the PH-side Democratic Action Party is unpopular for what is seen as Chinese chauvinism.
However, an unexpected coalition could be cobbled together before anti-hopping laws come into force to discourage opportunistic politicians from switching parties once in Parliament.
Different parts of the country voted in different ways. Those politicians who did not perform well or were seen as traitors to their party were severely punished, including former Selangor Prime Minister Azmin Ali and Zuraidah Kamaruddin, who played a leading role in the so-called 2021 Sheraton coup that was attempted to install an ethnic backdoor Malaysian nationalist government and Maszlee Malik, who did very poorly as education minister.
With turnout at 75 percent, there were no “giveaways” about which coalition would benefit before the results were released. The Barisan Nasional was betting on low turnout in the middle of the Malaysian monsoon season, while high turnout should favor opponent Pakatan Harapan. Instead, the moderate turnout favored no group, with the youth election not being the turning point the opposition had hoped for, though it appears to have brought down some of the country’s oldest political figures.
In fact, the opposition Pakatan Harapan’s overall voting percentage declined. The ethnically Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which previously held 47 seats, fell to 40, with its vote percentage falling to 18 percent from 19.94 in 2018. The hardest hit was Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) party, which lost 11 seats. Now 31, PKR’s voting percentage has dropped from 18.92 percent to 14 percent. Third member Amanah lost three seats and won eight in that election, and UPKO won one seat and won two.
The Pakatan-Harapan coalition is the largest faction on the way to the new parliament and is giving 75-year-old Anwar his last chance to form a government, not because of his stellar electoral performance but because of the split in the Malay heartland. the former territory of the Barisan Nasional (BN) led by caretaker Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Perikatan Nasional (PN) led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin. The Barisan had dominated this section of the electoral map since independence. The PAS took root, winning 18 seats in 2018, and Bersatu, under the leadership of Mahathir Mohamed, was able to take 13 seats from UMNO, the dominant member of the BN, in 2018.
UMNO’s dominance in heartland Malay fell this time from 54 seats to 20 in the peninsula, with an additional seven wins in Sabah. UMNO’s vote fell to just 12 percent from 20.9 percent in 2018 as the party remains embroiled not only in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal and the disgrace of the now imprisoned Najib Razak, but also in a leadership dispute between Najibs Lieutenant Abdul Zahid Hamidi, the party leader, and Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the current prime minister, are implicated.
The real winner of the evening was Perikatan Nasional (PN), as expected from the previous week. Muhyiddin Yasin’s Parti Bersatu – once a rump party founded by Mahathir to lead the reformist Pakatan Harapan in the 2018 election – rose from 13 to 24 seats, an increase from 5.95 to 11 percent of the vote. PAS, led by Abdul Hadi Awang, won a whopping 31 seats in the new parliament for a total of 49. The PAS vote has risen from 16.82 to 22 percent, making it the leading party in the PN coalition and Abdul Hadi the candidate for holds the office of Prime Minister.
The Sabah political landscape is now clearly divided between 3 factions. UMNO Sabah has 7 seats, GRS Sabah has 6 seats and Warisan has 3, the rest is held by DAP 2, PKR 1 and Bersatu 1. It looks like Sabah, unlike Sarawak, will not rid the state of the influence of peninsular-based political parties.
Perlis state experienced a PN election tsunami that wiped out the Barisan state government with all state MPs, including Prime Minister Azlan Man, losing their seats. This after the loss of UMNO MP Shahidan Kassim. Both Pahang and Perak, which also held state elections, are hanging in the balance with a possible BN-PN coalition government.
UMNO President Zahid gambled on forcing the nation to hold elections during the monsoon season. His poor leadership has led to widespread calls for his resignation. If Zahid resigns, he will face criminal charges over allegations of looting a charity as political protection is now gone. Though Zahid just scratched his seat in Bagan Datuk with fewer than 400 votes, he is now personally open to the full weight of the law.
It appears that ethnic Malays have accepted the political Islamic-Malay nationalist approach propagated by PAS and Abdul Hadi. Pakatan made many mistakes in selecting candidates. However, this would not have reached the numbers in the final seat count.
The map of the Malaysian election has changed markedly from the voter sentiment shown in the Johor state election earlier this year. There was the absence of Najib, who led the UMNO crusade during the Johor and Melaka campaigns, pouring in huge sums of money and showing off his organizational skills. In contrast, incumbent Prime Minister Ismail Sabri remained within his own constituency to protect his own seat in Bera. UMNO party president Zahid did the same. It almost seemed like the unofficial leader of UMNO was Khary Jamaluddin, who got the unwinnable seat from Sungai Buloh. This is in contrast to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who undertook whistlestop helicopter tours of the nation during the election campaign, displaying the old “reformasi” zeal for which he was famous.