Malaysia is one of the two countries in South-East Asia that had first recognised Bangladesh in February 1972. Since then, the two countries have been maintaining a very friendly relation.
Besides, more than half a million Bangladeshis have been working there and contributing to Malaysia’s economy. Few thousand Bangladeshis are enjoying long term visa facilities under the ‘Malaysia: My Second Home’ programme. Bangladeshis are also getting Malaysian citizenship since the last few years. Yes, the national election of that country is supposed to be held this year. So, for obvious reasons, the politics of both government and opposition parties there is warming up. That wind is also touching our country and we are keenly observing the situation there.
Malaysian national and state parliamentary elections usually occur every five years. Though the last national election was held in May 2013, no date has yet been announced for this year’s election. But, there is constitutional obligation that the 14th general election must be held on or before 24 August 2018. In fact, the current parliament will automatically expire on 24 June 2018. And within the two months of the dissolution of parliament, elections will have to be completed. People say that the general elections would be held on a convenient day after the Chinese New Year and before the start of Ramadan. If there is no special exception, the elections of the states will also be held on that date.
Malaysia got independence on 31 August 1957 under the leadership of the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO). However, UMNO, with others, had to form a political coalition named Barisan Nasional (BN) before independence in 1955. UMNO has been in the state power of Malaysia since independence, with the alliance partners Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). On the other hand, opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), was born in April 2008 in the wake of the 12th general elections. The main parties of the alliance were Pan Islamic Party (PAS), Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP) and People’s Justice Party (PKR).
On the allegation of financial corruption from IMDB, the longest serving former Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has taken the opposition platform against the current Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. He has also formed a political alliance named ‘Pakatan Harapan’ (Pact of Hope) with other opposition parties. In addition to his Malaysian United Indigenous Party (PPBM), DAP and PKR are in the alliance. We know that DAP and PKR had won 71 of the 89 seats gained by the opposition coalition (PR) in the last general election. Nonetheless, Dr. Mahathir is accompanied by his son former Chief Minister of Kedah state Mukhriz Mahathir and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
To understand how the 14th general election would go or what would be the position of the government as well as the opposition alliance in this election, it is necessary to look at the results of the last election. As the 13th general election was scheduled for 5 May 2013, the Parliament (Dewan Rakyat) was dissolved on 3 April. Voting on 5 May ended very smoothly and peacefully. I had personally visited several polling areas in the remote rural areas and saw voters disciplined to vote. We were able to know the full results of the election from television channels before next day morning. Out of total 222 seats, the ruling party-led alliance (BN) got 133 seats and the opposition coalition (PR) got 89 seats. However, BN got 7 seats less than it got in the 12th general elections. Those lost seats were mainly from its alliance partner MCA. It is to be noted that BN failed to achieve two-third majority since the 12th elections (2008).
Like the previous elections, the BN got more votes in the rural areas, particularly in Malay concentrated areas and the opposition coalition won more seats in the urban areas. Of the 133 seats that BN got, 108 were in the rural areas. Of the 89 opposition seats, 72 seats were from suburb and urban areas. In fact, the election was the fight between the rural and urban voters. It was educated versus less educated voters’ fight. The opposition alliance got all the 30 seats in the Chinese concentrated area. Majority urban seats went to the opposition, even in the Malay concentrated urban areas. So the Malay concentrated areas, like before, do not remain as BN strongholds. Perhaps the impact of education and urbanisation has been behind this change.
Let’s explain the scenario of voters’ choice for the government as well as opposition candidates in the last election. In 98 seats out of 222 seats, the ruling coalition and the opposition alliance had very tough fight with minimum difference (60 own by the government and 38 by the opposition coalition). In 52 constituencies, the winners were fairly safe. However, there was a big gap of votes between the alliances’ candidates in the rest 77 constituencies. Here, the government alliance won 44 seats and the opposition coalition won 33 seats without any anxiety.
In terms of popularity, BN got 57% of vote of the rural area, 47% of the suburb area and 36% of the urban area. This result clearly indicates the decreasing trend of popularity of the government coalition in the urban area. Sabah and Sarawak states have again proved BN’s absolute authority and the opposition’s weakness. In fact, BN remained in power due to strong supports from the rural areas. The election has also identified the weak areas of the opposition alliance (including Sabah and Sarawak, popularly known as the vote bank of the government alliance). The result of the last election had clearly reflected the division of the urban and rural people including the split of the society.
The results of the ensuing election might be very consistent to the last election. The pan-Islamic party PAS is not in the opposition coalition till now. But, instead, Mahathir has been added. In that sense, the current opposition alliance would be stronger than the previous alliance. The money laundering allegations raised against Prime Minister Najib might have very little adverse impact on BN coalition. Because, such financial scandals are not something abnormal in Malaysia, some people shout, but the general people forget these easily and quickly. However, if the opposition alliance can pull more rural votes, then the results of the election can be different. But we should not forget that about 69% of the population of Malaysia are Malay. The rest are Chinese and Indians (30%), who generally live in suburb and urban areas. And the Malay people, especially the Bhumiputras, have been enjoying more advantages from the government than others. Furthermore, the Malaysian government’s stand on recent issues like Rohingya cleansing by Myanmar and President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel might have positive impact on attracting more Muslim voters for BN. The last point to say - the UMNO led coalition has always formed the government since the independence of Malaysia; in that case, we have doubt whether Mahathir’s alliance will be able to do something else. And if it happens, then it would open a new chapter in the history of Malaysia.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary