Categories: Breaking News

The campaign for Malaysia’s general election begins

KUALA LUMPUR–Campaigning for Malaysia’s general election formally kicked off on Saturday, in a highly competitive race that will see the world’s oldest coalition try to regain its dominance four years after a shock election defeat.

The November 19 election will determine whether Barisan Nasional (BN), or the National Front coalition, can mount a strong comeback or whether political reformers can pull off another shock victory that will see their leader, Anwar Ibrahim, achieve a dream long time to become prime minister.

Led by the United Malays National Organisation, BN has ruled since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. But anger over government corruption led to its defeat in the 2018 polls to Pakatan Harapan (PH ) of Anwar or Alliance of Hope. The election victory raised hopes of reforms as once-powerful UMNO leaders were jailed or taken to court for graft, but it was short-lived as defections led to the PH government collapse in early 2020 and return UMNO to power.

Scores of candidates, including Anwar and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 97, filed their nomination papers in their constituencies on Saturday, paving the way for the start of a 14-day campaign period . Local media reported that police fired tear gas to quell an unruly crowd outside a nomination center in a rural district on the island of Borneo.

More than 21 million Malaysians will vote to fill 222 seats in the Federal Parliament and elect representatives to three state legislatures.

“The general consensus is that the former ruling party Barisan Nasional will do very well and it is very likely that the only other coalition that can challenge BN is Pakatan Harapan,” said James Chin, an Asia expert at the University of Tasmania Australia

Interim Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of UMNO registered to defend his seat in the central state of Pahang as he warned there will be no easy victory.

Anwar, escorted by drummers and supporters waving party flags, filed his nomination in Tambun in the central state of Pekan, a new seat for him where he will face off against the incumbent, who had defected from his alliance .

“We are here to provide an alternative because of the failure of the current policies… and the social tension between various communities,” Anwar said, as he began his rounds to meet residents.

Anwar, 75, did not take part in the 2018 vote because he was in prison for a sodomy conviction that he said was politically motivated. PH’s campaign was then led by Mahathir, who became the world’s oldest leader at 92 after his victory. Anwar was pardoned soon after and was to take over from Mahathir. But mistrust and infighting led to the collapse of the PH government, sparking political turmoil that has continued under the new governments that took power.

Malaysia has had three prime ministers since the 2018 polls. Ismail dissolved Parliament on October 10, nine months ahead of schedule, at the behest of UMNO leaders for early voting despite the risk of flooding in due to monsoon rains. Buoyed by several state victories, UMNO believes it has the upper hand over a fragmented opposition and in the face of an expected economic slowdown next year.

Analysts said the emergence of two new Malaysian-based political alliances in Peninsular Malaysia could split votes among ethnic Malays, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people.

The Perikatan Nasional (PN), or National Alliance, is led by former UMNO leader Muhyiddin Yassin. His Bersatu party was part of Anwar’s group in the 2018 polls, but defected to form a shaky new government with UMNO that was divided by rivalry.

Mahathir, once Asia’s longest-serving leader for 22 years until 2003 before his brief stint in 2018, also formed a mixed alliance to contest 121 parliamentary seats. Despite his fading popularity, he is defending his seat on the northern tourist island of Langkawi. He said he is young at heart and has unfinished business to oust a corrupt UMNO and renew the country.

“I am not as old as my age. I have been fortunate to have been able to function as well as many younger people,” Mahathir said.

In two states on the island of Borneo that together account for a quarter of the parliamentary seats, a host of other parties are battling it out. The ruling state governments are traditionally aligned with BN.

“In 2018, it was a long-standing BN government against a long-standing opposition, but now it’s not so clear. People have more options,” Chin said. Some analysts cited the possibility of a hung parliament without a single coalition capable of securing a majority that could see new alliances formed after the election.

Analysts said the addition of 6 million new voters due to a lower voting age also adds to the uncertainty, while voter turnout could be affected by bad weather. Parts of Malaysia have already been affected by the floods. Malaysia’s weather department warned that heavy monsoon rains will begin next week, causing flash flooding in low-lying areas and along the river and sea.


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