Status: 11/19/2022 10:18 AM
After the recent elections in Malaysia, there was hope for more pluralism, and a more mature democracy. But the only question this time seems to be how the old power elites will become dominant again.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yacob’s party has ruled Malaysia for six decades. When she surprisingly lost the election four years ago, it was not the democratic awakening many had hoped for that began, but years of political confusion.
With today’s elections, the United Malays National Organization, UMNO, wants to finally return to the status quo ante and establish clear power relations. Ismail Sabri dissolved parliament prematurely in October. New elections must take place quickly – before the annual monsoon season, which often brings heavy rains.
Three prime ministers since the last election
Three prime ministers have led the country since 2018. Very unusual in Malaysia, where since the country gained independence, only one party, UMNO, has been in power.
But it fell in the elections four years ago due to a massive corruption scandal involving then-Prime Minister Najib Razak. After the defeat, he and his wife were charged – and two years later sentenced to twelve years in prison – for embezzling billions of dollars from a sovereign wealth fund.
Almost 30 parties
Nearly 30 parties to contest the elections. In the multi-ethnic country, many of them try to appeal to certain ethnic groups.
UMNO administers policy for the largest population group, institutionally privileges Malays over other ethnic groups. But corruption in the party leadership has gone too far even for this loyal faction.
A multiracial alliance, Pakatan Harapan – or Alliance of Hope – benefited from this in the recent elections. But that was soon shattered by internal rivalries and defections, fueled by the UMNO, which succeeded in stoking fears of loss of privileges among the Malays. This is how UMNO finally returned to power – but only with the help of a fragile and fractious alliance.
Things are looking good for UMNO
Ismail Sabri has been prime minister for just over a year and according to opinion polls he has a good chance of winning. Critics feared, among other things, that his victory would mean the return of corrupt UMNO groups. The Hope Alliance, which is seen as reformist, is led by war veteran Anwar Ibrahim. It has its base among the educated urban middle class.
His predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, is also running for prime minister, albeit as a candidate from the National Alliance party, Perikatan, which is particularly popular with rural voters.
The oldest candidate for prime minister is Mahathir bin Mohamad. He is 97 years old and has ruled the country for UMNO for 24 years. But now he is running with a newly founded party – however, he has little chance of success.
It’s about the economy
Political instability, including during the Covid pandemic, and rising inflationary pressures have led to great frustrations in society. For many Malaysians, economic development and the rising cost of living are the top issues ahead of elections – as is frustration with the political maneuvering of recent years.
Zamiri Haroun is a livestock and fodder trader. Last year he lost his equipment and supplies due to heavy rains. In order to pay his workers and continue his business, he had to borrow money. He did not receive any government assistance.
Al-Zimri told Reuters that Al-Zimri wants to vote for a candidate who will help him deal with the current economic situation. “As traders, we don’t see the government helping us. We expect the candidate who will lead this area to be honest and help people.”
More young voters than ever before
Today’s election is focused on young voters. Since the electoral reform in 2019, the voting age in Malaysia has been 18 instead of 21. This means that the 18-29-year-old generation represents the largest group of first-time voters, and there has never been a higher proportion of first-time voters.
Hajar Wahhab, in her early twenties, is educating first-time voters about their choices and motivating them to vote. This is necessary because many are exhausted by the political instability in the country, says the student at the Islamic University of Kuala Lumpur. Hajar explains to Reuters news agency that this is exactly what should motivate children to vote: they should be angry!