GE15 looms with no odds-on favourite on who will form next govt in Malaysia

Malaysian politics, post 2018, has been anything but stable.

After Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tendered his resignation in February 2020, Malaysia had two prime ministers in quick succession, coming from the same coalition of parties that banded together to fill the power vacuum left by Dr Mahathir’s resignation.

All hell broke loose afterwards.

The political infighting within the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, between Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, brought the country almost to a political and economic standstill.

The elevation of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the eighth Malaysian prime minister, with a razor thin majority in Parliament, and the endless politicking by influential Umno politicians facing criminal charges, precipitated a political climate of uncertainty and restlessness.

Muhyiddin’s government, for instance, was labelled “kerajaan gagal” (failed government) by his detractors on both sides of the political divide.

Due to the unrelenting political pressure from some Umno parliamentarians, Muhyiddin buckled, and was unceremoniously booted out of office after only 17 months in power.

The irony of it all is the fact that the ghosts of Umno that was exorcised in the 14th General Election, returned with a vengeance.

Following their electoral victories in two by elections – never mind that the voter turnout in Melaka and Johor was the lowest in Malaysia’s electoral history (65.85 per cent and 54.92 per cent respectively) – an emboldened Umno began pounding the war drums.

Its president, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is himself facing criminal charges, made numerous statements indicating that his party was ready for the 15th General Election.

While some Cabinet ministers, particularly those from PPBM and Pas, were against the dissolution of Parliament this year, the prime minister, under pressure from his own party, went ahead and proposed to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to dissolve Parliament, and the latter agreed.

The dissolution of Parliament on Oct 10 put an end to the incessant speculation on when GE15 would be held.

The next question on everyone’s mind is – Which party or coalition of parties would form the next government?

This is by no means a straightforward question. If we can use popular votes as an indicator, then BN does not stand a chance (Figure 1).

Figure 1

BN’s popular vote has been steadily going down, while the popular vote for the opposition is moving upwards.

Having said that, we need to be mindful of the fact that the number of popular votes received by a political party does not commensurate with the number of seats in Parliament, which shows that an unpopular party can form the government of the day.

This is one of the biggest flaws of our ‘first past the post’ and unproportional representation electoral system.

Another indicator that shows the weakening of BN’s hold on Malaysian politics is the number of seats won in Parliament (Figure 2).

Figure 2

The trend is similar to the percentage of popular votes, whereby the number of seats gained by BN is on a down trend, while the number seats obtained by the opposition, is going up.

Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that nothing stays the same in the social and political world.

Change is inevitable. Whereas GE14 was held against the backdrop of increasing public anger against an unpopular “kleptocratic” government, the opposition is now fragmented and is no longer on solid ground.

When PPBM and some parliamentarians from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), led by Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, broke away from Pakatan Harapan (PH), a united front against BN is now, no longer possible.

The jailing of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and the charges against his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, had effectively blocked the issues surrounding both Najib and Rosmah from being used as ammunition against BN.

Perhaps, the short-lived PH rule is the most damaging weapon that can be used against the opposition.

The unrealistic PH manifesto is being bandied around as testimony that PH is not a viable alternative to BN.

It seems that 21 million Malaysian voters do not have much of a choice.

In the face of strong headwinds coming from all angles, Malaysia needs a competent government, now more than ever.

Geopolitical uncertainty, climate disaster, possible health calamities, and an economic downturn are among some of the urgent issues that require serious attention.

The last thing we need is a reactionary government that has no clue on how to deal with price increases, economic inequalities, and natural disasters.

It is hoped that Malaysian voters will make a wise decision on Nov 19.

In the run-up to GE15, Twentytwo13 has partnered with Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia, to offer readers research-based analysis and insights.

Established in 1974, CenPRIS is Malaysia’s oldest social science research centre. It serves as a resource centre for information and analysis of critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.