Malaysian politics hots up ahead of Aug 12 state polls

Global warming is wreaking havoc in some parts of Europe and the United States, with daytime temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius in southern Europe, and the East and West Coast of the US.

We in Malaysia are also grappling with erratic weather patterns, having to face the effects of El Nino and La Nina more frequently.

At this point in time, however, the political heat in Malaysia is overshadowing the global discourse on climate change.

For starters, in the run-up to the six state elections scheduled on Aug 12, the main protagonist in Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) camp was detained by the police and charged with sedition.

The arrest of Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, the caretaker Menteri Besar of Kedah, at 3am on July 18, solicited a lot of media attention by both his supporters and detractors.

Without going into the merits and particulars of his case, Sanusi’s arrest points to the fact that the stakes are extremely high in the upcoming state polls.

The fall of Barisan Nasional (BN) in 2018 precipitated a series of political crises in the country, with Malaysia having four prime ministers within a short period of less than five years.

What’s more, the 15th General Election held in November 2022 ended in stalemate. Not a single political grouping enjoyed a simple majority to form the government.

The hung parliament paved the way for the setting up of a “unity government” – the coming together of strange bedfellows.

The post-election political alliance between Pakatan Harapan (PH), BN, and the political groupings from Sabah and Sarawak saw the appointment of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as Malaysia’s 10th prime minister.

Prior to GE15, both PH and BN were fiercely campaigning against each other.

Quite naturally, their post-election alliance caused more than a storm in a tea cup among some of their followers, more specifically, among the purists.

If we care to look at how Malaysian voters voted in GE15  by looking at ethnic trends, the overall Malay support for PH was at 11 per cent, PN at 53 per cent,  and BN at 33 per cent.

There were few variations for Chinese voters across the states, and broadly speaking, Chinese voters throughout Malaysia supported PH, at 95 per cent.

Indian voters demonstrated a similar trend, where overall support for PH was at 86 per cent.

On the other hand, significant differences were observed in Malay voters across the different states. It should also be noted that there was a significant increase in PN supporters among older to younger Malay majority polling streams.

BN, however, suffered a significant drop in support from the Malay voters, especially among the 20s to 30s age group. The upcoming state elections will be crucial in understanding other voting trends, especially among Malay voters.

This includes the possibility of Malay voters shifting to PH in the coming state elections, and whether Anwar’s  decision to partner with BN could translate to more gains or losses in Malay votes.

On the other hand, BN’s – specifically Umno’s – strategy to work with DAP will also be tested. This is mainly because ethnicity played an important part in the recent general election. In so far as economic indicators are concerned, some studies have demonstrated that an increase in inflation is negatively correlated to the government of the day.

While we cannot write off economic considerations completely when it comes to how voters will cast their votes, we have to be cognizant of the fact that ethnicity completely dominates political life in Malaysia.

It is assumed that this is the logical outcome of the ethnically diverse nature of our society, the corollary is the organisation of our political parties along ethnic and religious lines.

As with the climate crisis, political contestation in Malaysia is reaching a boiling point. The battle lines have been drawn. Former foes are now brothers in arms.

While the earth is showing signs that all is not well, we do hope that the political contest will remain civil and within the boundaries of electoral democracy.

In the run-up to the 2023 state elections, Twentytwo13 has partnered with the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia, to offer readers research-based analyses 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. 


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