Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:59 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:59 | SYDNEY

Malaysia unbalanced


Malcolm Cook

14 February 2008 14:00

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah’s (pictured) announcement yesterday of an early election in Malaysia looks like a sign of political weakness rather than strength. His own reign as party president of UMNO and Prime Minister may well rest on the results. More generally, the election will also provide a good bellweather of how sustainable Malaysia’s long-standing communal balance is.

Recent large demonstrations by the ethnic Indian community and the newly prominent Hinduraf group over Malaysian Indians' lack of opportunity and government discrimination against them suggest the balance among the majority Malay population and the significant ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities that has defined Malaysian politics may be unravelling. The Malay share of the population continues to grow and the two minority groups are growing increasingly tired of decades of pro-Malay affirmative action. 

There are five key questions I will be asking about the election and what it means for Malaysia’s political future:

  1. Will the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition win more than 66% of the seats (enough to amend the constitution — they have 90% at the moment), and if not will Abdullah be replaced as leader?
  2. Will the Indian vote stay loyal to the Malaysian Indian Congress and its long-standing leader Sammy Vellu, or will it shift to new opposition groups like Hinduraf or the Anwar-led Keadilan party? No Malaysian electoral district has a majority ethnic Indian population.
  3. One of the reasons the election was called early was because Anwar Ibrahim’s ban from running for office ends in April this year. What will Anwar’s role be in the election campaign and how much of the Malay vote will migrate to Keadilan in expectation of Anwar’s full return to the political scene?
  4. What will be the voter turnout in total and particularly within the three different major ethnic groups?
  5. How will the Malaysian Government deal with opposition political rallies and protest demonstrations during the election period and what will be the reactions of the affected people and the communities they claim to represent? 

The result of Malaysian elections has always been the same – triumph by the UMNO led multi-ethnic party coalition – and I am sure 2008 will be no different. What might change is how large the victory will be and how well the different communal parties in the ruling coalition do. If the ruling coalition does badly, Abdullah’s reign may be short and the next election with Anwar back in the front-lines might be worth watching even more closely.

Photo by Flickr user Azani_Manaf, used under a Creative Commons licence.