The guessing game of Malaysian politics

Florence Looi is based in Kuala Lumpur and reports from Asia-Pacific region for Al Jazeera. She can be followed @FlorenceLooi.



“I heard it might be next Monday.”

If you want to discuss Malaysian politics, be prepared to have an opinion about when you think the prime minister will dissolve parliament, because that is the most talked about topic among Malaysians these days.

Prime minister Najib Razak has to dissolve parliament to pave the way for the next general election. And he’s got everyone guessing.

Although in truth, the whole country has been in election mode since political pundits predicted polls would be held in March 2012.

And these are shaping up to be the country’s most closely fought elections.

The National Front Coalition, made up of three main parties, has ruled Malaysia since it gained independence from Britain in 1957. But it lost its customary two-thirds majority in parliament at the last election in 2008 and is desperate to regain that.

The ruling coalition is exhorting voters to stay with it based on its track record. Najib has been trotting out growth numbers – the economy grew 5.6 percent in 2012 – and pushing his economic transformation programme as key to the country becoming a high-income nation in the coming years. In the last several months, he’s announced cash handouts for the poor, subsidies to buy smartphones for the young, and increased benefits for the civil service. The message is clear: a vote for his government is a vote for economic stability.

But his incumbent government faces a strong challenge from a rejuvenated opposition, led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who has cobbled together a coalition of three parties.

They’re attacking Najib’s administration for suppression of civil liberties, continued support for racially discriminatory policies, and failure to rein in corruption and money politics. Corruption, suggests an opinion poll by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, is the main concern of voters.

It’s on this front that the government has suffered its most bruising attacks. The opposition has been capitalising on a videotape expose by non-governmental organisation, Global Witness, that alleges large scale corruption by the chief minister and his family in the state of Sarawak.

There’s also the “cash for cow” scandal, where the family of a former minister was given a soft loan to start a cattlefeed project, but used that money to buy luxury properties instead.

Najib, in an interview with the Financial Times, described corruption as a scourge that won’t go away overnight, but said his government was determined to tackle it.

In the meantime, what’s one to do if one’s impatient for polls to be over?

Well, you could hold your own. Gather a group of friends and play “Politiko”, a card game that mirrors Malaysian politics, right down to voter demographics. Want to thwart your opponent from winning the election? Throw a sex scandal card at him. Want to gain votes? Don’t be afraid to give cash handouts, or increase petrol subsidies. After all, that’s what politicians do in Malaysia.

Thankfully, it’ll all be over by June. Parliament reaches its full five-year term at the end of April, and will automatically dissolve. Polls then have to be held not more than sixty days later. Until then, the guessing game of when the next Malaysia election will be, continues.


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