KUALA LUMPUR — After a disputed election, Malaysia’s opposition appears to be in something of a bind as to what comes next ahead of the opening of parliament on June 24. On May 5, the Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition held onto office in Malaysia’s 13th general election, meaning that if it stays in government for the full five year term to 2018, it will—with its forerunner the Alliance Party—top six continuous decades in office. The Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Alliance) opposition doesn’t think that the BN won a free and fair vote, however, and is filing official complaints against the outcome in 25 constituencies which it says were marred by cheating. If the opposition alliance won enough of the seats it is contesting, it would reverse the election outcome – a 133-89 seat win for the BN on a record 85 per cent turnout. In turn, the BN has filed complaints about 21 seats, which if it carried, would return the governing coalition’s two-thirds parliamentary majority lost in 2008 elections – an outcome that for the first time spurred opposition hopes that it could make history by beating the BN at the polls.
KAMPAR — He wouldn’t give his full name or his age — except to say that he had vivid childhood memories of Japan’s World War II occupation of Malaysia — but Lee, a Chinese-Malaysian shopkeeper in Kampar, a onetime tin-mining hub in the northwestern Malaysian state of Perak, didn’t hold back. “Politics in this country is about this: money politics,” he said, using the local shorthand for corruption. “The BN” — Barisan Nasional, or National Front — “is clever at it, and that means it is difficult for the opposition to win in this country,” he added. Sure enough, the parliamentary election held May 5 resulted in the BN coalition maintaining its nearly six-decade hold on power, which dates all the way back to Malaysia’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. The BN fended off a strong showing by Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Alliance), the opposition coalition, which ran a campaign focusing on alleged government graft — the “money politics” — and the BN’s perceived ethnic favoritism toward the country’s 60 percent Malay majority.
PENANG STATE — Malaysia’s ruling coalition has since 1957 steered the country between race riots, a brief and stormy marriage with Singapore and a communist insurgency, to the country’s position today as one of the great economic success stories of the developing world. But now its 56-year run in power since independence from Great Britain could be headed for the rocks. Malaysians will vote in a new parliament on May 5, and polls show a coalition led by former government insider Anwar Ibrahim has a shot at winning control of Southeast Asia’s third largest economy. “This election is the first one that is not a foregone conclusion,” says Clive Kessler of the University of New South Wales. Despite economic growth under the current government, perception of corruption and growing calls for more democracy and greater accountability have dogged it, giving the opposition a foothold from which to challenge the government.
GEORGE TOWN — Church burnings, pigs’ heads left outside mosques, cows’ heads paraded in protest at a Hindu temple relocation site, canings for Malay Muslims caught drinking alcohol and having extramarital sex — these are some of the lurid headline-grabbers to come out of Malaysia in recent months. Elections in 2008 saw the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), lose its dominant two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time since Malaysian independence. An opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party made significant gains, and in September 2008 seemed to be on the brink of persuading government MPs from Sabah and Sarawak to cross the house and vote against the BN. That did not happen, however, and while the opposition has won a number of significant by-election victories at national and local levels, it has not been able to launch a final push to dethrone the UMNO-led BN.