KAMPUNG BUKIT, KEDAH, MALAYSIA — With police investigating him under Malaysia’s new anti-“fake news” law, Mahathir Mohamad, the nearly 93-year-old former prime minister turned opposition frontman, says his country faces its dirtiest election on Wednesday. The governing coalition “will cheat like mad, they will steal votes, but still I think we can win,” Mahathir said in an interview with The Times, stepping off a makeshift stage and into a nearby BMW waiting to take him to yet another campaign rally. Defying his age, Mahathir had just wrapped up a half-hour stump speech in this farming area about a 20-mile drive from Aloh Setar, the capital of Kedah state, his home base. Kedah has typically been a government stronghold, although the green flags of Malaysia’s Islamist party also flutter along its roadsides. Mahathir wants to swing the state, and enough rural Muslim Malays across the country, to his four-party opposition grouping known as the Alliance of Hope.
GEORGE TOWN — Not many people give Malaysia’s opposition much hope of ending the Barisan Nasional’s 13 election winning streak, when the country goes to the polls next Wednesday May 9th. “For a government to rule for 60 years in a democracy, it shows there is something wrong with the country,” said Harindra Singh, a volunteer canvasser with the Democratic Action Party, the biggest of the 4 parties that make up the opposition coalition. The Barisan Nasional, or National Front, has governed Malaysia since independence from the UK in 1957. In the last elections held almost 5 years ago to the day, the Front lost the popular vote by 3% but still won enough of a majority of parliamentary seats to once again form a government.
KUALA LUMPUR – After months of internecine fighting that highlighted some of Malaysia’s long-standing ethnic and religious divisions, the end for the three-party Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) coalition came after a blistering attack on June 15 by the largely ethnic-Chinese Democratic Action Party on the mainly-Malay Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (Malaysian Islamic Party). The Islamic party, commonly known as PAS, had on June 6 voted to sever links with the DAP, meaning the future of the alliance was in doubt before the DAP’s announcement. PAS MP Khalid Abdul Samad told the Nikkei Asian Review that the change in party leadership and the June 6 vote to cut ties with the DAP meant that “there is no longer a Pakatan Rakyat.”
On July 11, Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee uploaded a Facebook photo of themselves eating bah kut teh, a savoury pork-rib soup popular among ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. No harm in that, you might think. But posting such a photo at the start of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting season, in which the devout – banned from eating pork to begin with – spend a full month without eating from dawn until dusk, proved highly provocative in Malaysia, where the majority of the population is Malay Muslim. The Malaysian couple even posted a halal logo beside their message, which read “Happy Breaking Fast, with fragrant, delicious and appetising bak kut teh.” It was, they said, meant as a gag, but many Muslims didn’t see the funny side of having their annual month-long privations — which include abstaining from sex — mocked by a couple whose previous claim to fame was for posting pornographic images of themselves.
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.
GEORGE TOWN — Tens of thousands of black-garbed Malaysians gathered in a football stadium on Wednesday night to hear opposition leaders denounce the outcome of Sunday’s election, which extended the Barisan Nasional’s (BN, or National Front) 56-year run in office. The vote was marred by cheating, say supporters of the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) opposition, clad in black as a protest against the result. Seeking a recount for 29 seats he contends were won by dubious means, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the crowd in the opposition stronghold of Selangor – a business and industry hub near Kuala Lumpur – that “I would not quit until we reach Putrajaya, until we expose all (fraud) and claim Putrajaya for the rakyat (people).”
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.
KOTA BHARU — After Malaysia’s opposition coalition announced a reform-inclined election manifesto on Feb. 25, an opinion poll released the following day showed that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s popularity down two points to 61 percent, while his government had the approval of 45 percent of Malaysians, also a two point drop, according to findings by The Merdeka Center, a Kuala Lumpur-based research firm. What is expected to be Malaysia’s closest-ever election will take place sometime between now and the end of June this year. Opposition lawmaker Dzulkefly Ahmad is confident that the three-party opposition coalition can make history by winning the vote, an outcome that would end the governing National Front’s unbroken run in office, having governed since independence from Great Britain in 1957. “In a clean and fair context, we have a fighting chance of winning,” says Ahmad, a MP for the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), one of three parties in the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister
YANGON – Ahead of what reform campaigners believe will be Malaysia’s “dirtiest ever elections,” the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has engineered something of a clean-up. In recent months, it has reformed some old and oft-derided laws, such as allowing indefinite detention without trial and forcing local newspapers to apply each year for a publication permit, a stipulation that encouraged self-censorship. UMNO and its allies have governed Malaysia consecutively since independence from colonial rule, a longevity not usually associated with electoral democracies. UMNO and its Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition survived the last election in 2008, though ceded its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time and lost five out of 13 federal states to the opposition, a coalition of three parties led by controversial former UMNO firebrand Anwar Ibrahim that includes the Islamic party PAS and the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP).