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.
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.
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.