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Analysis, Politics

Malaysia’s political parties

A look at Malaysia’s political parties ahead of general elections later this year.

Written by

Updated: February 27, 2018

As Malaysians prepare to go to the polls, let’s take a closer look at some of the parties and coalitions that will be battling it out in the 14th general election.

Barisan Nasional

Founded in 1973, Barisan Nasional (BN) is the longest ruling coalition in Malaysian history and the decades-old political alliance is showing no sign of stepping down without a fight. What started as the three-member Alliance Party comprising the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) has since swelled to include over a dozen component parties, with Malaysia’s three major ethnic groups represented.

The UMNO-led coalition enjoyed enormous success in the 2004 general election, winning 198 of the 219 parliamentary seats, but support from the BN has since begun to wane, with the coalition bagging 140 seats in 2008 and just 133 seats in 2013. Joseph Liow suggests in The Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Southeast Asia that the emergence of a more unified opposition is partly to blame for its decline in popularity, as was UMNO’s dominance within the coalition, with parties representing other racial groups such as the MCA and MIC taking the backseat.

Then, in 2015, UMNO president and current Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak faced perhaps the biggest threat to his political career when it emerged that an estimated 700 million dollars from troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had found its way into the premier’s private bank accounts. Najib was eventually cleared of wrongdoing.

More recently, the prime minister has been accused of “selling out” Malaysia to the Chinese following a series of loans and high-profile investment deals to the country, reported The Straits Times. The deals included the sale of struggling national car maker, Proton, the sale of 1MDB’s power plants, the construction of three ports and a RM55 billion rail link.

Other causes of concern for voters include employment and coping with the rising cost of living, according to The Straits Times.

Yet even after several turbulent years, most observers believe BN is in quite a solid position.

Panellists at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum last year did not seem convinced that the 1MDB scandal would be a major factor in the election.

Ong Keng Yong, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large said that the scandal did not seem to have caused significant harm to Najib or UMNO while Ibrahim Suffian, director of Merdeka Centre, an independent opinion polling firm, said issues related to 1MDB were “approaching historical status.”

A rebounding economy and higher oil prices have also worked to Najib’s advantage, as he has been able to dedicate more funds to easing the burden of rising living costs without compromising his fiscal targets, according to Bloomberg.

His party has also focused on other common concerns such as affordable housing, which he recently said his government would continue to take steps to provide, according to The New Straits Times.

Pakatan Harapan

Founded in 2015, Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope in English, is Malaysias second largest coalition. It currently consists of four parties: the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the National Trust Party (Amanah), the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (PPBM) and Peoples Justice Party (PKR).

In early January, the party surprised the country by naming former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mahomed, 92, its candidate for prime minister should it win the election though the coalition has made it clear that popular opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will take over Mahathirs position if he is granted a royal pardon upon his release from prison.

Anwar is currently serving a sentence for sodomy his second time jailed for this offence a charge he claims is politically motivated

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will also be contesting the most seats of the four parties, battling it out for 52 of the 165 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia in addition to seats in Sabah and Sarawak, The Star reported. Mahathir’s PPBM will contest 52, DAP will contest 35 and the Islamist party Amanah will attempt to win 27.

It has been suggested that Pakatan Harapan’s decision to select Mahathir as their candidate was motivated by a desire to woo Malay voters, who make up 60 per cent of the local population and form a crucial part of the ruling BNs support base.

Mahathir has been credited with ushering in a period of impressive economic growth during his 22 years in power, and his new party, the PPBM, has positioned itself as aBumiputeraparty, according to Today – a term referring to Malays and other indigenous people.

Pakatan Harapan has also vowed to abolish the Goods and Services Tax and highway tolls, and hike the minimum monthly wage up to RM1,500 if it wins the election, according to Sin Chew Daily.

Still, most analysts seem to believe that the odds are in favour of BN.

Young voters, the main force behind the opposition’s impressive showing in the 2013 election, seem less intent on voting in the upcoming election, with four out of 10 young Malaysians not registered to vote Today reported, citing a survey by Merdeka Centre in August.

PanMalaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Gagasan Sejahtera (GS)

Established in 1951, PAS is Malaysia’s main Islamist party. The party was part of both BN from 1973- 1977, and former opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, which was dissolved in 2015 after a bitter fight between PAS and DAP over the former’s desire to implement hudud, or the Islamic Penal Code in the north-eastern state of Kelatan. A new coalition, Pakatan Harapan, was formed in its place – without PAS.

The Islamist party, under its president Abdul Hadi Awang, will be going into the 14th general election alongside Gagasan Sejahtera (GS), an informal opposition coalition comprising PAS, Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia and Berjasa, according to The Star.

No longer content with the party’s position as a “weak opposition,” Abdul Hadi has expressed a desire for PAS to either form a government or take part in the formation of a government, The Star reported on Jan 22.

According to Today, experts are divided on PAS’s likely effect on the election results, with some arguing that the Islamist party will hurt the chances of PPBM and Amanah, and others expressing doubts over its impact.

The party will be contesting in more than 130 parliamentary constituencies, and must win at least 112 seats in order to secure a simple majority in Parliament, according to The Star.

Among the states it hopes to win is Selangor, the richest state in Malaysia.

“We are not greedy to become leaders but want Islam to lead, save the country, save humanity,” Abdul Hadi is quoted saying by The Star.

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Nadia Chevroulet
About the Author: Nadia is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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