Dhe time of clear political conditions in Malaysia will probably not come back any time soon. For more than six decades, a party coalition had ruled the country in Southeast Asia, based on the country’s Malay majority. But the Barisan Nasional, centered on the ethnic-nationalist UMNO party, which last led the government again under Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, was punished in the elections on Saturday.
With just 30 seats, it trailed behind two other party coalitions, both of which were now claiming the right to form a government. And even by far the oldest of the veterans of Malaysian politics has to admit defeat at the age of 97. Longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has lost his seat in Parliament. He was Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003 and from 2018 to 2020. He received less than a sixth of the votes in his constituency of Langkawi. His newly founded Gerakan Tanah Air party does not get a single seat in parliament at the Putrajaya seat of government.
More young voters than ever before
The unclear conditions are shaking the Southeast Asian “tiger state” with 33 million inhabitants. The two candidates who declared themselves the winners in the early hours of Sunday morning are also old friends. They are former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. According to the results, neither of their two coalitions was able to achieve an absolute majority of 111 seats. Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional has 73 seats, while Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan has 82.
Both now want to form a government with the help of other parties. It is the first time that the situation in Malaysia has been so ambiguous. But the election was more competitive than ever. More than 900 candidates applied for the 222 seats (the election was postponed in one seat), around 30 parties ran for election.
More young people were allowed to vote than ever before. Due to automated voter registration and the lowering of the voting age to 18 years, six million voters were added. The focus of the election campaign was the economic situation and the increased cost of living.
Pilloried for alleged homosexuality
Now regional parties in East Malaysia are expected to tip the scales on the island of Borneo. For 75-year-old Anwar, it would be a victory in a political struggle that has lasted for a quarter of a century and that has nearly brought him to the post of prime minister on several occasions. As a former political pupil and finance minister of Mahathir, he fell out with him in the course of the Asian crisis in 1998.
Under the battle cry “Reformasi” he founded an opposition movement. She was suppressed by his former mentor, Anwar was pilloried, dragged on trial and imprisoned for alleged homosexuality, which is illegal in Malaysia. The surprising turnaround came before the 2018 election. Rivals Mahathir and Anwar joined forces to overthrow Prime Minister Najib Razak embroiled in a huge corruption scandal.
The dream of a democratic and clean Malaysia that had brought her into government in a wave of approval did not last long. Mahathir was supposed to hand over the post of head of government to Anwar after two years, but sent too many conflicting signals. In addition, there were power games within the coalition, which led to a dozen MPs defecting to the opponents. “He had his second chance and he missed it,” Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia recently said of Mahathir’s second term.
The new head of government was Muhyiddin Yassin, who had also defected from UMNO and founded a new party called Bersatu. The party appeals to the same Malay and Muslim majority as UMNO. Muhyiddin recently attracted attention by railing against Christians and Jews in a speech. He was the shortest reigning prime minister in Malaysian history.
It was thanks to the corona pandemic that he was able to stay in power at all. However, after criticism of the pandemic measures grew too great, Parliament brought UMNO and Ismail Sabri back to the government. In the current election, the party was apparently not only doomed by the split in its Malay constituency.
The voters turned their backs on her because they had to reckon with a victory that not the last incumbent Ismail Sabri, but the party leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi would take over the government office. Various corruption cases are running against him. UMNO probably also preferred the election, which would have been until May 2023, in order to be able to save him from a conviction.