Malaysia kicks off election campaign ahead of November 19 vote – The Diplomat

Supporters of Malaysia’s National Front coalition cheer Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as he submits his nomination papers for the forthcoming general election in Bera, Malaysia on Saturday November 5, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo/Ahmad Yusni advertisement

On Saturday, Malaysia officially launched the two-week campaign period for its November 19 general election, in which the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) is seeking to reassert its supremacy after resigning four years after its sensational ouster by the electorate.

At the weekend, when the nomination period ended, the major parties launched their campaigns with large rallies across the country. In the general election, dubbed GE15 for short, more than 21 million eligible voters will cast their ballots to elect 222 members of the federal parliament and 116 members of the state legislatures of Perak, Pahang and Perlis.

In a complex and hard-fought race, the most prominent plot point will be UMNO’s attempt to return to power at the head of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. This came after BN unexpectedly lost to Pakatan Harapan (PH), a multi-ethnic reformist coalition, in the 2018 election, the first time UMNO had been in opposition since Malay independence in 1957.

However, the PH government barely lasted two years and collapsed amid a wave of political defectors that brought UMNO back to power in early 2020. This ushered in a period of historically unusual instability and change in Malaysian politics, during which the country saw three prime ministers in three years. While UMNO was back in the cockpit of power, it relied on razor-thin majorities and connivance from other parties while being infected by internal rivalries.

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After a string of state election victories since 2020, many observers expect UMNO/BN to do well on November 19 given its extensive patronage machinery and time-tested message of ethnic Malay ascendancy. As James Chin of the University of Tasmania told The Associated Press: “The general consensus is that the old ruling party, Barisan Nasional, will do very well and it is very likely that the only other coalition that can challenge BN is Pakatan Harapan is.”

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However, this binary opposition is complicated by the presence of competing coalitions, such as the ethnic Malay coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN) led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party was part of the PH coalition but then broke up in 2020 to enter a coalition government with UMNO.

Add to this the increasingly complex electoral landscape of Borneo’s Sabah and Sarawak states, and Malaysian voters will face a more complex, fragmented political landscape than they have in many years. like dr University of Malaya’s Khoo Ying Hooi said in an interview with The Diplomat last week that the scenario is also new to Malaysian voters who have become accustomed to choosing between two grand political coalitions. As a result, the election result was “far less certain than in previous elections”.

Many constituencies face multifaceted struggles involving some prominent figures. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of UMNO/BN faces a three-way battle against candidates from PH and PN, while stalwart opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, will face three challengers in his seat. Remarkably, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (Gerakan Tanah Air) is also trying to keep his seat in Langkawi at the unbelievable age of 97.

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As a result, some observers have suggested that if BN does not prevail, GE15 may simply reproduce the current instability, with no single coalition able to win a clear majority.

Adding a further layer of complexity and uncertainty is the unknown impact of the recent lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. A record 5.5 million first-time voters will participate in GE15, including around 1.4 million in the 18-20 age group who would not have been able to participate under the old rules.

This influx of new voters must be weighed against both limited voter education and the likely impact of inclement weather on turnout. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri has been heavily criticized for calling the elections at the start of the monsoon season, and Malaysian authorities are warning that heavy rains could sweep the country next week.