Everything You Need to Know About Malaysia Election 2018

Competition between former PM Mahathir Mohamad and his apprentice turned rival Najib Razak is heightening up to be among the most fiercely contested in history


Benjamin Tan

9 May, 2018

Everything You Need to Know About Malaysia Election 2018 | BEAMSTART News

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The Situation

Malaysia goes to the polls on Wednesday 9th May to elect who will be the nation's 7th prime minister. It is escalating up to be the one of the most fiercely contested elections in the country's history, and will also be the largest ever with a record 2,333 candidates. The day has been announced a public holiday.

The Main Players

Dr Mahathir Mohamad

This poll sets current prime minister Najib Razak, in power since 2009, versus Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was also Malaysia's longest running prime minister between 1981 and 2003. At 92-years-old, Mahathir has chosen to return to the political scene. If Mahathir wins, it will make him the world's oldest leader.

This contest is personal as well as political. Najib was once Mahathir's apprentice whom he nurtured for office and made sure would be prime minister. Mahathir has now called his actions in Najib's rise "the biggest mistake of my life".

After Najib was named in the 1MDB corruption scandal in 2015, Mahathir revolted him. He had retired from politics but earlier this year proclaimed his return to the political scene, switching allegiances and joining the opposition coalition with one goal: to remove Najib.

Najib Razak

Najib is the leader of UMNO, the key political party in the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional. While Mahathir was also part of UMNO when he was in power first time round, he has now established his own political party Parti Pribumi Bersatu, which teamed up with the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan.

Another party that will play a vital role in the ballots is the conservative Islamic party PAS. While they are likely to receive only a small number of seats, in the considerably likely event neither main party gets a majority, Pas will have the power to chose who to form a coalition with.

How long will a 92-year-old stay in power?

Part of Mahathir's arrangement to spearhead the opposition is that after two years he will resign power to Anwar Ibrahim. The latter is presently in jail, completing a second sentence for sodomy (which he claims was politically motivated). Anwar was also previously a Mahathir protege, but Mahathir had him jailed in 1999 when it appeared he was getting too commanding and influential.

The pair have now set apart their disagreements. If he wins the election, Mahathir will get Anwar acquited and then pave the way for him to take control as prime minister.

The Biggest Concerns

The biggest concerns are corruption and the cost of living. Najib's alleged role in the infamous 1MDB scandal, where $2.6 bn of a government fund was misappropriated-- with some $681m allegedly shifted into Najib's own bank account-- has been a key part of the opposition's message in trying to switch voters against Barisan Nasional. Najib's initiation of a VAT-type goods and services tax has also been disfavored, making day-to-day life more costly, and so lowering the cost of living has been at the core of both coalition's manifestos.

Who is likely to win?

Despite Mahathir still influencing huge support across the country, it is presumed that Najib will prevail due to his recent redrawing of electoral boundaries to greatly favour the ruling coalition. Malaysia uses the same first-past-the-post electoral system as the UK. Bersih, Malaysia's electoral reform organisation, says Najib will be able to win the election with just 16.5% of the popular vote. The recent introduction of a "fake news" legislation was also seen as a way to deter people voicing out against the Najib, a concern validated by the fact that Mahathir was among the first interrogated under the law for stating his plane had been sabotaged by the ruling coalition.

Nonetheless, the tide seems to be turning against Najib. If Najib does poorly in the election, there is already talk of a post-election leadership challenge.

A recent study by independent pollster the Merdeka Centre concluded that Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan coalition is likely to win 43.7% of the popular vote, with Najib's Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition projected to win 40.3%. If the opposition succeeds, it will be the first time since Malaysia became independent in 1957.

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