In May 2013, the the Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) coalition of Prime Minister Najib Razak won a majority of seats in the lower house of the Parliament but otherwise looked weak in an election that could be viewed as a kind of failure for both sides as the BN failed to improve its tenuous position and Anwar Ibriham’s opposition coalition failed to take a majority and did not improve much on the progress it made in 2008. The BN won 133 seats (60 percent of the seats) in the 222-member parliament. Anwar’s Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) took 89 seats (40 percent of the seats). [Source: AFP, May 5, 2013]

Reuters reported: “Malaysia's governing coalition extended its half-century rule despite its worst-ever performance in a general election, a result that exposes growing racial polarization in the Southeast Asian nation and could undermine Prime Minister Najib Razak. The National Front won 133 seats, falling well short of the two-thirds majority that Najib had aimed to capture in the election. The 59-year-old prime minister could now come under pressure from conservatives in his own ruling party for not delivering a stronger majority despite a robust economy and a $2.6 billion deluge of social handouts to poor families. [Source: Stuart Grudgings and Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah, Reuters, May 5, 2013 ==]

“While support for the ruling coalition from the country's majority ethnic Malays remained solid, ethnic Chinese who make up a quarter of Malaysians continued to desert the National Front, accelerating a trend seen in the last election. Ethnic Chinese have turned to the opposition, attracted by its pledge to tackle corruption and end race-based policies favoring ethnic Malays in business, education and housing. "We will work towards more moderate and accommodative policies for the country," a gloomy-looking Najib told a news conference after the majority was confirmed. "We have tried our best but other factors have happened...We didn't get much support from the Chinese for our development plans." ==

“Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, still a powerful figure in the dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), told Reuters in an interview last year that Najib must improve on the 140 seats won in 2008. Najib could face a leadership challenge from within UMNO later this year as a result of falling short. The National Front also failed to win back the crucial industrial state of Selangor near the capital Kuala Lumpur, which Najib had vowed to achieve. ==

“The three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar had been optimistic of a historic victory, buoyed by huge crowds at recent rallies. But as counting went late into the night, it became clear that the fractious opposition would be unable to unseat one of the world's longest-serving governments and pull off what would have been the biggest election upset in Malaysia's history. ==

“After claiming an improbable early victory, Anwar later said that he rejected the result because the country's Election Commission (EC) had failed to investigate evidence of widespread voter fraud. "It is an election we consider fraudulent and the EC has failed," he said. The National Front has heavy advantages, including its deep pockets, control of mainstream media, and an electoral system skewed in its favor. Anwar had accused the coalition of flying up to 40,000 "dubious" voters, including foreigners, across the country to vote in close races. The government says it was merely helping voters get to home towns.” ===

Results of the Malaysia’s General Election in May 2013

AFP reported: Supporters of the three-party Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) opposition alliance were left bitter and despondent after an election which they hoped would bring a historic change of government. Barisan won 133 seats in the 222-member parliament, two fewer than in the last parliament. The opposition alliance won 89 seats, an increase of 14, largely at the expense of non-aligned candidates. But the ruling bloc won just 48 percent of the popular vote compared to nearly 52 percent for the opposition This makes Najib the first leader in four decades to win with a minority of the ballots according to Malaysian media. Critics said the figure proved the electoral system was skewed in the government's favour. Outraged voters took to the Internet in droves to complain that indelible ink which Najib touted as a guarantee against multiple voting was found to easily wash off. Videos, pictures and first-hand accounts of angry citizens confronting purportedly foreign "voters" at polling centres also went viral online. Anwar has alleged there was a scheme to fly tens of thousands of "dubious" and possibly foreign voters to sway the outcome in key constituencies. [Source: AFP, May 6, 2013]

Malaysia's 13th general elections were held on May 5, 2013, following the dissolution of the Parliament announced by the Prime Minister on April 3, 2013. Both the House of Representatives and 12 out of 13 State Legislative Assemblies (with the exception of Sarawak) were renewed, following the practice established in 2004 to hold these elections simultaneously. [Source: Wikipedia]

Up for grabs were all 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat (the lower house of the Parliament) and all 505 state legislature seats in 12 (except Sarawak) states of Malaysia. A total of 112 seats needed for a majority in the lower house. The voter turnout was 84.84 percent (11,226,133 votes out of 13,268,002 registered voters.

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) of prime minister Najib Razak won a majority of seats, even though the Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Rakyat (PR), formed by three oppositional parties, won more votes overall. This is because the seats are not allocated proportionally but on the constituency level (with strongly differing constituency sizes), following the first-past-the-post system. However, the PR slightly increased its representation, while the BN lost a few seats.

Results of the 2013 Malaysian general election by parliamentary constituency for the ruling coalition and its parties (Votes, percent of vote, seats, percent of seats, +/–): 1) National Front: 5,237,699, 47.38, 133, 59.91, Decrease 7: 2) United Malays National Organization (UMNO), 3,241,286, 29.32, 88, 39.64, Increase 9; 2) United Traditional Bumiputera Party, 232,390, 2.10, 14, 6.31, Steady; 3) Malaysian Chinese Association, 899,420, 8.14, 7, 3.15, Decrease 8; 4) Sarawak People's Party, 59,540, 0.54, 6, 2.70, Steady; 6) Malaysian Indian Congress, 291,814, 2.64, 4, 1.80, Increase 1; 7) United Sabah Party, 88,097, 0.80, 4, 1.80, Increase 1; 8) Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party, 55,505, 0.50, 4, 1.80, Steady; 9) United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation, 65,966, 0.60, 3, 1.35, Decrease 1; 10) Malaysian People's Movement Party, 153,081, 1.38, 1, 0.45, Decrease 1; 11) Sarawak United People's Party, 133,603, 1.21, 1, 0.45, Decrease 5; 12) United Sabah People's Party, 9,467, 0.08, 1, 0.45, Steady; 13) People's Progressive Party, 7,530, 0.07, 0, 0.00, Steady. [Source: Election Commission of Malaysia]

Results of the 2013 Malaysian general election by parliamentary constituency for the Opposition coalition and its parties; (Votes, percent of vote, seats, percent of seats, +/–): 1) People's Front, 5,623,984, 50.87, 89, 40.09, Increase 7; 2) Democratic Action Party, 1,736,267, 15.71, 38, 17.12, Increase 10; 3) People's Justice Party, 2,254,328, 20.39, 30, 13.51, Decrease 1; 4) Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, 1,633,389, 14.77, 21, 9.46, Decrease 2

Campaigning, Polls and the General Election in May 2013

Campaigning kicked off two weeks before the election and two weeks after parliament was dissolved. Najib repeatedly warned that an opposition victory could result in social and economic instability while the opposition aimed to tap into a growing desire for faster political and economic reform, arguing it is time for a change. "Your support is paramount if we are to keep to our path of development, if we are to continue our journey toward complete transformation," he said in a statement to voters. "This election is about fulfilling promises, bringing hope and upholding trustworthiness." Anwar said, "We stand today on the brink of history," the “election will mark the decisive step in an amazing, peaceful, democratic revolution that will take Malaysia into a new era."

Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at Singapore Management University estimated the coalition spent 100 million ringgit ($33 million) on advertisements on websites such as Yahoo, mass media, billboards and sending millions of text messages to voters' mobile phones. Banners of Najib and his achievements flutter along streets in Malaysia's cities and rural villages. "Who says change is good for you?" declares one of dozens of full-page advertisements in mainstream newspapers, citing turmoil after revolts in Middle East nations. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, April 29 2013]

Joe Cochrane wrote in the New York Times, “The weeks before the election featured vociferous attacks in the strongly pro-government mainstream news media, in which Mr. Anwar, 65, was labeled a divisive, pro-American agent, while another senior opposition leader was rumored to be gay. (Spreading such rumors has become a not-uncommon political tactic in a country where homosexuality remains illegal.) A number of sex tapes purporting to be of opposition candidates, including Nurul Izzah Anwar, 32 — the opposition leader’s daughter, who successfully defended her seat in Parliament — were anonymously posted on the Internet. The governing coalition “hasn’t learned anything from the voter backlash,” Ms. Nurul said. “I foresee the continuation of gutter, racist and hate politics.” The opposition’s campaign platform included allegations that the governing coalition perpetuated widespread official corruption and would expand the state affirmative action programs that favor Malay Muslims. The government has rejected such claims.[Source: Joe Cochrane, New York Times, May 10, 2013]

A survey by Merdeka before the election, conducted between April 28 and May 2 among 1,600 voters, showed 42 percent of respondents believed the opposition Peoples' Pact of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should be given a chance to govern. That was narrowly ahead of the 41 percent of respondents who said that only Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition could govern the country. Seventeen percent were either unsure or refused to answer. The same poll showed that 50 percent of respondents had a positive view of the BN, while 34 percent had that view of the opposition. The poll did not cover Malaysia's Borneo island states of Sabah and Sarawak, a stronghold of the BN. [Source: Reuters, May 4, 2013]

Merdeka's poll showed support for Najib had slipped to 61 percent from 64 percent in March. Dips were recorded within all three main ethnic groups -- 75 percent of majority Malays backed him against 76 percent in March, while support among minority Chinese fell to 31 percent from 37 percent and among Indians to 68 percent from 70 percent. Ethnic Malays are the bedrock of support for the coalition, which has been largely abandoned by ethnic Chinese voters, more than a quarter of Malaysians. Merdeka Center attributed the falls to the fleeting effect of government cash handouts to low-income groups and of increased pay and pensions for 1.4 million civil servants. Despite robust economic growth of 5.6 percent last year, those polled expressed most concern about economic conditions. The poll found support for Najib was highest among poorer Malaysians, reaching 75 percent among households earning less than 1,500 ringgit ($500) a month and lowest among households earning more than 5,000 ringgit a month, at 43 percent. [Ibid]

Advantages for Malaysia’s Ruling Party in General Election in May 2013

Stuart Grudgings of Reuters wrote: “Race-based social and economic policies have defined the coalition's rule as it channeled wealth to ethnic Malays, who make up about half of the population, over the economically dominant Chinese minority since 1969 race riots. The ruling BN coalition will be helped by a skewed electoral system, deep pockets, and about $2 billion in government handouts to millions of poorer Malaysians since the start of 2012. But Najib will likely face a leadership challenge from within UMNO if he fails to improve on the 2008 performance. [Source: Stuart Grudgings, Reuters, April 3, 2013]

“Nationalist and conservative forces within UMNO, encouraged by influential former leader Mahathir Mohamad, have looked askance at Najib's steps to roll back colonial-era security and media controls as a sign of weak leadership. A blossoming civil society and growing middle class are clashing with tight social, media and political controls that have cemented UMNO's half-century rule. [Ibid]

Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: “Najib insists his government is on a reform path, with Malaysia on track to become a developed nation by 2020. He has warned an opposition win would bring economic ruin and political chaos. "Certain politicians are talking about change but what is it you want to change? Do you want to change from peace and harmony to a country full of conflict and violence? Do you want to change the economic success that we have achieved?" he said at a mammoth political rally last week. The concern resonates with some voters, who fear differences among the three parties in the opposition alliance may hinder their ability to govern nationally. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, April 29 2013]

Najib Promises More Cash, Cheaper Cars and Tougher Anti-Graft Measures

Najib provided cash handouts to low-income families and used government-linked newspapers and TV stations to criticise the opposition's capability to rule. Days after parliament was dissolved and before the official campaign period began, Najib Razak has promised more cash handouts for the poor along with cheaper cars and homes, and vowed tougher steps to combat graft. Associated Press reported: “In a nationally televised address late Saturday, Najib also offered improved transportation, education and health care in an election manifesto as he urged 13 million voters to stick to the National Front coalition that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957. He promised his coalition would do better and warned that voting for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's three-party alliance would be akin to gambling away the country's future. "This mandate that I seek is about continuity and sustainability against disruption and stagnation, about moving forward versus regressing," Najib said. "We have to safeguard what we have already achieved. We cannot put at risk what we have, we cannot gamble away our future." [Source: Associated Press, April 06, 2013 ^-^]

“The National Front manifesto was unveiled three days after Najib dissolved Parliament. Although the opposition has a strong chance at the polls, most analysts believe Najib's coalition will have the upper hand because of its support in predominantly rural constituencies that hold the key to a large number of Parliament's seats. ^-^

“The opposition alliance, in a bid to break the National Front's hold on power, has also made generous promises to lower the cost of living, with cheaper cars and fuel and free university education. It also vowed to create new jobs, raise incomes and curb long-entrenched problems, including corruption and racial discrimination if it wins power. "This election is a race to be more populist. It is about which coalition can promise to give more to Malaysians. It's setting a very unhealthy trend in Malaysian politics," said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who heads the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a Malaysian think tank. ^-^

“In the manifesto, Najib pledged to gradually raise an annual handout for millions of poor households from 500 ringgit ($164) to 1,200 ringgit ($392), build a million low-cost homes and lower car prices by up to 30 percent over the next five years. He laid out the country's strong economic growth and said the government aims to woo 1.3 trillion ringgit ($425 billion) in investment by 2020 to create 3.3 million jobs. He promised to bolster the police force to fight crime, set up more specialist graft courts and improve transparency with public disclosure of government contracts. "The National Front is trying to play catch up with us, but what the people want is not just more money. They want a real systemic reform in the economy. They want a cleaner and a fairer society," said opposition lawmaker Liew Chin Tong.” ^-^

Malaysian Youth Vote Pivotal in the 2013 Election?

Possibly working against Najib and his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition are three million first-time voters - about 22 percent of the total vote - many of them younger Malaysians. "The BN still has the advantage in terms of resources, media, money, and machinery," said Ong Kian Ming, an election strategist for the DAP ethnic Chinese opposition party. "The X-factor we are relying on is the newly registered voters."

Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “Bukhairy Sofian is fed up with a ban on political activity at Malaysian universities, which he calls an outdated shackle on a tech-savvy younger generation yearning to express itself. So the 23-year-old, who heads a student group advocating academic freedom, plans to support the upstart opposition in May 5 elections expected to be the country's closest yet. "Today, youngsters can find out everything through their handphones. The youth have opened their eyes (to see) that they can change Malaysia for the better," the political science student said. His vote is one small victory for the opposition in a battle to win over youths who are exposed as never before to alternative political views online and tipped as potential kingmakers in the election. [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, April 25, 2013 >>>]

“Malaysian youths have a history of political apathy blamed on the country's relative prosperity, Asian respect for authority and the campus politics ban imposed in the 1970s to squelch radicalism. But more than five million of the 13.3 million registered voters are under the age of 40 -- up 31 percent from previous 2008 polls -- and over two million are first-time voters. "The Malay youth vote is critical," said Ibrahim Suffian, head of polling group Merdeka Centre, referring to the Muslim Malays who make up about 55 percent of multi-ethnic Malaysia's people. He said high youth turnout could "dilute" support for the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition, which has ruled with a tight grip since independence in 1957 but faces a strong opposition vowing to end authoritarianism and graft. >>>

Siva Sithraputhran and Anuradha Raghu of Reuters wrote: “Their numbers make young Malaysians a crucial, possibly decisive, source of support in an election that promises to be the closest since independence. They are also a force that could blur the traditional race-based faultlines that have shaped the political landscape in the multi-ethnic country. "I know what young people want. They want a voice and that means change," Bukhairy, a third-year Islamic political science student at Universiti Malaya, told Reuters. [Source: Siva Sithraputhran and Anuradha Raghu, Reuters, April 29, 2013]

“An opinion poll by the respected pollster Merdeka Centre, released in February, showed that voters aged 21-30 are the age-group most dissatisfied with the performance of the prime minister, who enjoys an overall approval rating of 61 percent. "With younger voters, I think the pattern of voting on racial lines is going to be more subdued. Certainly not as accentuated as with the older generation," said Ibrahim Suffian, program director at the Merdeka Centre. Another survey, released in January by Universiti Malaya, showed 52 percent of new voters backing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for prime minister, with Najib at 30 percent. +++

"Things that are important to them are things like transparency, good governance and corruption. All these issues tend to look very bad for the government," said James Chin, head of the arts and social sciences school at Monash University Malaysia. Protests for electoral reform and against a controversial rare earths plant, which in April drew tens of thousands onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur, have had a strong youth contingent. "The activism is not necessarily political, it's simply a people-led movement after so many years of Barisan Nasional rule. It is wanting change," said Khairani Razak, a 22 year-old education major at Universiti Malaya. +++

“Najib has made a concerted effort to pursue young votes. He's cultivated a cooler image, gathering nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter. The ruling coalition, meanwhile, organized a series of free music concerts featuring international acts including K-pop sensation Psy in February. More substantively, Najib approved landmark reforms of tough security and media laws in an effort to reach out to young and middle-class voters. But despite his efforts, Najib's government has struggled to shake off UMNO's reputation for cronyism and critics say the reforms are more form than substance.” +++

Malaysia’s 2013 'Social Media' Election

Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “Bukhairy Sofian is fed up with a ban on political activity at Malaysian universities, which he calls an outdated shackle on a tech-savvy younger generation yearning to express itself. So the 23-year-old, who heads a student group advocating academic freedom, plans to support the upstart opposition in May 5 elections expected to be the country's closest yet. "Today, youngsters can find out everything through their handphones. The youth have opened their eyes (to see) that they can change Malaysia for the better," the political science student said. His vote is one small victory for the opposition in a battle to win over youths who are exposed as never before to alternative political views online and tipped as potential kingmakers in the election. [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, April 25, 2013 >>>]

“The Internet is the battleground in what premier Najib Razak in February called Malaysia's "first social media election". Malaysian Facebook users have surged from 800,000 during the 2008 polls to 13 million, or nearly half the country's population of 28 million. They have among the world's most extensive "friend" networks and also are prolific Twitter users. A host of independent news sites also have emerged in recent years as political agenda-setters, with biting reports on alleged Barisan corruption and other abuses. >>>

"The Internet is playing a central role in spreading information and sparking debates," said Ooi Kee Beng of Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "The young started thinking: This is our country. We can't just leave it to the old guard. Maybe we know better." Denied access to government-controlled traditional media, the three-party opposition learned long ago to get its message out online in a country where smartphones are essential accoutrements. Campaigning heavily on the Web, it seized a third of parliament in 2008, tripling its share in its best showing ever, with prominent bloggers winning seats. "We lost the social media war. We were almost not there (in 2008)," said deputy higher education minister Saifuddin Abdullah, a leading Barisan reform voice. >>>

“Since then, the opposition has ramped up its online presence, catering to the growing Internet news media and recently launching live streaming of press briefings and political rallies and a smartphone app to track campaign events. It has also has reached out to youths who surveys show are increasingly upset with the quality and cost of education, and with job prospects. It pledges to liberalise campuses, forgive some student debt and implement free primary-to-university education. >>>

“Scrambling to catch up, Najib, 59, who took office in 2009, is active on a Twitter account followed by more than a million users and has two Facebook pages and a blog. Najib lifted a decades-old ban on university students joining political parties last year, though political activity on campuses remains outlawed. He also is dangling student loan discounts and other youth handouts and has worked to project a young image, inviting fans to watch televised football matches together and appearing at recent pop concerts. >>>

“Meanwhile, legions of cybertroopers attack the opposition online. Khairy Jamaluddin, leader of Barisan's youth wing, said his organisation alone has 6,000 volunteers working to get the Barisan message out online. "We can do a political talk and speak to maybe 1,000 or 2,000 people, but we post it on Facebook and within an hour 20,000 people have seen it," Khairy said. Grainy videos and photos also have emerged online claiming to show Anwar Ibrahim and other opposition leaders in sex acts, which they have called fakes aimed at smearing them. Barisan officials deny involvement. >>>

Poor Malay Vote and the 2013 Election in Malaysia

Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “Boasting a fast-growing economy and riding a $2.6 billion deluge of government handouts to poorer voters, Najib would seem to have the recipe for electoral success on Sunday. Instead he faces what some say is a class war between aspiring young Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities against the rich, powerful and long-ruling Malay elite. The paradox of Malaysia's election is how Najib's coalition is struggling to turn growth and cash into votes, giving the opposition real hope for the first time as it taps into concerns that an elite few have gained at the expense of the masses. [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, May 2, 2013 \=\]

"I don't feel this big economic growth," said Wan Mohamad Yusof, a 49-year-old office clerk in Kuala Lumpur, a beneficiary of Najib's two rounds of handouts of 500 ringgit ($166) to Malaysia's 4.3 million poorest families. "This 500 ringgit bribe from the government seems a bit insincere to me," said the long-time supporter of the National Front as he smoked a cigarette outside his small house. \=\

“Rising living costs and concern over inequality risk being particular problems for the government among ethnic Malays like Wan Mohamad, despite robust economic growth of 5.6 percent last year. They make up 62 percent of the population and are the bedrock of Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) that heads the National Front. Ethnic Chinese make up about 25 percent of the 28 million population, with ethnic Indians accounting for about 8 percent. In the past, Malays could be counted on to vote for UMNO and the National Front, seen as the guardian of an "affirmative action" policy that gives them privileges in government contracts, housing and education. Yet in recent years poorer Malays have come to share a common grievance with the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities over the perception that the policies have fostered corruption and favouritism, benefiting a well-connected few. \=\

“In 2008, about 10 percent of the ethnic Malay vote swung to the opposition, with the National Front losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time and the opposition making record gains. "It is no longer about ethnicity. It is a class war in Malaysia," said Terence Gomez, professor of administrative studies and politics at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. "We are seeing conflict within the Malays and within other races that is class based." An April 2013 survey by University Malaya's Centre for Democracy showed 54 percent of the Malay respondents favoured opposition leader and former finance minister Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister, compared with 28 percent for Najib. Other surveys have shown a rebound in Malay support for the government. \=\

“The first 500 ringgit handout in 2012 added 2.4 percent to the annual household income of a Malay family in the bottom 40 percent. That just outpaced inflation of 1.7 percent last year but followed 5.4 percent inflation in 2008. Critics of the government say that favoured businessmen get far juicier handouts. The opposition has singled out ethnic Malay tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary as benefiting from a government programme to divest stakes in state-linked firms. Revenue in the nine months to December 2012 for Syed Mokhtar's DRB-Hicom conglomerate doubled to 9.7 billion ringgit ($3.2 billion) from the previous year after it bought national carmaker Proton for $411.9 million in early 2012 in a closed bidding process. Syed Mokhtar, who holds a monopoly on sugar and rice in Malaysia and remains close to Najib and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, denies he is favoured by the government. \=\

“Smaller ethnic Malay businessmen also fear being left out. The influential Malay Chamber of Commerce has criticised developers of a 36 billion ringgit Kuala Lumpur rail project for favouring a few firms, including MMC Corp, owned by Syed Mokhtar, and Gamuda. The chamber, which has 10,000 professional members, said none of its members won the smaller contracts on offer. MRT Corp, the developer under the Ministry of Finance, said it awarded more than 40 percent of the jobs to Malay firms. \=\

“UMNO is relying on the feel-good effect of its cash gifts to extend the National Front's rule, especially in rural areas where living costs are lower. Its confidence stems from a heavy weighting of parliamentary seat allocations in favour of rural constituencies that tend to favour UMNO. But election results from 1995 to 2008 show support for UMNO and the National Front see-sawing in the ethnic Malay rural heartlands. In 2008, there was a swing of 5.8 percent among rural Malays in favour of the opposition. "We are seeing some return in support from the rural Malays because of the cash handouts, but we are not taking it easy," said a senior UMNO politician. \=\

“The opposition concedes it is difficult to make inroads in the Malay heartland and is counting on younger Malays, especially urban dwellers who go back to their villages to vote. "Our best campaigners are the young, working-class Malays in the city," said Rafizi Ramli, strategic director for Anwar's People's Justice Party. "They are going through the difficulties of living in a city. They can tell their parents about the unfairness and the growing class divide." \=\

Malaysia's Opposition Banks on New Economic Deal

Malaysia's opposition alliance put it hopes on the promise of a new economic deal that it argued stripped away decades of race-based policies that it says bred corruption and hampered growth.Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: “The three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim says it cannot be business as usual in Malaysia, where affirmative action policies that favor majority ethnic Malays in business, jobs and education have polarized the country and suppressed its economic competitiveness. Despite posting robust economic growth in the past decade, the opposition says the cost of living has surged, outpacing rise in wages. The country is lagging behind many of its Asian peers such as Taiwan and South Korea, as its race-based policies fueled a brain drain abroad. Corruption is endemic, and the government ran a budget deficit for the last 15 years, swelling the national debt. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, April 29 2013 ::::]

“Anwar's People's Alliance promises a more competitive merit-based system and a clean break from what it calls a corrupt past. Its election manifesto says it will end monopolies in sectors such as telecommunications, rice and sugar that kept prices high. It will review suspicious government concessions, abolish highway tolls, cut taxes to lower car prices and free up civil liberties. "This election offers a possibility of a political transition of power. The campaign will come down to who can deliver more genuine and fundamental reforms and who will give them a better deal,"said Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at Singapore Management University. ::::

“The keystone of the opposition policies is reform of preferential treatment started in 1971 to lift Malays, who account for 60 percent of Malaysia's 29 million people, from poverty after race riots. The policies are credited with enlarging the Malay middle class and putting 20 percent of corporate wealth in Malay hands, but the opposition says the system has been abused to enrich the well-connected elite and distorted the economy. Many contracts go to businesses with links to the ruling party, which has created a powerful culture of cronyism and a nexus between politics and business. ::::

“Anwar says weeding out corruption, fixing economic distortions due to race-based policies and better economic management can save the country billions of dollars a year. His alliance is hoping the momentum in 2008 polls will catapult them into federal power, eyeing support from about a third of new voters among 13.3 million people eligible to vote. Anwar has pointed to his alliance's track record in the last five years in Penang and Selangor, two of the country's most industrialized states. Government contracts have been awarded through open tenders rather than behind closed doors, and state officials have to declare their assets. Fiscal prudence has also reversed state budget deficits while the poor in Penang have received cash handouts and water is subsidized in Selangor. ::::

“In northern Penang state, an industrial hub also famed for its beaches and cultural heritage, the opposition has embarked on an ambitious 6.3 billion ringgit ($2.1 billion) project to build Southeast Asia's first seabed tunnel linking Penang island to the mainland part of the state and three highways to alleviate daily traffic snarls.The record is more mixed in two poorer northern Malay-majority states that are reliant on federal funds, but opposition officials said corruption is minimal in the state government administration. The four opposition states jointly contribute about 36 percent to gross domestic product. "The last five years, if anything, is an indication of our ability to govern and to do well without corruption, that things will not crumble," said opposition strategist Rafizi Ramli, who helped draw up the election manifesto and is also a candidate. "Our biggest achievement is to give hope to the people that there can be a credible alternative to the National Front, that there can be a better Malaysia," he said. ::::

Voting in Malaysia’s in General Election in May 2013

Nearly eight million of Malaysia’s 13.3 million registered voters cast ballots within first four hours of polls opening on a Saturday in tight national elections that had the potential of ousting a coalition government that had been in power since 1957. Associated Press reported: Some voters “queued for more than an hour at schools and other voting centres, showing off fingers marked with ink to prevent multiple voting after they had finished. Polls closed after nine hours of voting, with results announced late on Sunday. [Source: Associated Press, May 5, 2013 ==]

"The government has made some mistakes but the prime minister has made changes and I believe they [the National Front] will do their best to take care of the people's welfare," said Mohamed Rafiq Idris, a car business owner who waited with his wife and son in a long queue at a voting centre in central Selangor state. Others disagreed, saying they hoped enough Malaysians would back an untested opposition that pledges to form a cleaner, fairer government. "I grew up recognising that my parents voted for the present coalition at almost every general election. This time, they voted for the opposition. People do change," said Bernie Lim, a banker who was voting for the first time. ==

“The opposition is worried about electoral fraud, saying the National Front hopes to use foreign migrants from Bangladesh, the Philippines and Indonesia to vote unlawfully. Government and electoral authorities have rejected the allegations. The National Front's aura of invincibility has been under threat since three of Malaysia's main opposition parties combined forces five years ago. Its winning margin in 2008 was down sharply from the 2004 vote when the National Front won 90 percent of parliament's seats, and in recent years it has since been increasingly accused of complacency and heavy-handed rule. ==

Chinese Tsunami and the 2013 Malaysian Elections

Shortly after his victory, Najib acknowledged that the election indicated that ethnic Chinese had continued a trend of deserting Barisan and exposed bare deep racial divisions in the majority Malay nation. "Overall, the results show a trend of polarisation which worries the government. If it is not addressed it can create tension or division in the country," he said, promising to pursue reconciliation.

Joe Cochrane wrote in the New York Times, “The election was itself something of a referendum on the ethnic-based politics that has prevailed under the National Front, which has led the country since its independence from Britain in 1957. Under that system, ethnic Malays have been given preferences in land purchases, bank loans and university admissions. Voters were essentially given a choice between a semiauthoritarian government that has delivered economic development, albeit through ethnic-based political and economic policies, or a total change in leadership to a combative but untested opposition. [Source: Joe Cochrane, New York Times, May 10, 2013 |*| ]

“While rural Malay Muslims tipped the balance to Mr. Najib, a higher-than-anticipated number of Chinese-Malaysians voted for the opposition. Mr. Najib said at a nationally televised news conference early Monday that he was surprised by the voting pattern, which he called a “Chinese tsunami.” This was repeated in comments in Malay-language newspapers that implied that Chinese voters had betrayed Mr. Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, which many Chinese supported in the past. |*|

“Analysts said that Chinese voters were upset that the government had not made more progress in rolling back official preferences for ethnic Malays. While Mr. Najib has urged national reconciliation and called ethnic-based campaign politics “unhealthy,” some analysts said his “tsunami” comment only magnified the ethnic debate in Malaysia and exacerbated post-election tensions. “The political divide in Malaysia is poisonous,” said Karim Raslan, a Malaysian newspaper columnist and political observer.” |*|

Impact of the 2013 Elections in Malaysia

AFP reported: “The three-party Pakatan was riding momentum from historic gains in 2008 polls and has been gunning to become the first opposition bloc in the nation's history to triumph against Barisan. Barisan was slightly favoured to keep power. In the just-dissolved parliament, Barisan held 135 seats to Pakatan's 75. At least 112 seats are required to form government. Premier Najib Razak, who leads the ruling coalition, was under pressure to regain ground lost five years ago.

The New York Times reported: “News of the victory prompted Malaysian stocks to surge nearly 8 percent, and the country’s currency, the ringgit, jumped in value.The outcome also raised the spectre of an end to the remarkable career of the charismatic Anwar. He has vowed to step aside as opposition leader if Pakatan fails to unseat the government.”

The opposition lost control of the northern state of Kedah, one of four it had taken over in the 2008 success. The 2008 result signaled a breakdown in traditional politics as minority ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians, as well as many majority Malays, rejected the National Front's brand of race-based patronage that has ensured stability but led to corruption and widening inequality. Ethnic Chinese parties affiliated with the National Front suffered heavy losses in 2008 and were punished by voters again on Sunday. The National Front's ethnic Chinese MCA party won just five seats, down from 15 in 2008, according to the latest count.

The result leaves the National Front dominated more than ever by ethnic Malays, who make up about 60 percent of the population, increasing a trend of racial polarization in the country. "There needs to be an effort to look back at racial harmony," said Khairy Jamaluddin, the head of UMNO's youth wing and a member of parliament. "We don't want the results to be looked at through a racial lens."

The pro-government Star stated: “The People's Verdict is in. And the people have delivered their mandate to the Barisan Nasional to run the federal government for another five years. The margin of 133 to 89 signifies the close fight between the Barisan and Pakatan Rakyat. There will have to be serious soul-searching from both sides for the real reasons for the results, especially when they fall short of their own expectations. Be that as it may, the 44-seat majority is a comfortable enough margin for any government to function. From the people's perspective, it would not be wrong to say that the results, democratically expressed through the ballot box, are a fair representation of the people's will. The battle to win hearts and minds will continue, but we must not once again slip into the post-2008 scenario where heavy and divisive politicking was the order of the day. [Source: The Star, May 7, 2013]

“There is much work to be done, to move the country forward. We are only seven years from realising our vision to be a fully developed country by the year 2020. This must be a period of healing and reconciliation. Each party must first examine itself on its culpable responsibility for the excesses that came about in the heat of the campaign. That the Prime Minister now wants to put national unity at the top of the agenda through a national reconciliation programme points to the fact that all are agreed that the values we hold dear in terms of our diverse make-up have taken quite a bashing. Nothing will be gained through a finger-pointing exercise. If all parties can sincerely put nation above self, the process of healing will be easier.” [Ibid]

Charges of Fraud and Unfair Advantages for the Ruling Coalition in the 2013 Elections

Najib began a second term after his coalition won a majority in the May 2013 election while the opposition organized protests and branded the elections as fraudulent. The New York Times reported: Anwar said that the People’s Alliance would challenge the announced results in 30 to 40 races he said were tainted by fraud, and would begin holding rallies, calling for the governing coalition to hand over power peacefully. “We want the unique experience of transitions through elections, and not Tahrir Square,” he said, referring to the protests in Cairo that brought down President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Opposition workers and independent election monitors have accused the government of vote-rigging tactics, including stacking the election commission with partisans, marshaling foreign laborers to vote using illegal identity cards and marking the voters’ fingers with supposedly indelible ink that could be wiped off.

Associated Press reported: “The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a Malaysian think tank that was accredited by electoral authorities to observe the elections, said the vote was ''only partially free and not fair.'' Public doubts remain about the integrity of the voters' registration roll and the Election Commission's impartiality, the institute said in a report. The Prime Minister's Office said it rejected some of the institute's claims, especially ''those which refer to 'perception' rather than fact.'' Many opposition supporters believe the National Front relied on gerrymandering of constituencies and also stuffed ballot boxes in closely fought constituencies and used foreign migrants from countries such as Bangladesh to vote illegally. The National Front lost ground mainly among urban, middle-class voters. Its electoral support remained strong in rural districts where government handouts have helped poorer citizens whom the opposition failed to convince with its pledges of creating a cleaner government. [Source: AP, May 8, 2013]

AFP reported: Outraged voters took to the Internet in droves to complain that indelible ink which Najib touted as a guarantee against multiple voting was found to easily wash off. Videos, pictures and first-hand accounts of angry citizens confronting purportedly foreign "voters" at polling centres also went viral online. Anwar has alleged there was a scheme to fly tens of thousands of "dubious" and possibly foreign voters to sway the outcome in key constituencies. [Source: AFP, May 6, 2013]

Reuters reported that “interviews with 15 polling agents give an indication of why many Malaysians have lost faith in an electoral system that clearly favors the governing coalition. A majority said that officials of the Election Commission (EC), which is part of the Prime Minister's Department, did not follow procedures or were ill-equipped to oversee the polls. "Some, not all, officials were not trained enough or did not have the experience to determine what was a spoiled vote," said a counting agent in the Segamat parliamentary seat in southern Johor state, where the BN candidate won by a slim 1,200 majority with 950 votes deemed as spoiled. "I cannot speculate on whether it was deliberate but there was quite a bit of incompetence," said the agent, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. [Source: Reuters, May 26, 2013 *~*]

“In Selangor state near Kuala Lumpur, a Reuters examination found at least 2,000 voters had identity cards deemed "dubious" by a commission of inquiry in Malaysia's Borneo island state of Sabah. That commission is investigating longstanding allegations that the ruling coalition handed out citizenship for votes to immigrants. The government denies the fraud claims, accusing the opposition of being sore losers and of trying to stir up an Arab Spring style revolt. The EC says it took a tough approach in eradicating possible fraud in the electoral rolls. "The opposition did not lose because of election rigging, it lost because they did not get the vote," EC Chairman Abdul Aziz told Reuters. *~*

“Deep concerns over the integrity of Malaysia's elections are nothing new. The government has been shaken by huge street rallies in recent years organized by the influential Bersih (clean) movement that has called for sweeping reforms, including a clean-up of the electoral roll and equal access to media. After a violent police response to a 2011 rally, Najib burnished his reform credentials by rolling back some draconian security laws and introducing limited electoral reforms. *~*

“Likely far more influential than fraud are electoral boundaries that have been manipulated over the years to favor the BN. Pro-opposition constituencies in urban areas have up to nine times the number of voters than pro-government seats. "Najib won on malapportionment rather than his policies to eradicate corruption and reform the economy as voters felt he wasn't sincere," said Ooi Kee Beng, Singapore-based deputy director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.” *~*

Protests Over Fraud After the 2013 Elections

AFP reported: Anwar Ibrahim called for a rally in a stadium on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur to protest at a victory he said was achieved via the "worst electoral fraud in our history” and to denounce what it called foul play. "I call upon as many Malaysians to join hands and express our rejection and disgust at the unprecedented electoral fraud committed by Najib Razak and the EC (Election Commission)," Anwar said in a statement. The conduct of the polls was a "crime" against Malaysians, the 65-year-old told AFP earlier in an interview. "The government has lost its legitimacy." [Source: AFP, May 6, 2013]

Anwar's alliance drew more than 100,000 people to several rallies. Associated Press reported: “At least 50,000 Malaysian opposition supporters rallied at a stadium to protest what they say are fraud-marred election results that enabled the long-ruling coalition to cling to power. The Wednesday night rally marked the start of a campaign to demand more electoral transparency. Standing with umbrellas under a drizzling rain, they wore black clothing including T-shirts with slogans such as ''Democracy is dead'' and ''Stay strong Malaysians.' Anwar and other opposition leaders addressed the crowd. [Source: AP, May 8, 2013]

Joe Cochrane wrote in the New York Times, “If there was a moment after the nail-biting national election Sunday when Malaysians could envision a respite from five years of political turmoil, it did not last long. The police warned that Mr. Ibrahim and dozens of other people who spoke at a protest rally in a packed soccer stadium just outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur could be charged with sedition. [Source: Joe Cochrane, New York Times, May 10, 2013]

“Within hours of the election commission’s announcement that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s governing National Front coalition had won a majority in Parliament, Anwar declared that the voting was rigged, said he would contest the results and called for nationwide protests. The prime minister’s office countered that Mr. Anwar was a poor loser stirring up unrest, while the police warned that the opposition leader and dozens of other people who spoke at a protest rally in a packed soccer stadium just outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur, could be charged with sedition. Such tit-for-tat exchanges between the government and the opposition were commonplace after the 2008 election and in the campaign for the vote. But analysts say that the continuing political attacks and threats of protest this time are raising the specter of a potentially explosive showdown fueled by ethnic tensions laid bare again in the vote and longstanding animosity between Mr. Najib and Mr. Anwar. “In a way, it’s escalated things,” said Simon Tay, the chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “And with an escalation, you’re not sure of what the results will be.” [Ibid]

Close Election Leaves Najib in a Tenuous Situation

Joe Cochrane wrote in the New York Times, “Though it held on to power in the election, aided by favorably drawn district boundaries, the governing National Front coalition suffered an important loss: For the first time in 44 years, it failed to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote. Analysts said the results left Prime Minister Najib Razak’s position far from secure. The three-party opposition People’s Alliance took seven seats from the National Front, extending the gains it made in the last election in 2008. [Source: Joe Cochrane, New York Times, May 6, 2013 **]

“Mr. Najib was sworn in for a five-year term at the National Palace, though analysts said the electoral victory did nothing to burnish his leadership mandate. “The prime minister has been strategizing and campaigning for this day for many years,” said Karim Raslan, a Malaysian newspaper columnist and political observer. “Many in the ruling elite will look at the results and ask, ‘Is that all?’ ” **

“The turnout in the election broke along racial lines that analysts said would be troublesome for Mr. Najib. The country’s Malay majority voted for the governing coalition in greater numbers than in 2008. Chinese-Malaysian voters overwhelmingly backed the opposition, including the Democratic Action Party, which is dominated by ethnic Chinese. Mr. Najib said that he had not expected that trend. But Lim Teck Ghee, head of the Center for Policy Initiatives in Kuala Lumpur, said the prime minister “needs to play to the Malay gallery even after the election has been won,” to keep rivals at bay in his own party, the United Malays National Organization, which dominates the 13-member National Front. **

Al-Jazeera reported: “Analysts had said Najib could have faced an internal party challenge in the UMNO had he lost significant ground but that risk may have receded. "He has been able to fend off the strongest opposition in living memory and has survived. That counts for something in UMNO," said leading pollster Ibrahim Suffian.

Malaysian Authorities Crack down on Opposition Activists

Three weeks after the elections, Malaysian authorities detained three anti-government figures, charged a student activist with sedition and seized hundreds of opposition newspapers. Associated Press reported: “Opposition activists have staged numerous peaceful demonstrations since the 5 May general election. ...The latest arrests involve Tian Chua, a senior official in the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice party; Haris Ibrahim, a rights activist who leads an anti-government group; and Tamrin Ghafar, an opposition party member. The men have criticised the National Front at recent political gatherings. [Source: Associated Press, May 23, 2013 \\\\]

“Chua wrote on Twitter that police detained him at an airport and told him he was being held for sedition. Ibrahim and Tamrin were held separately. After his arrest, Chua tweeted that Malaysians should not allow themselves to be "overtaken by fear [but should] continue to assemble peacefully and have faith". Their arrests occurred hours after prosecutors charged the student Adam Adli, 24, with making seditious statements that included calling for people to "go down to the streets to seize back our power" while addressing a political forum. He pleaded innocent at a Kuala Lumpur district court on Thursday and was released on bail before a hearing set for 2 July. Sedition as defined by Malaysian law includes promoting hatred against the government. \\\\

“Rights activists have long criticised Malaysia's anti-sedition law as a tool to curb democratic dissent. Najib said last year the government planned to eventually abolish the Sedition Act, which was introduced in 1949 during British colonial rule, and replace it with new laws that would strike a better balance between allowing freedom of speech and ensuring public stability. \\\

“Hundreds of people have demonstrated peacefully in recent days against Adli's arrest. Adli became publicly known in 2011 when he brought down a flag bearing Najib's portrait at the ruling party's headquarters during a demonstration. He was subsequently suspended for three semesters from his teaching course at a Malaysian state-backed university. The home ministry said it had seized more than 2,500 copies of newspapers published by opposition parties from stores nationwide. The government-issued publication licences for those newspapers specify they should be distributed among party members only and are not for retail sales, the ministry said in a statement.” \\\\

Bitter Election Creates Long-term Headache for Najib

Three weeks after the elections, Reuters reported: “ Malaysia's divisive election has left a bitter taste for millions of people that risks creating a long-term problem of legitimacy for Prime Minister Najib Razak's long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. The outrage was clear at a busy intersection across from one of Kuala Lumpur's fanciest shopping malls, where a huge poster of Najib and his deputy had been defaced--a rare display of public disrespect in the Southeast Asian nation. One of the scrawled comments poked fun at the unconvincing share of the votes won by Najib's ruling coalition in its May 5 election victory: "47 percent PM," it said. "If you don't like it, you can leave," mocked another, alluding to a comment by Najib's new home minister that those unhappy with the result--and the electoral system that produced it--should pack up and emigrate. [Source: Reuters, May 26, 2013 *~*]

“The tense political atmosphere threatens to prolong policy uncertainty that investors hoped the polls would put to rest, as Najib braces for a possible leadership challenge and the opposition mounts a noisy campaign to contest the result. By securing 60 percent of parliamentary seats with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, the BN's victory has served to expose starkly the unfairness of a gerrymandered electoral system that is also prone to cheating and bias. *~*

“That has galvanized the opposition, led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, into holding a series of big rallies as it refuses to accept the result and prepares legal action to challenge the outcome in nearly 30 close-run seats. Disgruntled Malaysians have submitted over 220,000 signatures to the White House online petition page, exceeding the number required for a response from President Barack Obama. In response, divisions have appeared in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the main party in the ruling coalition--in power since independence from Britain in 1957. *~*

Hard-liners have urged a crackdown on dissent and blamed minority ethnic Chinese voters for deserting the ruling coalition. That has raised racial tensions in a country whose ethnic Malay majority dominates politics and enjoys special privileges to offset what its leaders see as its disadvantaged position compared to relatively wealthy ethnic Chinese. Reformers have urged Najib to press ahead with social and economic reforms to blunt the opposition's appeal and address the concerns of discontented young and urban voters. That includes many ethnic Malays who voted for the opposition. "Every day Najib sees angry Malaysians on the Internet. It is not an easy thing to swallow," said a senior government official who declined to be identified. "There are people in his cabinet asking for a crackdown and there are others asking for him to brandish his reformist side." *~*

“The hard-liners appeared to gain ground last week when police used the colonial-era Sedition Act to detain three opposition politicians and activists and charged a student with inciting unrest. The three arrested were later released after a court rejected the police remand order, but could still face charges. Najib is under pressure from UMNO conservatives such as Mahathir Mohamad, who served as prime minister for 22 years, to show a tougher side. "Najib is not in a very strong position," Mahathir told reporters in Tokyo on May 25, saying there was a risk that his majority could be weakened further if some ruling coalition politician defected to the opposition. "When you are concerned about that, the focus on development, economy and all that will be affected. That is Najib's problem." *~*

“Najib is unlikely to countenance deeper electoral reforms, a move that could be political suicide for the BN. Reformists within UMNO are urging him, however, to ignore calls for a security crackdown and push ahead with steps to tackle corruption and make the ruling coalition more appealing to urban and ethnic Chinese voters who have deserted it. "Of course the debate on whether we are truly a majority government will go on. But we can gain respect from the people," said Saifuddin Abdullah, a prominent reformist who is a member UMNO's Supreme Council. *~*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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