Prime Minister of Malaysia Dato' Sri Mohd Najib was appointed as Malaysia's 6th Prime Minister in April 2009. He succeeded Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who did not seek reelection as UMNO President. [Source: Malaysian Government]

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (Najib Razak) took office following his election as president of the United Malaysian Nationalist Organisation (UMNO)—the dominant faction of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). The change in leadership was part of a deal reached last year with Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi following the party's dramatic loss of support in national elections in March 2008. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, Najib won 190 out of 191 party division nominations and was the only candidate. But despite his near unanimous approval, UMNO continues to be wracked by sharp tensions. [Source: Dante Pastrana, World Socialist Web Site, April 2, 2009]

Najib’s rise to power has not been without controversy. Corruption allegations persist over the purchase of two French submarines in 2002 while Mr Najib was defence minister. He denies any wrong-doing and an investigation in France is ongoing. His former aide was also linked to a case involving the murder of a Mongolian national in 2006. The aide was acquitted in 2008. His elevation to the leadership also coincided with rising demand for change from an increasingly vocal electorate. Following a huge rally for electoral reform in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in 2011, Mr Najib moved to reform tough laws on public gatherings. He also repealed the controversial Internal Security Act, replaced by new laws in 2012. Critics however says the new laws remain repressive and still allow for abuses. [Source: BBC, May 1, 2013]

Najib Razak’s Life

Najib is the eldest son of Malaysia second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, credited with playing a part in securing independence from Britain in 1957. Najib's uncle, Hussein Onn, was the country's third prime minister. Najib is married to Datin Sri Rosmah Mansor and he has five children.

Najib was born in the district of Kuala Lipis in the state of Pahang. He received his primary and secondary education at one of the country's leading schools in the country, St John's Institution. He then continued his secondary education at the Malvern Boy's College, Worcestershire, England. Upon completion of his secondary education, Najib enrolled at the University of Nottingham and graduated in 1974 in industrial economics. [Source: Malaysian Government]

On his return to Malaysia in the same year, Najib joined the national oil company, Petronas, as an executive where he served for two years before taking the plunge into politics following the sudden demise of his father in 1976. He was the obvious choice of the ruling National Front coalition to contest the Pekan parliamentary seat vacated by his late father. The national outpouring of grief following Tun Razak's death and the respect for his father tremendous contributions toward Malaysia's development, saw Najib elected unopposed as Member of Parliament at the very young age of 23.

Najib Razak Political Career

After earning an industrial economics degree from the University of Nottingham in the UK, Najib returned to Malaysia in 1974 and worked for state oil firm Petronas. His father's sudden death two years later left a parliamentary seat vacant and saw Mr Najib enter politics. At 23, he became the youngest MP in Malaysian history and quickly rose to prominence. He held numerous cabinet posts - including energy, telecommunications, education, finance and defence - before becoming deputy prime minister to Abdullah Badawi in 2004.[Source: BBC, May 1, 2013]

According to to the Malaysian government: Najib has long association in politics and government service. Following his unopposed victory as Member of Parliament in 1976, Najib was appointed the Deputy Minister of Energy, Telecommunications and Posts. He had also served as Deputy Education and Deputy Finance Minister. In the 1982 general elections, he stood in the state seat of Bandar Pekan and was subsequently appointed the Menteri Besar of Pahang until 1986. Following the general elections in 1986 where he re-contested and won the parliamentary seat of Pekan, Najib was appointed the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports. Under his stewardship Malaysia made its best ever showing in the Sea Games where the country came out on top in the medal tally for the first time in the history of the game. He also introduced the National Sports Policy which outlines the development of sports in the country and introduced monetary incentives for the Malaysian athletes who won medals at the Olympics Games.[Source: Malaysian Government]

In 1990, Najib was appointed Defence Minister, a senior position within the government by the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He embarked on the modernization of the Armed Forces, moving it towards a leaner fighting force capable of handling any conventional threats. The Armed Forces modernization, among others, saw Malaysia's acquisition of new assets such the Russian aircrafts, MiG 29, Boeing F18 Super Hornet, the F-2000 frigates, the 155m artillery gun and the upgrading of the country's air defence with the acquisition of a new radar system. The welfare and well-being of the armed forces personnel were given due attention including improving their housing facilities and allowances.

In 1995, Najib was appointed to a much more prominent ministry, which is the Ministry of Education. During his tenure the country's education system underwent a major reform with the passing of six legislations, the main one being, The Education Act 1996, to facilitate a more market driven education system. The legal framework saw the country's education system undergo massive reforms and sweeping changes to the institutions of learning. It allowed them to offer a wider range of courses, different options and approaches to learning and new teaching methods.

During the 1999 general elections Najib received a major setback when he barely scrapped through with a majority of 241 votes for the predominantly Malay Pekan parliamentary seat compared to the over 10,000 majority in the previous election. It came as a shock for him and political observers. However, it was not a complete surprise as the election came at the height of the 1999 political upheaval. Following the elections, he was appointed Defence Minister for the second time.

The 2004 general elections which came a few months after Najib elevation as the Deputy Prime Minister, saw him winning his parliamentary seat with a whopping 22,922 majority. It was one of the highest majority in the elections and undoubtedly the most improved performance by a candidate. In the 2008 general election, Najib was re-elected to the Pekan parliamentary seat with a majority of 26,464. It was the highest majority for Barisan Nasional despite the overall drop in support for the coalition government in that general election. He remained as Defence Minister until September 2008 when he took over as Finance Minister in 2008 from Abdullah.

Economic Policy Under Najib

Najib, who has a bachelor's degree in economics, took over at a time when a re-energized opposition led by Anwar was seeking to take over the government and when economic growth was is the doldrums due to global financial turmoil and Malaysia' was losing investment money to more nimble neighbors. Growth in Malaysia's export-oriented economy in 2009 fell to it lowest numbers since 2001. The budget deficit soared due to spending on fuel subsidies and national infrastructure projects, according to the Malaysian Institute for Economic Research, a leading think-tank. "I pity Najib. He's taking over from the worst of times and from a man who messed things up," Abdullah Ahmad told Reuters, referring to the outgoing premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: Najib “has embarked on a series of economic and government transformation efforts to revamp his coalition's image, including abolishing security laws widely considered repressive, wooing investment from abroad and bolstering public welfare including cash handouts for civil servants and the poor. With his battlecry of "1 Malaysia," Najib also trimmed affirmative action policies but is restrained by hardliners in his ruling Malay party. He has pointed to the National Front's stewardship that turned Malaysia from an agricultural backwater into a modern, stable nation.[Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, April 29 2013]

To mark his 100th day in office, Najib unveiled a range of economic sweeteners including a cut in road toll charges and business license fees A nationwide poll around that time by the independent Merdeka Center research firm showed Najib's approval rating had risen from 45 to 65 percent in less than a month following his pledges to tackle complaints of corruption and racial discrimination. [Source: Razak Ahmad, Reuters, June 6, 2009]

“Malaysia's focus on heavy industries and manufacturing in the 1980s drew multinational corporations to its shores but it has since lost out to neighboring countries as a low-cost manufacturing base. Government spending in the last decade helped bolster growth as foreign investment ebbed. A 2011 World Bank report said Malaysia's brain drain was intensifying with more than one million of its citizens, mainly ethnic Chinese, living in Singapore and other countries largely due to higher wages, unhappiness over poor governance and lack of meritocracy. It warned the outflow of skilled people could bog down Malaysia's economy.”

Najib slowly dismantled the New Economic Policy, the affirmative action policy that helped Malays. Najib said the NEP failed to meet its target of raising Malay share of corporate wealth to 30 percent by 2010. It stood at 19 percent in 2009. The government still wants to meet the target by reforming the system and creating a new investor-friendly economic model, Najib said.

New Economic Model

The goal of Malaysia's New Economic Model (NEM) unveiled by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2010 is to raise Malaysia from a middle income nation to a high-income nation by raising per capita income to $15,000 by 2015 from $7,000 in 2010 as well as maintaining a growth rate of six percent a year.

Philip Schellekens wrote on a World Bank blog: The objective of NEM is for Malaysia to join the ranks of the high-income economies, but not at all costs. The growth process needs to be both inclusive and sustainable. Inclusive growth enables the benefits to be broadly shared across all communities. Sustainable growth augments the wealth of current generations in a way that does not come at the expense of future generations. [Source: Philip Schellekens, World Bank bogs, March 30, 2010]

A number of strategic reform initiatives have been proposed. These are aimed at greater private initiative, better skills, more competition, a leaner public sector, pro-growth affirmative action, a better knowledge base and infrastructure, the selective promotion of sectors, and environmental as well as fiscal sustainability.

The NEM represents a shift of emphasis in several dimensions: 1) Refocusing from quantity to quality-driven growth. Mere accumulation of capital and labor quantities is insufficient for sustained long-term growth. To boost productivity, Malaysia needs to refocus on quality investment in physical and human capital. Relying more on private sector initiative. This involves rolling back the government’s presence in some areas, promoting competition and exposing all commercial activities (including that of GLCs) to the same rules of the game.

2) Making decisions bottom-up rather than top-down. Bottom-up approaches involve decentralized and participative processes that rest on local autonomy and accountability —often a source of healthy competition at the subnational level, as China’s case illustrates. 3) Allowing for unbalanced regional growth. Growth accelerates if economic activity is geographically concentrated rather than spread out. Malaysia needs to promote clustered growth, but also ensure good connectivity between where people live and work.

4) Providing selective, smart incentives. Transformation of industrial policies into smart innovation and technology policies will enable Malaysia to concentrate scarce public resources on activities that are most likely to catalyze value. 5) Reorienting horizons towards emerging markets. Malaysia can take advantage of emerging market growth by leveraging on its diverse workforce and by strengthening linkages with Asia and the Middle East. 6) Welcoming foreign talent including the diaspora. As Malaysia improves the pool of talent domestically, foreign skilled labor can fill the gap in the meantime. Foreign talent does not substract from local opportunities — on the contrary, it generates positive spill-over effects to the benefit of everyone.

Overall, the New Economic Model demonstrates the clear recognition that Malaysia needs to introduce deep-reaching structural reforms to boost growth. The proposed measures represent a significant and welcome step in this direction. What will matter most now is the translation of proposed principles into actionable policies and the strong and multi-year commitment to implement them.

Malaysia’s New Economic Model and Ethnic Issues in Malaysia

According to The Star: The New Economic Model (NEM) points out that a key challenge of inclusive growth is the design of effective measures that strike a balance between the special position of the Bumiputera [Malays] and legitimate interests of different groups. While saying that ethnically divide societies are more prone to violent conflicts, NEM emphasises that the multi-racial composition of the Malaysian population is still its outstanding feature and this ethnic diversity will always be with us. As such, the market-friendly affirmative action programmes in line with the principle of inclusiveness will target assistance to the bottom 40 percent of households, of whom 77.2 percent are Bumiputra and many are located in Sabah and Sarawak, and ensure equitable and fair opportunities through transparent processes. It also allows access to resources on the basis of needs and merit to enable improvement in capacity, incomes and well-being, and has sound intellectual frameworks for better monitoring and effective implementation. [Source: The Star, March 30, 2010]

"The ETP (Economic Transformation Programme) will provide mechanisms to strengthen the capability of the bottom 40 percent so that they can take advantage of opportunities to secure better jobs, raise their productivity and grow their income. "This group will be assisted with programmes to build skills so that they can use their entrepreneurial instincts to start and grow their businesses," it says.

The NEM will also ensure equality be achieved through competition that is complemented with merits and recognition. "Families will be endowed with the opportunity and capabilities to pursue their aspirations in connected, sophisticated modern cities, townships and villages. They will live, work and study in localities free from the fear of crime, the indignity of discrimination and the anxiety of need," it says.

Najib’s Efforts to Cut Subsidies

Jeremy Grant wrote in the Financial Times: “Malaysia is one of the few countries in Asia attempting to tackle structural reforms such as reducing state subsidies on basic provisions, in an effort to cut public debt. At 54.8 percent of gross domestic product, the country’s public debt is one of the highest in Asia. [Source: Jeremy Grant, Financial Times, April 16, 2014]

“Najib Razak, prime minister, said last month that the government’s subsidy bill had risen too fast and warned that failure to cut government spending could lead to a loss of investor confidence “and subsequent hardship for the people”. A cut in fuel subsidies was implemented in September and a 6 percent sales tax will come into force next year.

“Many Malaysians Lee are feeling the pinch as subsidies are peeled away. Petrol is now 10 percent more expensive following the first round of cuts in fuel subsidies. Electricity tariffs also rose 15 percent. Charles Santiago, an opposition MP, says: “People are left hanging because they have the lifestyle of a middle class [person], but their earnings capacity has fallen because of the increase in the cost of living.” Worse, many Malaysians have ridden a wave of cheap credit to build up significant household debt. Malaysians are among the most highly leveraged in Asia: household debt reached 86.8 percent of GDP at the end of last year, up from 80.5 percent a year ago, according to data published by the central bank last month. Carmelo Ferlito, fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs in Kuala Lumpur, warned that Malaysia’s middle class are now in a dangerous position, particularly if economic growth slows. “The risk is that if they do not change their spending habits and return to being savings-oriented, when a crisis comes the middle class will disappear.”


1Malaysia is an on-going campaign introduced by Prime Minister Najib Razak in September 2008, calling for the cabinet, government agencies, and civil servants to emphasize ethnic harmony, national unity, and efficient governance. The eight values of 1Malaysia as articulated by Najib Razak are perseverance, a culture of excellence, acceptance, loyalty, education, humility, integrity, and meritocracy. [Source: Wikipedia]

Najib launched in an effort to communicate with the citizens of Malaysia more efficiently and support the broader 1Malaysia campaign, He has used the site to highlight his policy initiatives and to provide a forum for Malaysians to their government. The 1Malaysia campaign makes extensive use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

The first 1 Malaysia People's Aid (BR1M) Project was a scheme devised by Najib Razak to help poor Malaysians. The amount of RM 500.00 Ringgit Malaysia was given to households with an income of less than RM3,000 a month. The second BR1M Project or also known as BR1M 2.0 will be launched on February 2013 and more than 2.5 Billion Ringgit will be distributed to Malaysians nation wide. This will effect 5.7 million household all over the country. In addition to the RM 500.00 for household, the government has also allocate RM 250.00 to single individuals. Those who have received RM 500.00 from the first BR1M project need not to apply as it will be automatically processed.

Malaysia's Crackdown on Dissent

In September 2008, Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: “Rights activists condemned the arrest of a Malaysian opposition lawmaker and two journalists under a tough security law, accusing the government of trying to avert an opposition bid to seize power.One of the three people detained under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, journalist Tan Chee Hoon, was freed, but the two others were still being held, a Cabinet minister said. The arrests Friday were "aimed at protecting public order and preventing racial tension from flaring," said Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, rejecting allegations that the detentions were aimed at thwarting opposition leader Anwar Ibraham's bid to seize power. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, September 13, 2008 ++]

“The use of the Internal Security Act, a widely criticized law allowing indefinite detention without charge or trial, sparked fears of a major government crackdown on dissent. "The Malaysian government apparently thinks it can only maintain power by jailing journalists and opposition politicians," Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "Such tactics have no place in a modern democracy." Even though Abdullah was prime minister at the time of the crackdown. Many think Najib, then deputy prime minister, was behind the action. ++

“Police released journalist Tan of the Chinese-language Sin Chew newspaper after questioning. But Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin, also a journalist, and opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok were still being held, Syed Hamid said.Online commentator Kamarudin, a well-known anti-government activist, has infuriated authorities by publishing numerous claims about alleged misdeeds by government leaders on his Web site, Malaysia Today.Tan had reported comments last month by a Malay Muslim ruling party politician who described Malaysia's ethnic Chinese minority as "squatters" and accused them of hungering for power. The remarks sparked outrage nationwide, and the politician was suspended by Abdullah's party. Opposition lawmaker Kok was the third to be detained near her home in a Kuala Lumpur suburb. She has allegedly complained about the noise of morning prayers from a mosque in her electorate. ++

Protests in Malaysia in 2009

In August 2009, Julia Zappei of Associated Press wrote: “More than 60 people including minors were in custody after Malaysian police violently ended a mass street protest in a crackdown analysts say could undermine the government's reform agenda.Police used tear gas and chemical-laced water Saturday to disperse an estimated 20,000 people in downtown Kuala Lumpur who were protesting the Internal Security Act, a law that allows for indefinite detention without trial. [Source: Julia Zappei, Associated Press, August 1, 2009]

“Almost 600 people were arrested in the protest, the country's biggest in nearly two years that lasted hours. Most of them were released but 63 people remained in custody, said Kuala Lumpur police Chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman. He said they were being investigated for illegal assembly – an offense punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine. Police had declared the planned protest by opposition groups as illegal. Opposition lawyer Latheefa Koya said those held included three boys aged 13, 16 and 17. She said the 16-year-old is the son of someone detained without trial for eight years under the Internal Security Act.

The opposition has decried the police action as a brutal crackdown on dissent. "It is clear that nothing has changed in this country," opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said in a posting on his blog Sunday. "Whenever there is a peaceful assembly, the police are used by the elite powers ... to prevent the people from expressing their views."

Protests in 2011 and 2012

In July 2011, police in Kuala Lumpur fired tear gas and detained hundreds of activists as more than 20,000 demonstrators massed across Malaysia's main city demanding electoral reforms in the country's biggest political rally in years. The rally was organized by Bersih 2.0, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, who were demanding electoral reforms. Police fired teargas at close range at protesters in an underground tunnel, injuring several, and into the Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity hospital courtyard. More than 1,700 demonstrators were arrested. The election protests were held by group of more than 60 non-governmental organizations, known as Bersih 2.0, which has the support of opposition political parties. Bersih wants electoral changes, such as lengthening campaign periods to at least 21 days and using indelible ink on fingers to prevent people from voting more than once.

Associated Press reported: “The opposition-backed rally was the culmination of weeks of intense pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak's long-ruling coalition to make election laws fairer and more transparent ahead of national polls. Demonstrators marched in defiance of Najib's administration, which declared the rally illegal and warned people repeatedly to avoid it. Officials insisted it was merely an opposition attempt to trigger chaos and stir anti-government sentiment, while activists accused authorities of being afraid of any large display of dissent that could undermine their authority. ###Bersih 2.0 Protests: Thousands Rally in Malaysia for Fairer Election Laws in 2011

An accurate count was impossible because they were scattered in various areas. The rally has galvanized the opposition and has been credited for a surge in political awareness among the public in recent weeks. Opposition leaders accuse Najib's National Front coalition of relying on fraud to preserve its 54-year grip on power, which has been eroded in recent years amid mounting complaints about corruption and racial discrimination. The government insists the current electoral policies are evenhanded. The activists' demands include an overhaul of voter registration lists, tougher measures to curb fraud and fairer opportunities for opposition politicians to campaign in government-linked media. The National Front's mandate expires in mid-2013 but many analysts expect elections to be called by next year.”

Authorities took extraordinary security measures to deter the rally by sealing off roads, closing train stations and deploying trucks with water cannons near the Independence Stadium in downtown Kuala Lumpur where activists sought to gather. Police said in a statement that they detained 1,667 people in a clampdown called "Operation Erase Bersih," referring to the Bersih coalition of civic groups that organized the rally. Those arrested included several senior opposition officials. Some were released after several hours, with police indicating that most would not be held overnight. “Thousands tried to reach the stadium from various parts of Kuala Lumpur, chanting "Long live the people" and carrying yellow balloons and flowers as they marched. Police fired numerous rounds of tear gas and chemical-laced water in repeated attempts to disperse the crowds, causing demonstrators to scatter into nearby buildings and alleys before they regrouped. Police helicopters flew overhead as a brief downpour failed to deter the protesters. The demonstrators dispersed after a five-hour standoff with police. Only several hundred reached the stadium.

“Organizers said 50,000 took part in the rally, but police claimed there were only up to 6,000. Other observers and participants said the total was etween 20,000 and 30,000, noting that it was highly unlikely that police could have arrested a quarter of the demonstrators. “Witnesses said riot police armed with batons charged at some protesters and dragged them into trucks. Some were seen bleeding, but police could not confirm any injuries. Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's top opposition figure, said on Twitter that he sustained a "minor injury" when his group was hit by tear gas. The Malaysiakini news website said he had a knee injury. Najib insisted Saturday the protesters only represent a minority, and that most Malaysians support his administration. "If there are people who want to hold the illegal rally, there are even more who are against their plan," the prime minister was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.

In November 2011, Malaysian lawmakers approved a ban on street protests after opposition legislators boycotted the vote and activists criticized the ban as repressive and a threat to freedom of assembly. Associated Press reported: Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition says the Peaceful Assembly Act is intended to strike a balance between public order and the right to peaceful assembly. The act passed easily in Parliament's lower house after the boycott. But Malaysian and international rights groups describe it as repressive because it bans street rallies and imposes tough restrictions and penalties for demonstrators. [Source: Associated Press, November 29 2011]

“The new law would confine demonstrators mainly to stadiums and public halls. Depending on the venue, organizers may be required to give 10-day advance notification to police, who would determine whether the date and location are suitable. Children under 15 and non-citizens would be barred from attending rallies, which also cannot be held near schools, hospitals, places of worship, airports or gasoline stations. Demonstrators who break the law can be fined 20,000 ringgit ($6,200). Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he believed the Peaceful Assembly Act would be "more Draconian" than laws in Zimbabwe or Myanmar. Other opposition activists indicated they might challenge the law in court, insisting it breaches the people's constitutional rights.”

In April 2012, Malaysian police fired tear gas and chemical-laced water at thousands of demonstrators in Kuala Lumpur demanding an overhaul in electoral policies. Associated Press reported At least 25,000 demonstrators swamped Malaysia’s largest city today in one of the Southeast Asian nation’s biggest street rallies in the past decade. The demonstration reflected concerns that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition — which has held power for more than 50 years — will have an unfair upper hand in upcoming elections. Activists have alleged that the Election Commission is biased and claimed that voter registration lists are tainted with fraudulent voters. [Source: AP, April 28, 2012]

“Demonstrators wearing yellow T-shirts poured into downtown Kuala Lumpur, massing near a public square that police had sealed off with barbed wire and barricades. “I’m here because I’m a Malaysian and I love my country,” said information technology manager Burrd Lim. “There’s no election that’s perfect, but I want one that’s fair enough.” Authorities said an opposition-backed pressure group that organised the rally had no right to use Independence Square, a symbolically important venue that hosts parades and high-profile celebrations. The demonstration remained peaceful for several hours, with participants singing the national anthem, waving banners and chanting slogans. Organisers declared the event a success and asked people to head home. ~~

2013 Elections in Malaysia

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." ==

“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.” ===

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.”

Najib After the 2013 Election

After the 2013 election Najib promised to lead on a platform of limited reforms. According to the BBC: “These include moving to beef up foreign investment, improving public welfare with cash hand-outs for civil servants and the poor, as well as pushing his 1Malaysia programme prioritising national unity. "What my colleagues and I have done for Malaysian workers over the past four years are only a reflection of what is to come and implemented in the next five years," he said. "Improved welfare and well-being for more than 13 million Malaysian workers will be our priority to propel the nation forward."[Source: BBC, May 1, 2013]

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.

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.

Last updated June 2015

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