Why Malaysia’s upcoming election will be significantly different from previous polls

Muzliza Mustafa and Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
Why Malaysia’s upcoming election will be significantly different from previous polls A customer at a restaurant watches an announcement being made byMalaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolving the parliament and calling for general elections, in Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 10, 2022.
[Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters]

The upcoming election in Malaysia will be markedly different from the previous 14 for a few reasons, chief among them being the implementation of a law to prevent parliamentarians from switching parties once voted into office.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved parliament on Monday, paving the way for a snap poll within 60 days and ending months of speculation about the timing of the 15th general election.

The announcement was meant to stop questions about his government’s legitimacy, Ismail Sabri, who belongs to the United Malays National Organization, said when making his announcement.

In 2018, Malaysians decisively voted to remove UMNO from power, but the coalition they had elected fell because of infighting and its place was taken by two successive unelected governments.

With the upcoming election, which many expect will be held next month, the PM said “the mandate will be returned to the people.”

These are the changes that will make it significantly different from previous polls:

Law to prevent switching parties

Switching parties once elected, or party defection, or aisle-crossing, has been a major cause of political instability in the country, especially since 2018, when it led to a turnovers in the government.

The law came into effect on Oct. 5, five days before the parliament was dissolved.

Under the so-called anti-hopping law, lawmakers who switch party affiliations after being elected will lose their seats, unless the party sacks them first.

18- to 21-year-olds to vote for the first time

The Malaysian parliament passed a bill to amend the Federal Constitution to reduce the voting age to 18 from 21. It took effect in December 2021 after months of political instability.

In January, Ismail Sabri said 4 million Malaysians 20 and younger will be able to cast their first ballots.

With these young voters and other new voters added to the electoral rolls after the institution of automatic registration, the number of eligible voters will be more than 21 million, up from nearly 15 million during the 2018 election.

Three-cornered fight

The country will see a three-cornered electoral fight for the first time.

In the previous 14 elections, the main fight has been between the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional (BN) and an opposition coalition.

For instance, in 2018, the fight was between BN and Pakatan Harapan, and the former suffered its first-ever defeat. Pakatan’s members are leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and Amanah.

This time around, there is another opposition coalition called Perikatan Nasional, which is led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his Bersatu party. Joining Bersatu will be the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has traditionally allied with UMNO, but has broken away for this election.

“It’s a shift from a two-coalition to a three-coalition system,” Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, a political science professor at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, told BenarNews.

PM candidate who is not party president

For the first time, UMNO has named a candidate for prime minister, Ismail Sabri, who is not the president of the party.

Ismail Sabri is a party vice president and was named PM in the coalition government last year because UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was battling a corruption case in court and the party’s deputy president, Mohamad Hasan, was not a member of parliament, which is a pre-condition to hold the top office.

Zahid is battling a corruption case and Hasan is not an MP, but there is talk Ismail Sabri could be replaced as PM candidate with Hasan, who could be asked to stand for MP in the upcoming election. Nothing has been said officially.

No simultaneous state polls

This time around not all states will hold their own elections along with the national election, as is the norm.

Many parties are upset that the polls have been called during the monsoon season, which can bring deadly flooding starting in mid-November. Last year, monsoon floods killed more than 50 people and was blamed for 6 billion ringgit (U.S. $1.3 billion) in losses.

PAS-controlled states Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu have announced they will hold state elections next year. At least two of three states controlled by Pakatan also will not be holding state elections this year.

States have until the second half of 2023 to hold elections.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission is to meet Oct. 20 to set a date for polling day for the national election, which will see three former prime ministers running for parliament – Ismail Sabri, Muhyiddin, and Mahathir Mohamad, 97, who has said this would be his last election.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.