Upcoming State Poll May Be Barometer for Malaysia’s General Election, Analysts Say

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-11-15
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Upcoming State Poll May Be Barometer for Malaysia’s General Election, Analysts Say
[Courtesy Najib Razak via Facebook]

An upcoming state poll in Melaka may point to how Malaysians will vote in the next general election as well as signal the future shape of political alliances at the national level, analysts said.

The all-important Malay vote will be split in Melaka because at least three national-level parties, which court support from among Malaysia’s ethnic majority, are vying for control of the state legislature in the election scheduled for Nov. 20.

“All the major Malay parties are using this election as a proxy to see which way the wind will blow in the next general election,” James Chin, a political analyst from the University of Tasmania, told BenarNews.

The state election will be the multi-ethnic country’s first poll since the government of Ismail Sabri Yaakob and his United National Malays Party (UMNO) came to power in August – the second unelected administration to take office since March 2020.

The next national election is scheduled to be held in 2023, but it could be moved up, based on the outcome of the Melaka poll, unnamed observers have told some local media outlets.

The outcome of the vote is an issue that confounds political pundits, in that the Melaka contest will see the Malay-based UMNO go head-to head with its own allies in the federal government, namely Bersatu and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), in addition to the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition.

The conservative PAS decided to ally with Bersatu instead of UMNO for the state poll, because the Islamic party is trying to figure out who it will align with for the national election. Bersatu was formed in 2016 by a group that split from UMNO, members of which were implicated in the 1MDB financial scandal.

“So, this is a strange election which makes it difficult to gauge the mood of the electorate,” said Chin, the analyst.

MELAKA-PIC.jpg

Party flags of the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (in red) and the Barisan Nasional alliance are seen at Jonker Walk, a popular tourist spot in Melaka, Malaysia, Nov.13, 2021. [Hadi Azmi/BenarNews]

UMNO goes solo

Melaka has historically been an UMNO stronghold, although the party lost to the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance in the last state election in 2018, because the 1MDB state fund scandal disappointed its supporters.

That Pakatan government was short-lived, though, after defections caused its downfall in March 2020. The unelected UMNO then formed the state government, which in turn fell on Oct. 4 after four of the party’s lawmakers pulled their support for it.

Instead of cobbling together another coalition government, Melaka’s governor decided it was time to call for elections, although some alleged that UMNO had urged him to dissolve the state assembly.

The Melaka poll results, therefore, will be crucial for UMNO, according to political expert Wong Chin Huat.

UMNO, earlier this year, decided that it would not be contesting national elections in alliance with Bersatu. Although Bersatu supports UMNO in the federal government, they are fiercely opposed to each other in Melaka.

“[I]t will bring confidence and legitimacy for UMNO to go solo in the 15th general elections” if it wins, Wong wrote in an article for local daily “Sinar Harian.”

The Melaka election may be even more crucial for Bersatu, which is helmed by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Wong said. If the party doesn’t win decisively, it may fade away like other UMNO splinter parties of the past, he said.

And if UMNO gets the most number of seats but not enough to form a simple majority in the 28-seat assembly, it “is willing to discuss with any sides to share power,” Wong wrote.

Bersatu will probably not be one of those sides, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the UMNO party president, has said several times.

‘Idiots with no brains’

These political shenanigans have disgusted some voters in Melaka, a state whose residents are known for their outspokenness.

One resident, 69-year-old rickshaw puller Atan Hamzah, questioned the wisdom of holding elections at a time when the country is crawling its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a robust program that has inoculated 95 percent of the country’s adults.

“This is what happen when you have idiots with no brains … no dignity,” Atan told BenarNews on Sunday.

“Society is just reopening after the lockdown, and now suddenly you caused an election.”

Another state poll held during the pandemic, in September 2020 in Sabah, led to a massive rise in infections, which spread nationwide and took months to control.

This time around, the Malaysian Health Ministry prohibited political parties from campaigning in person. Despite that, almost all political parties’ members have been seen flouting the order, local news outlets have reported.

Such flagrant violations, on top of politicians unabashedly switching parties for personal gain, have put voters off. For instance, two of the four the lawmakers who caused the fall of Melaka’s UMNO government are now contesting with the opposition Pakatan alliance.

“My friends and I don’t plan to go [vote],” 70-year-old voter Ragu Suppiah told BenarNews.

“COVID is one thing, but also, what is the point of voting if they are just going to jump around again once they get elected?”

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