There is once again speculation that Malaysia will hold an unprecedented early election. It’s a political soap box upon which Prime Minister Najib Razak has stood to keep his critics and those who covet his job at bay ever since ousting his predecessor in a coup almost four years ago
In this election Najib is not expected to lose but his headaches are many. In fact any one of them would be enough to drum a Western politician out of office and ensure he never returned. Malaysian politicians, however, are different and have always behaved like rulers in need of special attention.
Chief among those headaches is Najib’s promise to win back the cherished two-thirds majority that was lost in the last election.
Insiders from Najib's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party are divided over whether a failure to achieve this will result in the Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin following in Najib’s footsteps and bidding for his job. There is a realization within UMNO that holding two-thirds in the current political climate is unrealistic, nevertheless it’s a promise that Najib’s made and a cornerstone of his bid for the party’s leadership.
Elsewhere in Malaysia, protesters demanding electoral reform have been harshly dealt with, including at one protest where demonstrators were met with tear gas and arrested amid an over-the-top response by police. This echoed the harsh response in which Malaysia dealt with protesters last April.
Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansoor is also stirring controversy, as she remains highly disliked amid her extensive business dealings and suspect political relationships. Two of her bodyguards are currently on death row for the murder of a Mongolian model and translator linked to her husband and a submarine deal with France that is currently being investigated for corruption by French authorities. She is raising further eyebrows for her perceived role in watering down the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, particularly the inclusion of a “public morality” clause that many activists suspect governments will interpret liberally to give themselves the greatest latitude in dealing with public nuisances.
Malaysia’s great religious divisions are perhaps more important to the country’s future. Najib – a moderate – has sought to exploit these for political gain, recently warning that Muslim nations dealing with youth bulges as Malaysia is risk being marginalized or lost to “apathy and extremism.”
Statistics consistently show that Malaysia’s youth vote is becoming increasingly important and could dictate the outcome of future elections. Not far behind Najib is the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who remains unlikely to win the top job but could improve upon impressive gains made in 2008 when his Pakatan Rakyat (PR) party scored unprecedented victories at the state and federal level.
Ibrahim is popular among Malaysia’s youth who are discouraged by Nagjib’s message warning against political change. Among his warnings about political change, Najib has said were the PR party to be in power for three years, the country would lose its economic sovereignty — like Greece.
Such warnings do not resonate with young voters, regardless of nationality, race or creed, and how this impacts on the coming election — which will held over the coming months — will provide an important litmus test for UMNO and its 53-year grip on power over the short to longer term.