Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has finally ended the speculation and dissolved parliament ahead of an election that should be held within a matter of weeks. Given the nature of politics within a nation divided by ethnicity and religion, the outcome of this poll is far from certain.
No date was set and the election must be held by two months from now, but based on past experience an election will more than likely be held sooner rather than later.
After threatening to call an early election for the past two years, Najib ultimately left his decision until the last minute. His reasoning, according to sources within his own party, was to keep the critics and political rivals within the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) at bay.
The UMNO, the leading party in the Barisan Nasional coalition, suffered its worst electoral performance at the 2008 polls since Malaysia achieved independence from Britain in 1957.
The threat of an early election and the prospect that hapless members of parliament could lose their seats was enough to not only silence the ambitious few angling for Najib’s job, but also served opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Rakyat coalition well. They will enter this poll prepared.
Najib’s fate will be decided in the two East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, where recent events warrant comparisons with the Banana Republics of Africa, as opposed to the modern, high-income earning state that Najib wants to lead, if elected for another term.
This includes breathtaking allegations of corruption made against the chief ministers of both states and an insurgency launched in Sabah by a self-proclaimed sultan living across the maritime border in suburban Manila, waged by his band of mercenaries and resulting in more than 70 dead.
Amid the pre-election hype the spin doctors in Kuala Lumpur are attempting to downplay the rebellion, describing it as an “intrusion” – usually defined in the English language as an inappropriate or unwanted addition often associated with an illegal entry. Little wonder successive Malaysian governments have been sharply rebuked for relegating English in school curriculums.
More importantly, before the Sabah crisis most analysts were confidently tipping Najib to win the election, albeit with a reduced majority. Since the violence erupted on the northeastern coast of Borneo, however, opinions have changed. Now only the gushing cheerleaders in the pro-government press are adamantly predicting a victory for the UMNO.
That in itself is an enormous step away from historic norms and will no doubt provide the opposition with cause for hope, particularly given the extraordinary ordeal successive governments have imposed on Anwar.
In 2008, opposition parties won an unprecedented 82 out of 222 seats in parliament and five out of 12 contested state governments. One big question remains: If Anwar and his party were to improve upon this result in the coming weeks will the long established forces aligned with the UMNO accept the people’s choice?