It’s all getting a bit much in Malaysia. Even the extreme conspiracy theorists are scratching their heads with a little bewilderment while political boffins plotting early election strategies are at a bit of loss. No one wants to say anything for fear of offending.
This is all thoroughly understandable. Talking about the dead anywhere in Asia is a sensitive subject and no less so in Malaysia, where a record number of by-elections has resulted from the disturbing number of recent deaths among politicians at a state and federal level.
The latest death, of 54-year-old Mohamad Hidhir Abu Hasan, will result in the 15th by-election since the March 2008 general elections, setting the record for the highest number of by-elections in the country. All but one was caused by the death of a lawmaker.
It's even prompted Abdul Rashid Rahman, a retired Electoral Commission chairman with 27 years of service behind him, to note that previously in Malaysia no more than a dozen by-elections had ever been held within a single five-year term. ‘We are only half way through the term and I can safely say it is the highest number of by-elections,’ he recently told the national press.
Like many of the other deaths Hasan’s was caused by a heart attack. (Natural causes and car accidents have been factors in some of the others.)
Apart from being extremely costly to the taxpayer, the by-elections have also had an unintended impact on the broader political stage.
The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) fared poorly at 2008 poll—when compared with previous elections—prompting the resignation of then-Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the promotion of Najib Razak to the top post a year later. Since then, UMNO has done much better in the unscheduled by-elections, supporting calls for an unprecedented early election which should deliver Najib his own electoral mandate and increase the numbers of UMNO legislators at the state and federal level.
That election was widely tipped for March, after the Chinese New Year. But another unintended consequence of so many by-elections is that they upset the planning for the broader political apple cart and that includes the opposition, which maintains it can wrest control of government from UMNO.
By-election number 14 is scheduled for Johor’s Tenang constituency on January 30.
Elsewhere, the Port Klang seat has been declared vacant after the sitting member failed to attend the assembly for six months and another seat, Kota Siputeh, is in question amid a legal dispute in the High Court.
Claims of hidden agendas have dogged proceedings surrounding Port Klang and Kota Siputeh. But elsewhere, the political realties have been dictated by just plain old—and totally unintended—bad luck.