Who are the main actors in Malaysia's rough-and-tumble politics?
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Who are the main actors in Malaysia's rough-and-tumble politics?

ALTHOUGH Prime Minister Najib Razak won the previous election in 2013, his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, led by the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) that represents the majority Malay ethnic community, took on an unprecedented defeat with the popular vote.

The opposition clinched only 40 percent the seats in the last election, but won 51 percent of the popular vote, owing to the country's “first-past-the-post” electoral system that counts the majority of seats in the country's 222 constituencies.

Observers anticipated the possibility of a snap elections somewhere in the second half of this year, but those predictions have yet to hold water.

However, a report in the Straits Times earlier this month suggested Najib was coming up with an election Budget expected to be tabled at the end of the month, ahead of a potentially prosperous visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.

SEE ALSO: Dr Mahathir’s comeback renews Malaysia’s opposition in looming polls

Both pundits and ordinary Malaysians who have been following the rough-and-tumble of the country's politics think the big day may come after Chinese New Year celebrations next February.

Regardless, Najib was initially expected to cruise to another election victory, maintaining BN's unbroken rule since independence in 1957. But now it seems that all bets are off, according to Reuters in a recent analysis. And this is due to a host of reasons that has dogged his leadership.

Firstly, Najib has been fending off massive corruption allegations involving the country's 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) slush fund.

Another scandal involving state plantation company Felda, compounds Najib's problems as it directly affects millions of small plantation owners and their families who make up for a large portion of the vote bank.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad, once Najib's mentor and prime minister for 22 years, had entered the fractured opposition bloc, and agreed and head the government again if it wins.

Along with Najib’s former deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin – fired last year for questioning the scandal – Dr Mahathir has formed a new party called Bersatu (Unite), which has opened branches in 165 constituencies.

Another challenge for Najib is the influential opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently serving a five year prison for sodomy, a charge which the latter claims is politically driven. While Anwar remains behind bars, his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is leading his People's Justice Party (PKR), a major opposition component party which boasts a strong support base.

Click on a candidate's name to read their profile

1. Najib Razak - Malaysian Prime Minister

Najib Razak was appointed Malaysia's sixth prime minister on April 3, 2009, succeeding Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who did not seek re-election as President of Umno, the lynchpin party of the BN coalition.

The 62-year-old, who is the eldest son of the second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, graduated in 1974 in industrial economics at the university of Nottingham.

After his father's death in 1976, Najib ran for Pekan parliamentary seat left vacant by the late father which he won at the very young age of 23.

Prior to his premiership, Najib served in Cabinet as Energy, Telecommunications and Post Deputy Minister and later served as Education Deputy Minister and Finance Deputy Minister. In 1982, Najib was Menteri Besar (chief minister) of Pahang until 1986.

Over recent years, Najib has been battling calls to step down over a scandal involving state fund 1MDB.

2. Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi

Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has been Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister since 2015. Zahid has also been holding the Home Ministry portfolio since 2013, and previously served as Defence Minister from 2009 to 2013. In the next elections, Zahid is expected to contest in his Bagan Datoh constituency in the northern state of Perak.

Zahid was once the head of Umno's Youth wing after serving as a senator and chairman of government-owned Bank Simpanan Nasional. In 1998, Zahid spoke out against then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, calling for an end to cronyism and nepotism in the Malaysian government.

Seen as an ally of deposed deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, Zahid was subsequently arrested and held in prison under the now-defunct Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial for a period of up to two years. However, in 1999, Zahid was welcomed back into the Umno fold, stating that Anwar had put him up to raising allegations of cronyism and nepotism and alleging that Anwar had used his position as Finance Minister to direct business opportunities to Zahid.

3. Hishammuddin Hussein

Hishammuddin Hussein, born Aug 5, 1961, is Malaysia's defence minister and vice president of UMNO.

Between 2009 and 2013, Hishammuddin served as Home Minister after taking the Education portfolio from 2004 to 2009. He is the son of Malaysia's third prime minister, Hussein Onn and the nephew of Malaysia's second prime minister, Abdul Razak. On the international stage, Hishammuddin rose to prominence during the height of the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 where he served as the ad-hoc spokesperson for the government in the handling of the crisis. As Najib's cousin, Hishammuddin is widely tipped to be the successor for prime minister.

4. Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor

Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor is a Cabinet member and Federal Territories Minister. His role as Umno's Secretary-General and member of the party's supreme council makes him one of the most powerful individuals in the organisation that boasts over three million members.

Tengku Adnan made his debut in politics in 1980 and rose up the ranks to become Umno Youth wing treasurer in 1988. By 1993, Tengku Adnan entered the Umno supreme council and in 2001, he was appointed the BN Federal Territory Chairman. In 2004, Tengku Adnan ran for the Putrajaya seat in the federal administrative capital, considered a "safe seat", where he won uncontested. At 66, Tengku Adnan is condsidered a veteran politician and close ally of Najib (the two are neighbours). He is expected to run for the same seat in Putrajaya in the next polls.

5. Khairy Jamaluddin

Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar, who has been serving as Malaysia's Youth and Sports Minister since 2013, is an influential figure who has developed a "cult" following on social media. The Oxford graduate is the Member of Parliament for Rembau, Negeri Sembilan, and is the chief of Umno's Youth Wing.

In the past, Khairy was a controversial figure accused of cronyism and nepotism as he is the son-in-law of the fifth Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but now he enjoys widespread popularity among young voters.

1. Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the fourth prime minister of Malaysia, who reigned for 22 years between 1981 to 2003. Since retiring, Dr Mahathir played a supporting role as a statesman who backed Umno, but was also one of the main figures behind the removal of successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2008.

During his 22 years in office, Dr Mahathir brought development to Malaysia but at the expense of civil liberties. Under the Mahathir administration, many opposition politicians and activists were imprisoned without trial under the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA).

When Najib entered office in 2008, Mahathir had backed the current prime minister for several years until the 1MDB scandal exploded. This led to Mahathir's resignation from Umno, and the formation of Bersatu, which is now part of the opposition bloc intent on wresting federal power from Najib's administration.

2. Anwar Ibrahim

Sixty seven-year-old Anwar Ibrahim was once the deputy prime minister of Malaysia under Dr Mahathir's administration, but the influential politician had a fallout with Umno over allegations of corruption and sodomy, which led to his imprisonment in the late '90s.

After being released from prison, Anwar staged a political comeback in 2013 as the defacto leader of PKR, which ran against the ruling coalition.

Although the opposition did not command the majority of all of the constituencies in the polls, the bloc won the popular vote.

However, Anwar's presence in the 2013 election accounted for the ruling government's worst-ever election performance, with the opposition winning 89 seats, up from 82, while BN took 133 of the 222 parliamentary seats.

In 2014, Anwar was faced with fresh allegations of sodomy and was subsequently jailed for five years. Until today, Anwar maintains the charges were politically motivated.

3. Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail

Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is the wife of Anwar Ibrahim, president of PKR and the state assemblyperson for Kajang.

Following Anwar's removal from cabinet and arrest Dr Wan Azizah led the Reformasi movement against the then-Mahathir administration. In 1999, Dr Wan Azizah formed the a civil rights NGO called the Social Justice Movement (ADIL) before it turned in the PKR in April that year.

In previous elections, she ran for Anwar's Permatang Pauh stronghold in the northern state of Penang. Dr Wan Azizah also served as Opposition Leader the in the Lower House from March 2008 until July 2008. In 2008, Dr Wan Azizah resigned from her parliamentary seat to make way for Anwar to contest in Permatang Pauh.

4. Muhyiddin Yassin

When Najib reshuffled cabinet in July 2015, the prime minister dropped Muhyiddin Yassin from the Deputy Prime Ministerial as the latter had questioned his boss over the 1MDB scandal.

Najib, however, maintained that Muhyiddin's removal, among other dismissals of other disgruntled ministers, was to ensure a more cohesive government. In 2016, Muhyiddin was removed from his position as Umno's deputy president and later became one of the founding members of Parti Pribumi Bersatu (Bersatu).

5. Lim Kit Siang

Lim Kit Siang is a prominent leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the largest opposition party which is led by members of the Chinese ethnic minority. He is also the father of current the current Chief Minister of the northern state of Penang, Lim Guan Eng.

In 1969, Kit Siang was detained under the ISA for 18 months. Ten years later, the outspoken politician, who is widely considered to be the nemesis of Umno, was convicted of five charges under Official Secrets Act (OSA) over a controversy involving an arms deal between the government and a Swiss company.

Kit Siang was one of the main people arrested during the much-talked-about "Operation Lalang" in 1987, where he spent 17 months in prison under the ISA. He is also considered a controversial for his frankness on racial issues in the multi-ethnic country.

6. Rafizi Ramli

Rafizi is Vice-President and former Secretary-General of PKR. The Pandan member of parliament is the co-founder of a whistle blower organization called National Oversight and Whistleblowers (NOW).

Rafizi Ramli has been a staunch critic of the BN-led government and is known for revealing high-profile corruption cases. Rafizi's exposes include the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal which implicated Women, Family and Community Development minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who along with her family were accused of misusing RM250 million in public funds meant for a state cattle ranch in Gemas, Negeri Sembilan.

In August this year, Rafizi lost his appeal bid against an 18-month jail sentence under the OSA after being convicted for possessing of a part of the classified 1MDB Audit Report and making it public in March 2016. Rafizi has yet to serve the prison sentence while the conviction has cast a shadow over his eligibility to run in the next elections.