Malaysian activists from Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), background, face off against police in July 2011 protest. Pic: AP.

But history shows Malaysian polls are almost impossible to call, reports Asia Sentinel

Malaysia’s national elections, tentatively to be held sometime in late March or early April, are shaping up as a free-for-all that could end with neither the government’s Barisan Nasional nor the Pakatan Rakyat opposition winning enough votes to take power, resulting in what is called a hung parliament, political observers in Kuala Lumpur say.

Actually however, the situation is fluid and, with polling a relatively inexact science in Malaysia, there is no clear idea which side will gather the most votes. The Merdeka Poll taken last month says 45 percent of the people think the country is going in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean 55 percent think it isn’t. The remainder are split into different camps and some academics have questioned the Mereka Poll’s polling methods.

Past predictions of close elections have been proven wrong as the Barisan has cruised home with majorities – although in 2008 that majority shrank dramatically. The apparent closeness of the race, however, has the business community on the edge. The lack of a clear mandate for one side or the other has raised fears of unrest.

One Malay businessman told Asia Sentinel recently that he plans to vote as early as possible on election day, which hasn’t yet been announced, and then get on an airplane immediately to get out of the country until he sees which way the wind blows. Several of his friends have made the same decision, he said.

That shouldn’t be overblown. Malaysia’s racial situation has been poisonous for decades, since race riots on July 13, 1969 took an estimated 400 to 600 lives in the wake of national elections in which the opposition gained 50.7 percent of the votes although the Barisan managed nonetheless to hold onto the parliament with 66 percent of total seats. Voter participation is likely to go well above 80 percent, according to academic Wong Chin Huat of the Penang Institute, as both sides pour on the resources in what is shaping up as a bitter contest.

As many as 80 percent of the country’s Chinese voters are expected to opt for the opposition, headed by Anwar Ibrahim, although the Indian community has shown signs of swinging back to the Barisan despite the disastrous condition of the ethnic Malaysian Indian Congress, which is riven with factionalism and infighting. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has made a special effort to woo the Indian community, turning up at Indian festivals and other events. Indians make up about 7 percent of the country’s citizens.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel