3 issues that will dominate Malaysia’s election
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3 issues that will dominate Malaysia’s election

AS WE approach the end of the year, it is evident that Malaysia won’t have its general election in 2017. But given the government needs to be dissolved within the first half of 2018, it’s definitely not far off.

During the 2013 general election, the winds of change could be felt strongly. Malaysia’s popular vote went to the opposition, although the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition – which has ruled since the country’s founding – retained power.

This time around, however, neither BN or the newly formed opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan inspire much confidence from voters.

Corruption scandals


Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak attends the APEC Business Advisory Council dialogue during the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam November 10, 2017. Source: Reuters/Jorge Silva

There are usually three broad categories of issues that will become campaigning points. The first would be corruption scandals. This can’t be avoided in Malaysian politics, maybe because it’s the easiest for the people to understand.

Malaysian politics is constantly plagued by scandals. The 1MDB controversy involving Prime Minister Najib Razak will definitely be something we will be hearing more of, especially from the opposing Pakatan Harapan.

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BN on the other hand, will harp on discrediting the opposition after several big players from their camp joined Pakatan Harapan, such as former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and former Kedah chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir.

The economy


A Malaysia Ringgit note is seen in this illustration photo June 1, 2017. Source: Reuters/Thomas White

Malaysians will also be looking at who is best to run the economy. The rising cost of goods, declining value of the Ringgit, the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) and stagnant salaries will be brought up.

The economy would be a valid campaigning card. It is true that starting salaries in the private sector have remained stagnant for the past twenty years and because of the high-profile 1MDB scandal, foreign confidence in our economy has dropped and so has the value of the Ringgit.

The six percent GST will also be a point of contention even though it has been in place since 2015. Many opposition supporters will use this again Najib’s government.

Race and religion


Malaysian Indians prepare for the Hindu festival Diwali in October 2017. Source: Lee Lian Kong

Then comes the third category – race and religion. This is what will rile people up the most because of the social contract that Malaysia has been subjected to since the colonial times of the British when they practised the “divide and rule” style of governance.

Political parties in Malaysia will stir up emotions by pitting the different races against each other, threatening the people that if they are not careful, their racial groups will not have proper representation in the government.

In fact, they even whip up fear that violence that could occur, as was the case in 1969 when racial riots between the Malays and Chinese erupted after Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) did well in the election against a Malay-dominated ruling coalition.

But that was almost half a century ago and Malaysian society is not like how it was anymore. I would like to believe that we have progressed.


Former Malaysian prime minister and Pakatan Harapan leader Dr Mahathir speaks at a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in 2015. Source: AP

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Aside from creating fear among the people, it is obvious that the politicians are using race and religion cards to obscure real that need to be discussed during the campaign – the economy and cracking down on corruption.

As we can see from history in the form of all the previous elections in Malaysia, appealing to racial and religious sentiments has been effective for BN.

Let’s just hope this time around, Malaysians won’t be so easily blinded from the real issues that need to be addressed, and that the coalition’s currying of the people’s favour will not end on election day.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent