The Bank of Islam’s chief economist, Azrul Anzwar Ahmad Tajudin, has been suspended after stating that he expects the opposition parties in Malaysia to win a narrow victory in the up-coming election. Tensions are now at an all time high in Malaysia as Barisan Nasional may lose power for the first time since Malaysia gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. Fueled by social media and the Internet, and keying in on long-standing grudges and complaints, the opposition may be granted a turn at government Malaysia.
Malaysia has long been controlled by “Barisan Nasional,” a national coalition led by United Malays National Organization (UMNO). BN has been desperately trying to buy votes with cash handouts to students and families, promises for sweeping reforms, and large-scale infrastructure projects. So far many people appear to be unmoved, however, and the opposition may be able to pull out a close victory in the national elections, which must be held by this April.
Allegations of rampant corruption most likely stands as the largest single complaint against UMNO and its BN allies. While Malaysia has grown tremendously since independence since 1965, its growth has largely been fueled by oil revenues from its national oil company, Petronas. There have long been rumors of corruption and many Malaysians believe that large amounts of Malaysia’s oil wealth has been siphoned into private bank accounts. Further, the government has been accused on numerous occasions of demonstrating favoritism towards political cronies when awarding contracts. This public image crisis has now reached a boiling point and BN might lose its majority.
What will Malaysia look like if the opposition is swept into power? Malaysia’s opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat, is comprised of four parties, the People’s Justice Party (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Sawarak National Party (SNAP).
The PKR is largely viewed as a centrist party that seeks to do away with long-held affirmative action policies and also alleviate poverty and social injustice. The DAP, meanwhile, tends to fall towards the left of the political spectrum and is viewed as a “socialist” party. PAS on the other hand has been fighting for the establishment of Malaysia as an “Islamic state,” and appears to be an ill-fit with the other parties, which are seeking to erase affirmative action and heavy handed religious policies.
Realistically it is unlikely that these highly divergent political parties will be able to work together to form a concrete governing coalition. Should the opposition be brought into power, there is a high risk that with the removal of its common enemy Barisan Nasional from power, Pakatan Rakyat will split along ideological lines.
Potentially the PKR and the DAP will be able to form a common alliance, but PAS may find it more difficult to work with its opposition partners. As the PAS is seeking to increase the influence of Islam in Malaysia, it would seem to be at odds with DAP and PKR which are trying to eradication ethnic and religious divisions. Radical elements of the PKR and DAP may likewise be driven from the fold. If the upcoming elections are as close as most observers believe it will take every member of Pakatan Rakyat to maintain a majority.
Ironically, unless the PAS opts to take a more “Malaysia Centric” view and place less emphasis on establishing an Islamic state, the opposition party could lose as much as the hard lined elements of BN. As crazy as it sounds PAS could be pushed out of the opposition party and forced to join up with UMNO. And should the PAS not see a bright future with its opposition brethren it could potentially join up with BN and keep the opposition party from securing a majority.
The most likely scenario might be to draw together moderate and reformist elements of Barisan Nasional and forge a new political alliance. This might undermine Pakatan Rakyat in the eyes of its supporters, but unless the government is able to pass effective legislation quickly
BN itself is a combination of various political factions, include the Malaysia Chinese Association and Malaysian Indian Association, both of which have traditionally been viewed as more moderate than the often hard-lined Malay UMNO party. Even UMNO itself has its own fractures. With the right political maneuvering, moderate and reformist factions could likely be brought into the fold to build a new national alliance.
Of course, the outcome of the election has not yet even been determined. BN is still in power and may be able to retain power through this election. Should the opposition win, it is also possible that Pakatan Rakyat will be able to maintain unity and find enough common ground to move forward with establishing a government. No matter what, the up-coming elections will serve as an important milestone for Malaysia and would be hotly contested.