Malaysia’s ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) suffered another set-back after their efforts to bring “Psy” to Malaysia to perform his famous song “Gangnam Style” backfired into an embarrassing highlight reel. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was giving a short speech and after asking the crowd if they were ready for Psy the crowd chanted yes. After this Najib asked the crowd if they were “ready for BN” and three times the crowd shouted back a resounding “no!”
The Gangnam embarrassment is already circling the web and will likely be used by the Opposition as further evidence that Barisan Nasional is destined to fall out of power. The Malaysian constitution stipulates that an election must be held every five years at the latest. The deadline for the next election is now fast approaching and many believe that BN will be hit hard and could even lose their majority all together.
Should BN be swept from office long time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will likely be elected as the next Prime Minister of Malaysia. Anwar has a record of being an economic reformist and calling for liberalization. Anwar rose to power, however, for criticizing BN for not paying enough attention to the Koran and some believe that he may bring a more hard-lined Islamic style of rule to Malaysia.
While Najib himself enjoys relatively high approval ratings of approximately 63% and is viewed by many as a reformer his Barisan Nasional Coalition is being widely rejected by Malaysians. Najib enjoys approval ratings of nearly 80 percent among ethnic Indians and Malays who make up approximately 60 percent of the country’s population.
Meanwhile Barisan Nasional’s approval ratings stood at only 42% as of July 2012. The party has been widely accused of rampant corruption and favoritism. Further, many believe that BN’s “bumiputera” policies, which heavily favor ethnic Malays, are unfair and resulting in an unjust society. These issues have especially alienated the Chinese ethnic minority which make up approximately 25 percent of the country.
In a recent poll conducted by the polling organization Merdeka approximately 52% percent of the citizens in peninsular Malaysian feel that the country is heading in the right direction while 32% believe it is heading in the wrong direction. 51% percent of citizens, however, believe that corruption is the most important issue for Malaysia. Creating affordable housing and fighting inflation came in distant second and third respectively.
Many now believe that Barisan Nasional will have to rely more closely on Najib’s high approval ratings. Tying themselves more closely to Najib may drag his own popularity down but unless Barisan Nasional is able to win out the up-coming election he will not be able to retain office anyways.
Prime Minister Najib may find himself in a tight situation even if Barisan Nasional wins the up-coming election. In 2008, Abdullah Badawi was pushed out of office after Barisan Nasional lost its absolute majority for the first time since independence in 1965. While Badawi still enjoyed high approval ratings he was blamed for his party’s slide anyway and was pushed out of office anyways.
Given the history some analysts and pundits are beginning to wonder if Najib will be pushed out of office even if Barisan Nasional maintains its majorities in Parliament. Najib appears to have more political capital than Badawi. Further, while Badawi shouldered much of the blame for the 2008 Prime Minister Najib appears to be doing well in-spite of BN’s troubles. This could give him a strong position and argument to retain office should BN maintain its majority.
The on-going political drama is sure to make the up-coming election one of the most intense and widely watched in Malaysia’s history. For better or worse should Barisan Nasional be swept from power it would mark a first in the nation’s history. Even if BN should win there could be plenty of change and political intrigue on the horizon.