Malaysian parties in election mode

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak celebrating with his other party leaders after winning the elections at his party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on May 6, 2013.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak celebrating with his other party leaders after winning the elections at his party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on May 6, 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS

Proposed changes to voting districts upset opposition, Umno's allies

Malaysia needs to head to the ballot box in two years, but election fever is already gripping politicians following last week's controversial proposed changes to voting districts that the opposition claims will further skew the already lopsided polling maps.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) has agitated for early polls in Selangor, the state most hit by the redelineation, before it takes effect. But coalition partner Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which leads the state government, has resisted the suggestion amid uncertainty over seat allocations on the increasingly crowded opposition front.

Even Umno's allies in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition are protesting against the Election Commission's (EC's) proposals, citing the reduction of mixed-ethnicity constituencies in favour of overwhelmingly Malay or Chinese areas.

Analysts believe the changes, likely to take effect early next year, could reduce the representation in Parliament of BN's partners - the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Chinese-based Gerakan.

Umno and the EC have denied the changes were to favour the ruling party. BN took just 47 per cent of the vote in June 2013, but controlled 60 per cent of Parliament simply by dominating Malay and aboriginal - collectively known as Bumiputera who make up two-thirds of the population - majority seats.

The new maps ensure embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak will remain in power even with a slight reduction in Bumiputera support. But the changes could also lead to BN making gains, even to the extent of winning back control of Selangor, Malaysia's richest state.

 
  • BARISAN NASIONAL'S SHARES

  • 47%

    BN's share of the vote in the 2013 general election.

  • 60%

    What BN controls in Parliament.

Datuk Seri Najib has been attacked both at home and abroad in the wake of graft allegations involving US$700 million (S$950 million) found in his personal bank accounts and linked to money allegedly missing from state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali, who is also PKR deputy president, has rebuffed calls to dissolve the state assembly, leading to a war of words with DAP.

This is despite some in PKR telling The Straits Times that they would favour an early election on the same grounds as their partners, that is, to avoid disadvantages from the redelineation.

The disagreement mirrors a July feud in Penang, where PKR also turned down DAP's proposal to call for snap polls as a referendum on corruption charges levelled at DAP's secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, the state's Chief Minister.

In both situations, PKR has been concerned about losing Malay support, given that Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has exited the opposition alliance.

Not only would supporters of Malaysia's biggest Islamic party no longer vote for PKR and DAP, but also PAS might field candidates against its former partners, leading to three-way battles that would benefit BN.

Last night, Mr Najib announced a BN committee to assess the EC's changes "to reach a decision that is seen as fair to all parties", after MCA and Gerakan's protests.

The two parties have publicly cited concerns over racial segregation, but analysts say these two parties "no longer represent the interests of the Chinese community" and believe they could be forced to give up seats - a repeat of how MCA gave up three parliamentary areas in 2013's polls - to Umno.

"There will be pressure as Umno needs every seat it can win," Mr Ibrahim Suffian, director of the respected opinion pollster Merdeka Centre, told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysian parties in election mode'. Print Edition | Subscribe