Malaysia's upcoming polls topic of ST's panel forum

Race and religion will play a part as in previous Malaysian elections, but this year, there are many twists in the tale.
Race and religion will play a part as in previous Malaysian elections, but this year, there are many twists in the tale. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Ibrahim Suffian from the Merdeka Center For Opinion Research. Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank. Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador- at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador- at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Ibrahim Suffian from the Merdeka Center For Opinion Research. Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank. Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador- at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Ibrahim Suffian from the Merdeka Center For Opinion Research.
Mr Ibrahim Suffian from the Merdeka Center For Opinion Research. Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank. Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador- at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank.

Experts to address political, social, economic issues that will impact country's future

With the deep split in Malaysia's opposition, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition looks set to easily retain control of Parliament in the next general election (GE) due in August next year.

But niggling questions remain even amid speculation that Prime Minister Najib Razak might call for early polls later this year.

These include the impact of rising prices and cost-of-living issues on voter sentiment.

Race and religion - constant factors in Malaysia's political landscape - will also play a part as in previous polls. But this year, there are many twists in the tale, not least the wild card in the new party created by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad.

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Will it leach support from his former party, Umno? Or will it cause more pain for the opposition, still at a loss in deciding who to name as its prime ministerial candidate in the confrontation with BN.

Will the financial scandal over state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd and the question of good governance sway voters more at the polling booth, or will the call of religion be the determining factor? How will political sentiments affect the financial markets?

Three experts will address these issues at the ST Global Outlook Forum panel discussion on June 13.

The speakers are Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former High Commissioner to Malaysia; Mr Ibrahim Suffian from respected pollster Merdeka Center For Opinion Research; and Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank.

The forum, sponsored by OCBC Premier Banking, is entitled Malaysia's Next GE: The Perils And Prospects. It will be held at OCBC Centre in Chulia Street.

On paper, Datuk Seri Najib's 13-party BN coalition looks like a sure winner at the general election, as Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has said it will not work with the other major opposition parties. If carried into the polls, BN will face, and likely win, many multi-cornered fights against two or more opposition parties.

The ruling BN won 133 out of the 222 parliamentary seats in the 2013 general election. The coalition's internal polling data shows it is confident of winning at least 128 parliamentary constituencies, more than enough to return to power, with a higher possible target of around 140. But even after he wins, Mr Najib needs to move quickly to tamp down concerns over corruption, inflation, weak governance and the constant bickering over race and religion.

He also faces challenges on the economic front, such as reducing the persistent Budget deficit.

According to Ms Ling, Malaysia's longer-term challenges include "fiscal consolidation, avoiding the middle-income trap by improving workforce education and skills, lowering skills mismatch and boosting productivity growth, encouraging R&D and innovation, and upholding high standards of governance".

And looking beyond these issues, there is the big question about the country's direction.

"Educated Malaysians worry about the future of their country," said Mr Ong.

•To register for the forum, go to str.sg/globaloutlook. A limited number of seats has been set aside for ST readers. There is no entrance fee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysia's upcoming polls topic of ST's panel forum'. Print Edition | Subscribe