Malaysia election to see multi-cornered fights in most seats

Analysts say this may swing biggest election with record 2,333 candidates towards BN

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, with his wife Rosmah Mansor, arriving at the nomination centre to submit his election documents in Pekan, Pahang, yesterday.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, with his wife Rosmah Mansor, arriving at the nomination centre to submit his election documents in Pekan, Pahang, yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Malaysia's general election will be the biggest ever with a record 2,333 candidates. It is also one where more than four in five candidates will be facing off in three-or more-cornered fights. This state of affairs could swing the elections towards the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), say analysts.

While there were allegations of bias from the opposition over a handful of seats, Nomination Day proceedings took place smoothly across the country yesterday for 222 parliamentary constituencies and 505 state seats in the May 9 polls, which pits Prime Minister Najib Razak against his one-time mentor and former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Multi-cornered fights will take place for 192 parliamentary seats, representing 85 per cent of the wards that determine who runs the central government. In the last general election in 2013, 132 parliamentary seats saw straight fights between BN and the opposition.

The change is largely driven by third-faction and potential kingmaker Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which yesterday registered candidates to run in 158 seats.

PAS, a former ally of the main opposition parties that make up Pakatan Harapan (PH), could split votes for the opposition, boosting BN's chances in Malaysia's first-past-the-post system.

"PAS' decision to leave Pakatan and be a third force has improved BN's chances, even though (it is) likely to see a lower popular vote," said Mr Ibrahim Suffian, programme director of opinion research firm Merdeka Centre.

A record 2,333 candidates were certified by the Election Commission (EC), up from 1,899 in the 2013 elections. Those who made the cut yesterday wasted no time in making the most of the 11-day campaign period, by holding rallies to maximise their chances at the ballot box.

Already dubbed "unprecedented" with the emergence of Tun Dr Mahathir, 92, the first former PM to seek a return to power albeit as the opposition, Malaysia's 14th general election will also be the first time the main opposition pact contests under a single logo, that of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Leaders of the three main factions will all face multi-cornered contests in their seats.

Prime Minister Najib Razak defends his constituency in Pekan, Pahang, which he first won in 1976, against three candidates: the grandson of former deputy PM Ghafar Baba, PH's Zahid Arip; retired army captain Ahiatudin Daud of PAS; and independent Abd Kadir Sainudin.

Dr Mahathir runs in Langkawi, Kedah, against incumbent BN MP Nawawi Ahmad and local PAS chief Zubir Ahmad. PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang will contest in Marang, Terengganu, against BN's Nor Endot and PH's Zarawi Sulong.

Several prospective candidates were left disappointed as their applications were rejected by the EC.

But the most shocking of these was that of PKR vice-president and two-term MP Tian Chua, who was barred from defending his Batu seat in Kuala Lumpur after an earlier conviction for insulting a policeman.

Mr Chua was first fined RM3,000 (S$1,013) and jailed six months for the offence, but the sentence was later reduced to a fine of RM2,000. Malaysian law disqualifies an elected representative if he is sentenced to a prison term of more than a year, or fined more than RM 2,000.

PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli also accused BN of foul play after candidate Streram Sinnasamy was not allowed to enter a nomination centre to file his papers as he did not have an EC pass.

These disqualifications have further hampered PH's mission to unseat BN, as it needs another 40 seats to add to its current 72 to claim a simple majority.

Adding to the intrigue, Dr Mahathir's original flight to Langkawi was cancelled when some damage was detected on the plane. He then claimed the private jet had been sabotaged in a bid to stop him from standing.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia said it had investigated the claim and found no basis for it, with chairman Azharuddin A. Rahman adding: "It is morally wrong to make such wild and false allegations for the sake of political gain."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline Malaysia election to see multi-cornered fights in most seats. Subscribe