A Malaysia general election of many firsts from the start

SPH Brightcove Video
Dr Mahathir Mohamad enters a three-cornered fight, a stiff fight for a Johor seat and a two-term MP is disqualified from running - ST's Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh wraps up Nomination Day for the upcoming general election.
Leaders of the three main factions - Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan and Parti Islam SeMalaysia - will all face multi-cornered contests in their seats. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR, KHALID BABA
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (centre) and his wife Rosmah Mansor arrive at the nomination centre to hand over election documents in Pekan, on April 28, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
Dr Mahathir Mohamad greets supporters in Langkawi’s main town, Kuah, on April 28, 2018. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
PAS supporters gather at the Langkawi District and Land Office on Nomination Day in Langkawi's main town, Kuah, on April 28, 2018. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

KUALA LUMPUR - Already dubbed "unprecedented" due to the emergence of Tun Mahathir Mohamad as the first former premier to seek a return to power, Malaysia's 14th general election will showcase a slew of other firsts.

A record number of multi-cornered fights will ensue for the 222 parliamentary seats that will determine federal power, after so-called third force Gagasan Sejahtera led by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) on Saturday (April 28) registered candidates in over 150 wards nationwide.

A record 2,333 candidates have been certified by the Election Commission (EC) to run in 222 parliamentary seats and 505 state seats nationwide.

This election will also be the first time the main opposition pact contests under a single logo, in its uphill bid to wrest power from ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).

Pakatan Harapan (PH), now led by the 92-year-old Dr Mahathir, will campaign under the banner of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), a party that was formed after he sacked his former nemesis Anwar Ibrahim from government in 1998.

This also means that for the first time since it was established in 1965, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) will not use its iconic rocket symbol at the election.

Remote video URL

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

Prime Minister Najib Razak will defend his BN constituency in Pekan, Pahang, which he first won in 1976, while Dr Mahathir emerges from retirement to run in Langkawi, in his homestate of Kedah. PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang will contest in Marang, Terengganu.

With close to 2,000 hopefuls across the country aiming to confirm their candidacy on Saturday, some were left disappointed as their applications were rejected by the EC.

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 due to a conviction for insulting a policeman. Mr Chua had earlier been fined RM3,000 and sentenced to a six-month jail term for the offence, disqualifying him from running for office. This sentence however was later reduced to a RM2,000 penalty, allowing him to contest.

"We lost Batu. Returning officer said it's final. No nomination for PH in Batu," he said, referring to Pakatan Harapan .

EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah said on Saturday Mr Chua's disqualification was based on a court decision. "If the candidate feels they need to object, they can file a petition to the court ... we will adhere to the court decision," he said.

Another PKR candidate, Dr Streram Sinnasamy, also saw his hopes evaporate, after being barred from entering the nomination centre to contest the Rantau seat defended by Negri Sembilan chief minister Mohamad Hasan, who is now returned unopposed.

Remote video URL

The EC refused him entry because neither he, nor his proposer and seconders had entry passes from the EC which had to be applied for in advance.

PKR vice president Rafizi Ramli said that Dr Streram would challenge the decision in court, and accused BN of foul play as candidates in other seats were allowed to enter nomination centres without the said passes.

An ensuing war of words saw a response from not just Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin who is bidding to remain as MP for Rembau - where the Rantau state seat is located - but also Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"This is just instigation when your own candidate is not ready but you blame the police. Enough of this, Rafizi," the Umno president said on Twitter, accusing the opposition leader of slander for accusing the EC and police of conspiring to hand BN victory.

Both these disqualifications are unprecedented in recent times, say political observers. It is practically unheard of for the EC to ignore a court judgment, while there are no laws regarding entry pass requirements to become a candidate.

Several other opposition candidates were also barred as they were declared bankrupt, but some insisted that recent checks with authorities showed they were cleared.

These disqualifications have made PH's mission to unseat Datuk Seri Najib even more difficult, seeing as they need another 40 seats to add to their current 72 in order to claim a simple majority.

Recent studies show that despite ebbing Malay support for BN, it is still expected to win comfortably thanks to multi-cornered battles featuring PAS.

"I'm more than 90 years old. There isn't much time left. But as far as I can, I will try my best with the help of my friends to save our country Malaysia," said Dr Mahathir on Saturday.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.