ST Global Outlook Forum: Answers to 5 questions on the Malaysian election

Panellists at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum discuss former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's impact and the state of play in the upcoming Malaysia elections.
(From left) The Straits Times foreign editor Zakir Hussain, OCBC economist Selina Ling, Iseas - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Francis Hutchinson and ST's Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh at the ST Global Outlook Forum on April 19, 2018.
(From left) The Straits Times foreign editor Zakir Hussain, OCBC economist Selina Ling, Iseas - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Francis Hutchinson and ST's Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh at the ST Global Outlook Forum on April 19, 2018.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum on Thursday (April 19) brought together three observers to take a look at the state of play of the upcoming Malaysian general election.

Here are the takes of Iseas - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Francis Hutchinson, OCBC economist Selina Ling and The Straits Times' Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh on five questions members of the audience had.

 

Q: What if the election has no clear winner? Barisan Nasional (BN) needs at least 112 of the 222 seats to form the government.

Shannon Teoh: When you look at policy stability for Malaysia, it's tied to Prime Minister Najib Razak. If BN doesn't get to even 120, there's no certainty that he will be the next PM and there could be an internal coup. Unless Najib does at least reasonably well, at least as well as he did the last time, we don't have any certainty that for the next five years this guy will be PM. So it's not just about 112 seats.

Q: Will there be riots by sore losers after the election is called, like the race riots on May 13, 1969?

Francis Hutchinson: At Pakatan Harapan meetings, rallies, there are quite a lot of Bersatu (Malay-majority Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia) members. You can divide them into the recycled Umno types in their 40s and 50s, and young guys in their 20s and 30s. If you start thinking about ethnic strife, then who is it against? You have the same community on both sides... There could be disturbance, but the nature of it would not be ethnic.

Q: If Pakatan Harapan wins, will Dr Mahathir Mohamad pass the position of prime minister to Anwar Ibrahim, who is due to be released from jail in June?

 
 
 
 

Shannon Teoh: There is an uneasy compromise and understanding between Mahathir and Anwar that each has a sphere of influence, has important roles to play. They might not like each other, 20 years on from what happened, but I think Mahathir does recognise he can't all have it his own way.

Anwar's camp has extracted this so-called promise that Mahathir will step down once Anwar is released, once he gets a pardon and he can contest a by-election and take on the mantle of PM. But it's not a straightforward process. It could be awhile before you see Anwar getting all the boxes checked so he can become PM.

Q: Will the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail be jeopardised if Dr Mahathir wins?

Selina Ling: I suspect that the opposition, if it comes into power, its first duty will be to try and get things in order. I'm not sure that they will be going around rewriting all the contracts with other people, because that's the clearest way of sending all your foreign investors fleeing for the door.

Q: What kind of odds are bookies offering?

Selina Ling: I haven't seen the odds but if the run-up to (the 2016 American presidential election) was anything to go by, polls and odds don't tell you the full story. What markets don't like is uncertainty. Once the results are out and if they're clear, then we can move on and it's business as usual.