After many months of speculation and anticipation, Malaysia’s Election Commission has announced the date of the country’s 14th general election. Polling will take place on Wednesday May 9.
April 28 has been set as the day for nominations for the 222 parliamentary seats and 587 state constituencies.
The date for early voting for military and police personnel and voters living abroad is May 5.
On Friday last week, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king) consented to the dissolution of parliament, which came into effect on Saturday. The Election Commission (EC) then met to set the election date.
While the EC has the final say in deciding nomination and polling dates, the ruling party usually suggests the timing.
An election that takes place mid-week suits the ruling party as voter turnout is usually lower than at the weekend. The large diaspora of Malaysian voters – for instance in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia – would be less likely to be able to come back to vote on a Wednesday than on a Saturday or Sunday.
The Bersih 2.0 Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections said it condemned, in the strongest possible terms, the choice of polling day.
“Not only is the campaign period only the minimum 11 days,” it said, “but polling day is on a Wednesday, a working day …”
Bersih 2.0 has appealed to employers to give their workers time off to vote, with no pay deductions, as required under the Election Offences Act. “It is regrettable that this cost is now forced upon employers,” Bersih said.
The Education Ministry has declared May 9 to be a special school holiday.
Most pundits predict that the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition will retain its grip on power.
The BN is led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has been the ruling party for the past sixty years.
Solicitor Tommy Thomas, writing recently in The Malaysian Insight, said that BN might have 14 component parties, but it was commonly accepted that the reins of power had always been in the hands of UMNO, with its president automatically becoming prime minister.
“Major policies are made and decisions taken by UMNO, sometimes even at its Supreme Council meetings. Each of the 13 other component parties knows its subordinate place in the BN hierarchy. The political reality is that for sixty years, UMNO has dominated public space in Malaysia.”
The foremost reason for a change of government in the 14th general election, Thomas wrote, was that “Malaysians must be freed at last from the clutches of UMNO”.
Sixty years, Thomas wrote, was surely sufficient for any one political coalition to rule any country. “Enough,” Thomas wrote, “is enough.”
While BN is expected to secure victory in the election, dubbed GE14, it may well not win the popular vote. This was the case in the last election in 2013. In 2013 and 2008, BN lost its two-thirds majority in parliament.
The editor of The Malaysian Insight, Jahabar Sadiq, says a win for BN is more than assured “as they have never lost a general election since 1955 when they were known as the Alliance”.
He wrote on Friday: “The ultimate aim for the ruling Barisan Nasional is simple. Win big. Win back the popular vote, win back the parliamentary super-majority.
“At the very least, the parliamentary super-majority of at least two-thirds of the Dewan Rakyat – 148 seats.”
(Publication of The Malaysian Insight is currently in suspension for recalibration of the news portal, but Sadiq is continuing to publish his election analyses on social media.)
The upcoming election battle will primarily be a two-corned fight between BN and the opposition coalition, which is now having to campaign under its old PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) logo.
The PKR (People’s Justice Party) had re-formed into Pakatan Harapan (PH), grouping together with the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu, or PPBM), the Democratic Action Party, and the National Trust Party (Parti Amanah Negara).
However, the Registrar of Societies (RoS) issued a provisional dissolution order against PPBM, which can therefore no longer carry out activities or use its name and logo.
PPBM and the other PH component parties will contest the election under the PKR logo.
The RoS said the PH coalition’s application for registration could no longer proceed as PPBM was a component party. A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 11.
“The 15 million registered voters will most likely see at least three logos on their ballot papers – BN, PKR and PAS while those in Sabah and Sarawak will see more,” Jahabar Sadiq wrote last Friday.
Bersih 2.0 said in a statement that it condemned most vehemently the actions of the RoS in dissolving PPBM temporarily (for a total period of 30 days), on the brink of GE14.
“The action of the RoS is clearly politically motivated as this comes two days before the dissolution of parliament,” Bersih 2.0 said.
Prior to the latest decision, the DAP was also victimised by the ROS for five years, Bersih 2.0 stated.
“The same tactic was used during the 13th general elections. The Socialist Party of Malaysia’s registration application was denied for ten years.”
BERSIH 2.0 said that the RoS needed to stop acting “as an apparatus of the ruling coalition” and act without fear or favour from any parties.
“The basic principle of an election is to allow any and all parties to contest on a level playing field. Indeed, the registration and handling of political parties should be placed under the supervision of an independent Election Commission and not the RoS, which falls in the ambit of the Home Ministry.”
Bersih 2.0 called for the restrictions on, and the temporary dissolution of, the PPBM to be revoked “and that they will be allowed to operate as usual in the lead up to the 14th general elections”.
The PPBM is led by the charismatic, 92-year-old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was Najib Razk’s mentor, but broke with the ruling party two years ago and joined the opposition.
Mahathir disputes the legality of the notice sent to the PPBM by the RoS and says the PPBM is still a functioning party.
He says the ruling coalition is already cheating, and the upcoming election will be the dirtiest in the nation’s history.
Writing in his blog, chedet.cc, he said that Najib was resorting to fraudulent practices.
“Tampering with voters lists, cheating and changing boundaries of constituencies, corruption of the voters, deregistration of opposition parties and blocking their coalition, changes in the procedures of voting, arresting and detention of opposition leaders and candidates, threats, buying over opposition leaders, etc,” he wrote.
There have been widespread allegations of fraud in previous elections in Malaysia.
In 2013, independent election observers witnessed that the indelible ink being used to prevent multiple voting could be removed with hand sanitiser or soapy water.
It was also alleged that thousands of Indonesian, Filipino, and Bengali workers were flown from Borneo to peninsular Malaysia to vote in swing districts.
Razak (pictured left) is himself at the centre of an ongoing financial scandal over the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
He is accused of siphoning off huge amounts of public money for his own use, but denies all wrongdoing.
It is alleged that, between 2009 and 2015, more than $4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB was misappropriated by high-level officials of the fund and their associates.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament building to protest when the motion about changing Malaysia’s electoral boundaries was being debated on March 28.
Representatives from Bersih 2.0 handed over a memorandum urging Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia to stop the tabling of the motion, stating that lawsuits were pending. Bersih also alleges that there have been procedural lapses on the part of the Election Commission (EC).
The EC has been accused of creating new electoral maps that favour the ruling coalition BN. BN says the boundary changes are not all in its favour, and that the latest delineation was a normal and necessary exercise.
Bersih said today that voters who have to return to Sabah or Sarawak from the peninsular and vice versa will be at an added disadvantage because the election will be mid-week.
“Furthermore, party polling and counting agents and volunteer observers will have to find time off work to contribute to clean and fair elections.”
Bersih urged the government to announce that polling day will be a public holidays and for the state governments to declare public holidays on the day before or after polling day. “If this is not done, all employers should allow two days of unrecorded leave for all voters.”
Bersih says that, for more than ten years, it has demanded a campaign period of at least 21 days to give voters adequate time to assess the candidates and their manifestos. “With a budget of over RM400 million, the EC has more than enough funds to make this a reality.”
“The EC has acted in bad faith and against the interests of democracy,” the coalition said.
Just before announcing the upcoming election, the government passed a “fake news” Bill, which has been passed in both houses of parliament, but has yet to be gazetted. Those convicted under the new legislation face penalties of up to six years in jail and/or a 500,000 ringgit fine.
The Bill was widely criticised by the opposition, civil society groups, and media organisations, who say, that the law will be used to stifle dissent.
In February this year, PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli (pictured left), who is the MP for Pandan, was recently convicted of breaching banking laws in exposing the banking details of the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) and was sentenced to thirty months in jail. This disqualifies him from running for election. The judge postponed implementation of the sentence to allow an appeal to be filed.
In August last year, the 18-month jail sentence imposed on Ramli after he was found guilty of exposing a 1MDB audit report to the media was upheld by the High Court. The judge in this case also allowed a stay of the jail sentence pending an appeal.
In his most recent post on chedet.cc, Mahathir said he believed that the opposition alliance could win against BN if there is a massive turnout.
“There are people who say there is nothing Pakatan Harapan (PH) can do … But PH can still win. It can win if there is massive support for the PH by those who care.”
For the opposition to win, the voter turnout must be the biggest ever, Mahathir says. “Nothing less than 85 percent.”
This, he says, is achievable, as shown in the 13th general election. “A Malay tsunami is what is needed. It can happen.”
Sadiq says that, for Pakatan, “their best achievement is to ensure they keep the popular vote and deny BN the parliamentary super-majority”.
Bersatu and the Islamic breakaway party Amanah, he says, “are fresh young splinters whose appeal is their leaders who have been around the block. But they have no real grassroots machinery or young leaders”.
The biggest loser in GE14, Sadiq says, will be the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, or PAS).
“Their star was already on the descent in GE13 when they failed to keep Kedah and several federal seats in the peninsula west coast. They’re nobody in Sabah and Sarawak.”
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The states where there are expected to be the fiercest contests are Kedah, Kelantan, Selangor, Johor and Sabah.
There will be no state elections in Sarawak on the island of Borneo as those polls were held on May 7, 2016.
Rafizi Ramli says there will not be a game-changing electoral tsunami because of PPBM and Mahathir. He says his conclusion is backed up by data gathered by the campaigning and research organisation Invoke.
Many Malaysians are struggling to make ends meet, not least since the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1, 2015, but many others continue to prosper.
Most of the odds are in favour of BN, and the party will fight tooth and nail to remain in power. Mahathir is, however, an extremely popular figure and, while many people on the Left object to his spearheading the opposition because of his controversial political history, others accept his leadership, seeing it as the only way of unseating Najib Razak.
Mahathir was prime minister from 1981 until he resigned in 2003. His critics point to the fact that he was in power during the infamous Operation Lalang crackdown (know as Ops Lalang) in 1987. More than 100 activists, politicians, and academics were arrested under the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) that year.
In a blog post in November last year, Mahathir said he accepted the blame for the detention of political prisoners under the ISA. “. I accept the blame even though the detention was not my decision,” he wrote.
“I regret that the detainees in Ops Lalang were tortured,” Mahathir added. “This is against the law.” He said the first thing he did upon becoming prime minister was to order the release of 21 political prisoners detained under the ISA.
Mahathir says the National Security Council Act, which came into force in August 2016, is worse than the ISA.
The jailed former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (pictured left) served as Mahathir’s deputy from 1993 to 1998. He was sacked and arrested in September 1998, and subsequently charged with corruption for allegedly interfering with police investigations into claims of sexual misconduct made against him.
Anwar is now serving a five-year jail sentence on a sodomy charge. He says the case against him was fabricated by his political enemies and the verdict has been strongly criticised both locally and internationally.
At the extravagant launch of BN’s election manifesto at a stadium on Saturday night, Razak announced additional 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) payments for three categories of recipients; and two entirely new categories.
He said households earning an income of under RM3,000 a month will have their BR1M payments doubled from RM400 to RM800, disbursed in June and August.
Meanwhile, households earning between RM3,000 and RM4,000 will receive RM600 instead of RM300.
The opposition says BN has copied at least nine elements from its manifesto, which was released on February 27, and was criticised by BN leaders, who said it was a blueprint to bankrupt the nation.
The increase in BR1M payments is the kind of pre-election sweetener that voters are used to in Malaysia and, given the difficult economic situation for many people, it will be very welcome. There is widespread discontent about rising prices.
It remains to be seen, however, how many people are in favour of a change in political rule that has not occurred in Malaysia for six decades, and whether those people will come out and express that opinion at the ballot box.
Headline election image courtesy of The Malaysian Insight.
The Prime Minister’s Office has announced that May 9 will be a public holiday.
Bersih 2.0 said it welcomed the prime minister’s office’s announcement, but maintained that the Election Commission should have chosen a weekend the polling day.
“The declaration of public holiday for May 9 does not address all the problems faced by voters as Wednesday falls smack in the middle of the week – a challenge for voters who will have to travel far to vote, particularly voters from Sabah and Sarawak who reside in peninsular Malaysia and vice versa.”
Bersih says that voters working in Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan, and southern Thailand, who are not eligible for postal voting, will face huge challenges as it is not a public holiday in their countries of residence and they may encounter difficulties coming back to Malaysia to vote.
The coalition called on employers in Malaysia to be considerate in approving leave for their employees who need to travel far to vote, especially those that need to travel between Sarawak and Sabah and peninsular Malaysia.
“We also appeal to employers of Malaysian citizens in Singapore, Brunei, Southern Thailand and Kalimantan to be supportive of Malaysian citizens who intend to return to exercise their duty as voters.”
Malaysians have been rallying round on social media to help those who are struggling to afford to travel to vote. Carpooling is being organised and a fund called “Undi Rabu” (Vote on Wednesday) has been set up that will provide voters in need with a subsidy based on where they are voting and their mode of transportation. The organisers are calling for donations to the fund.