The pilihanraya umum is a topic that is making headlines in local Malaysian news as well as world news. This general election is going to be extremely important for Malaysia because it can be the first time since the creation of the Federation of Malaysia on the 16th of September 1963 that the Barisan Nasional coalition, or some form of it, does not have the largest role to play in federal politics.
The Barisan Nasional, or National Front, has already shown some signs of faltering in the 2008 pilihanraya umum. It lost more than one third of its seats to the Pakatan Rakyat, or People’s Alliance, which constitutes the worst results since the election of 1969. As it stands, the Barisan Nasional coalition holds 140 seats, with 50.27% of the vote, while Pakatan Rakyat has 82 seats, translating to 46.75% of the popular vote. These statistics are important because it means that the Barisan Nasional coalition does not have the two thirds majority it needs in order to enact constitutional changes, meaning that its power is greatly reduced.
The leader of Pakatan Rakyat, Anwar Ibrahim, states that it is his priority to defeat the current Prime Minister Najib Razak, and have a different party rule the Malaysian state. However, this task may not be easy for the politician. Mr. Razak has begun to rejuvenate the Barisan Nasional coalition, attempting to appeal to a younger demographic by repealing old protectionist policies and offering investment opportunities to foreigners. In addition, he has increased human rights by striking down security laws which used to let police detain individuals without a trial for a maximum of two years.
Another problem faced by Anwar Ibrahim is that there is wide speculation that his coalition is going to fall apart. There are certain ideological chasms between the member parties that are sure to be more prominent if the coalition does indeed attain power. An example of the conflicts that the coalition faces is between the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party and the Democratic Action Party. The first party mentioned has the goal of imposing hudud onto the population, which falls under the category of Sharia Law. However, the other forces in the coalition cite that 40% of Malaysia’s population are either Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus, and thus they would be opposed to a theological law.
Despite this infighting, the Pakatan Rakyat coalition offers some valiant campaign promises to the people of Malaysia. In terms of the economy, Malaysia has a budget deficit of 43 billion ringgit, amounting to 4.7% of its GDP. The budget proposed by the Pakatan Rakyat would reduce this deficit to 4.4% of the GDP. Furthermore, the party claims it will try to reduce corruption and decrease subsidies to large scale corporations, helping the people of Malaysia instead.
There are benefits and detriments to both the Barisan Nasional coalition as well as the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. Given that both groups are made up of a variety of individual (and often ideologically different) parties, there is a lot of tension within the organizations. Nevertheless, the upcoming pilihanraya umum will be an event that will have an immense impact on the Malaysian nation, no matter what the results.