Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MALAYSIA IN 2010: Resurgent Najib and BN, Stumbling Anwar and PR

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MALAYSIA IN 2010: Resurgent Najib and BN, Stumbling Anwar and PR

Article excerpt

"A week is a long time in politics" has often been quoted in reference to the number of politically significant events that can take place within a short span of time. When that time period is extended to one full year, not surprisingly, the number of politically significant events also increases. In the context of Malaysia, the political landscape continues to be dictated by attempts by the mling coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN), to reassert its political dominance after historic electoral losses in the 2008 general election and by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition to fight off the challenges put forth by the BN and attempt to present itself as a credible alternative government in waiting.

For Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, 2010 was a year of building on the momentum of his 1 Malaysia slogan and his Government Transformation Program (GTP) and on creating new momentum through his economic agenda, namely the New Economic Model (NEM) and the Economic Transformation Program (ETP). His ability to stay focused and "on-message" in marketing the key deliverables of his administration has no doubt contributed to a steady rise in his personal approval rankings. The strengthening of his political standing has had a positive effect for not just UMNO but also the other BN component parties, especially in Peninsular Malaysia, as evidenced by the BN by-election wins in the parliament seat of HuIu Selangor and the state seat of Galas, two seats formerly held by PR.

On the other hand, 2010 has been a year of constant struggle for Anwar Ibrahim and the opposition coalition. The grand narrative for PR for 2010 has been one of internal infighting and an inability to counter the incessant barrage of acronym-filled initiatives on the part of Najib. As a result, the standing of PR as a credible alternative to BN at the federal level has taken a significant dent.

This review of the Malaysian political landscape in 2010 will expand on and explain in greater detail the grand narrative of a resurgent Najib and the BN and a stumbling Anwar and PR. The momentum garnered by Najib in 2010 obviously puts the ruling coalition in a strong position to regain a two-third majority in the federal parliament, should a general election be called in 2011. But many uncertainties remain, including the strength of the BN in Sarawak (where a state election is due by July 2011) and in Sabah as well as the impact of the continued rise in the cost of living, especially in urban areas, and how Najib manages the voices of the Malay fringe which emerged in 2010. The likelihood of returning to a pre-March 2008 situation of BN political dominance seems unlikely, even with as good of a year that Najib has had, and as bad of a year that Anwar and PR has had.

Reviewing Najib's Year

Many commentators, analysts, and even opposition politicians anticipated that Najib would be a much tougher political opponent than his predecessor Abdullah Badawi when he took over the premiership in April 2009. ' Najib's "unpredictably strategic" moves in his first hundred days in office have continued to be his modus operandi in 2010, leaving not much room for the opposition to undermine his political standing among the electorate. A review of his major accomplishments and challenges during the year will demonstrate Najib's political agility and skill in successfully navigating most of the potential pitfalls and maintaining his focus on the key deliverables that would increase his personal popularity and political standing.

One of Najib's greatest challenges was to promote his inclusive IMalaysia slogan, and, at the same time, manage the expectations of an increasingly vocal Malay fringe, symbolized by Perkasa, a Malay organization led by independent Member of Parliament, Ibrahim Ali, to defend against the erosion of Malay rights. This review argues that despite some initial hiccups, Najib was largely successful in playing this tough balancing act, something which his predecessor, Abdullah Badawi, was unable to do. …

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