Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MALAYSIA IN 2013 Najib's Pyrrhic Victory and the Demise of 1malaysia

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MALAYSIA IN 2013 Najib's Pyrrhic Victory and the Demise of 1malaysia

Article excerpt

The Barisan National (BN) and the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) contested the long-awaited general elections (GE) in 2013. The results and consequences of the GE were felt through the year. It was as if the entire country was consumed by the electoral results. All the major political events in 2013 were, in one way or another, connected to the 13th GE.

The 13th GE: No Popular Vote and Increased Importance of East Malaysia

The much anticipated GE was held on 5 May 2013. This was the first time in Malaysia's electoral history that a GE was held beyond the five-year term of the government, which had ended on 8 March 2008. After an intense two-week campaign period, the results were: 133 BN and 89 PR in the 222-seat parliament. The result represented a net loss of 7 seats for the BN compared to the 2008 GE. Nevertheless, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) performed better, winning 88 out of BN's 133 victorious seats compared with only 79 out of BN's 140 seats in 2008.1 All the states, with the exception of Sarawak, held simultaneous state elections. BN performed better at the state level this time. In the 2008 GE, the opposition PR captured five states (Selangor, Penang, Kelantan, Perak and Kedah). In 2013, the opposition only managed to keep three (Selangor, Penang and Kelantan) while Perak and Kedah returned to BN. In general BN lost the Chinese vote and large sections of the urban vote. BN was able to win because of gerrymandering, rural votes and votes from East Malaysia.

Two of the more important matters arising from the GE were the popular vote and the increased electoral importance for BN of East Malaysia. In the 2013 GE, BN only managed to get 47.5 per cent of the popular vote while PR achieved 50.9 per cent of the popular vote. This not only dented the government's claim to political legitimacy but caused months of political uncertainty when Anwar Ibrahim and PR decided to mount the "Black 505" campaign. This campaign alleged that the GE had been stolen from PR through systematic fraud and the BN had no legitimacy without the popular vote, and demanded fresh polls. PR organized fifteen rallies throughout major towns in peninsular Malaysia from May until the end of June. Both PR and BN also filed more than fifty election petitions to overturn individual results. Almost all the petitions to the Election Court were dismissed on technical grounds. What was disturbing were the costs ordered by the court against the failed petitioner. In many instances, the amount exceed RM 100,000, the highest ever amount in Malaysia's history to be awarded without a full trial.2

Politically more serious, Najib and UMNO were suddenly confronted with a rise of East Malaysian BN parties. The BN parties in East Malaysia contributed a total of 47 of BN's 133 seats, or 35 per cent. In other words, without East Malaysia, UMNO and BN would have lost the federal government.3 This fact was not lost on Najib and when the new cabinet was unveiled, more than twenty ministers and deputy ministers came from East Malaysia. In addition, the speaker of parliament and both his deputies were from East Malaysia.

The rise of East Malaysian influence was especially beneficial to Taib Mahmud, Malaysia's longest serving chief minister. After thirty-three years as Chief Minister, he was widely seen as being even more powerful than before. Sarawak BN had 25 seats in the Federal parliament while Najib's majority was only 21 seats, making Najib more dependent on Taib. Sarawak had been problematic for Najib and UMNO - it was the only state in Malaysia without any UMNO branch. During his rule, Taib kept UMNO (and other peninsular BN parties) out of Sarawak. The political problem was Taib Mahmud himself, widely believed to be the richest politician in Malaysia. In the past year there were credible reports of his financial misdeeds. In March 2013, barely two months before polling, Global Witness, an NGO in London, released a short video entitled "Inside Malaysia's Shadow State". …

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