State Elections In Malaysia Throw Up Results In Favour Of Status Quo, Give Time To PM Anwar Ibrahim To Consolidate Power

Photo credit: AP

Malaysian ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim got a relief as Anwar’s nationalist coalition won three of the six state elections held on Saturday. The opposition Islamist coalition won retained its domination in three other states.

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI—The regional elections held in six states of Malaysia have thrown up results in favour of status quo, with the ruling coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), continuing with its control over three states. The elections were widely seen as a referendum on the nine-month-old government, but the results are not going to directly impact Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s two-thirds majority in the Parliament.

There are enough indications that the election results, announced on August 13, will give time to Anwar, 76, to consolidate power in the largely Islamic South-East Asian nation, as his coalition won the most seats but failed to win a majority after the general elections of November 2022.

Anwar now faces the daunting task of uniting an increasingly polarised nation and strengthening his nascent unity government.

Anwar’s multi-ethnic PH alliance won in the three states which it held prior to the vote – Selangor and Penang, which are the country’s richest, as well as Negeri Sembilan. On the other hand, the Opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance, backed by Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), kept its hold on the heartland states of Kedah, Kelantan and northern Terengganu. The polls were held in six of Malaysia’s 13 states.

The state elections were perceived as the toughest political challenge to Anwar, who was appointed the Prime Minister in November last year to head a unity government after an indecisive general election. Retaining Selangor, which hosts the country’s biggest port, and Penang, home to Malaysia’s thriving semiconductor industry, are prized wins for Anwar, according to the political analysts.

The ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority in Selangor, as the Opposition made strong inroads. Anwar said at a press conference after the announcement of election results that this was the decision of the people, which had to be respected. He appealed for unity after a divisive campaign and affirmed that the federal government remained strong after the polls. “We will continue to promote a prosperous Malaysia,” Anwar said.

The PH coalition has so far held together in a country which had seen three leadership turnovers in as many years after scandal-tainted Najib Razak was voted out as Prime Minister in 2018 over massive corruption in a Wealth Fund. As the 2022 election resulted in a hung Parliament, the PH and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) came together at the behest of the King to secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

The loose ruling alliance is perceived as unstable and needs stronger support from the Malay majority. A large number of Malays view Anwar as too liberal and fear that their Islamic identity and economic privileges under a decades-old affirmative action programme could be taken away.

Malays make up more than two-thirds of Malaysia’s 3.36 crore population. The Opposition bloc made some strong gains, including in Selangor where it increased its share of seats from five in the previous election to 22 and denied the ruling coalition its two-thirds majority.

In Penang, the Opposition bloc won 11 seats, up from one in the previous vote, and in Negeri Sembilan, it won five seats, up from zero in the last election. The Opposition PN alliance has termed the election outcome as a defeat for the ruling coalition.

Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who leads the PN, said the election results were “very encouraging” and the state polls were a referendum by the people rejecting the unity government led by the PH. He demanded that Anwar and his deputy, Zahid Hamidi, resign from their posts to take responsibility for the defeat.

Interestingly, Yassin was acquitted by the High Court of four corruption charges on August 15, just after the Opposition bloc expanded its influence in the local elections in the six states. The High Court has struck down four charges of abusing his power to obtain 232.5 million ringgit (50 million U.S. dollars) in bribes for his Bersatu party. Yassin said all of these were politically motivated charges and he had not done anything wrong.

Anwar, who has been in power for only eight months, has not yet won public confidence amid a rising cost of living and an economy on the downslide. With Malaysia increasingly becoming polarised, the use of identity politics is affecting the country’s social fabrics. If Anwar is unable to meet these challenges, there will be a potential for instability in the near future.

Anwar will be satisfied with the PH coalition’s performance in the elections in view of the fact that it was not confronted with any major political shifts which could alter the status quo. But the outcome was also a disappointment in that his coalition did not make much significant inroads. Yet, Anwar has more than enough time before the 2027 general elections to shore up support, including the complex political bargaining which may be required within the ruling coalition.


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