Economic factors dominate Malaysia’s closest election in a generation

Economic factors dominate Malaysia’s closest election in a generation


Isabelle Meere, Content Producer

With the vote count underway in Malaysia’s General Election, commentators are reflecting on the country’s closest electoral race in a generation.

Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak and his United Malay National Organisation (Umno) party, has dominated Malaysian politics since independence in 1957.

Running against Razak is former Umno Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003 – and Razak’s former mentor. Mohamad is now running with the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Razak is expected to win the election, with recent polls predicting 100 of the 222 available seats going to the incumbent party, reports Nikkei Asian Review. In comparison, Pakatan Harapan was predicted to claim 83 seats.

The outcome of the election will have ramifications well beyond Malaysia, with economic factors dominating the campaigns.

Criticism regarding the rising cost of living, implementation of the 6 per cent goods and service tax (GST) and imbalances in the development funding between different states have all been levelled at the incumbent party. Mahathir has promised to abolish the GST within 100 days of coming to power, even though the tax accounts for some 18.3 per cent of the country’s 240 billion ringgit (US$60 billion) revenue.

Razak countered criticism by describing the implementation of the GST as the “hardest decision” he had taken whilst in power, but added that it was necessary to prevent the oil-producing economy from entering a recession following the drop in crude oil prices.

Throughout the campaign, he has promised millions of dollars of fresh incentives including three million new jobs, a rise in annual cash handouts and a debt waiver for farmers.

Racial tensions have also featured, with Najib warning Malaysians that a vote for Mahathir’s opposition Pakatan Harapan could mean the bloc’s Chinese-centric Democratic Action Party would lead the country, instead of the BN’s Umno, an issue covered by Channel News Asia.

Mahathir claims he entered opposition – including allying with one-time arch-rival Anwar Ibrahim, the jailed opposition leader – because of a singular objective of removing a “kleptocratic” Najib from power, according to the South China Morning Post. This criticism stems from Najib’s alleged role in the 1MDB scandal, where US $2.6bn from a government fund Najib oversaw was embezzled and US $681m of that was alleged to have gone into Najib’s personal bank account, as reported in The Guardian. In campaign speeches Mahathir has admitted that whilst he was a “dictator”, he was never was a “thief” or “traitor” like Najib, according to the South China Morning Post.

Such fiery exchanges have defined a fiercely contested election – one of the closest in modern Malaysian history, the Straits Times reports.