IPCS Discussion: Malaysia Elections 2013

21 May, 2013    ·   3942

Asma Masood reports on the visible themes and possible outcomes from the Malaysian elections

Asma Masood
Asma Masood
Research Intern

Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Research Intern, SEARP, IPCS
The Malaysia Elections took a surprising turn when Pakatan Rakayat (PR) was denied the victor’s crown despite gaining the majority in total votes. Barisan Nasional (BN) formed the ruling government. The ethnicity card partially held the reins of the electoral pattern. The Malaysian Indian Congress has changed its stance by now supporting the BN. The DA Party received a boost to the second highest tier in Parliament thanks to ties with the Malaysian Chinese Association.  The ethnic parties are said to cause a disproportional balance in the Malaysian Federation.

Coalition Strengths and Weaknesses
The Barisan Nasional has the edge of a charismatic leader in Najib Razak. Their ‘ New Economic Model’ and One Malaysia Programme promised change in the domestic landscape alongside economic development. Allegations of corruption throw shadows on the BN’s reputation, mired with scandals. The promise held by the One Malaysia Programme is challenged by the favoritism towards ethnic Malaysians, also referred to as ‘Bumiputras’.  Anwar Ibrahim heading the Pakatan Rakayat coalition also holds sway over popular opinion. His coalition’s political propaganda  focuses on the social, economic and political upliftment of Malaysia. A positive role played by PR is women empowerment, including welfare of war widows. However the coalition has a lack of practical experience per se. It sees a rift between the DAP AND PAS. Anwar Ibrahim’s repute took a beating when he insisted on extremist rules, such as only exhorting that only Muslims may utter the name of ‘Allah’.

Drawbacks of the Election 2013 
Allegations of phantom voters darkened the election spirit, further hampered by improper mechanisms. Non residential voting played havoc with authentic ballots. The BNP took full advantage of its grip over the state media. Another election tactic used was manipulating non Malaysian citizens’ nationality to garner votes. Phillipino and Bangladeshis were granted fake citizenship to obtain franchise rights.

Veena Sikri, Former Ambassador to Malaysia
The fundamental problem in Malaysia lies in that of the missing tenet of democracy. British colonists divided the society on racial lines between the ethnic Malays, Indians and Chinese. Prior to the white man’s divide and rule policy, complete free trade thrived between South Asia and Southeast Asia. The regions enjoyed timeless interactions based on trade, religion and culture. Islam was introduced to Southeast Asia from South Asia. But the British economic interests as in coal, rubber and tin forced traders to work through colonial rulers, restricting inter-ethnic interactions and increasing societal divisions more than need be. The 1969 race riot ignited the then new economic policy which was to be based on need, not racial background, but was implemented only on grounds of the latter. Malaysia was a resource rich nation with enough for all its people. While the Chinese were economically enterprising, the Indians lost out from adverse divisions. Reduced access was drastically reduced to civil services and other educational facilities. The MIC and Hindraf group vented the Indian community’s frustrations in a mass protest in 2007, directing ire towards Britain for the present sorry state of affairs. 

Elections 2013: An Inside Perspective
The Barisan Nasional is in power but with a reduced majority. Najib is politically weak, compared to Mahathir’s influence. Dynastic politics threaten the government’s stability. The uncharacteristic outcome of the election is explained by the weightage given to rural votes. The proportion of rural to urban votes can be as high as 6:1 , presenting an unfair advantage to BN. PR focused more on the urban constituencies’ votes. The Chinese vote was diverted away from Barisan Nasional as its  corruption record caused complete disillusionment. As most contracts in Malaysia are drawn up without floating tenders, there are higher opportunities for corrupt practices.  For the first time in 56 years there is no Chinese in the Cabinet, despite MCA’s vow to join. The mass shift of Chinese support led to the ‘Chinese tsunami’.

Although the Indians are a small Malaysian community they have power to swing the elections significantly. The PR refused to ally with Hindraf on racial lines, citing their firmness on a ‘need based’ manifesto.
The eastern provinces of Sabah and Sarawak hold the most important vote bank for the ruling coalition. Issues here include oil politics and corruption. A high incidence of illegal immigrants is coupled with granting citizenship cards and shipping fake Malays to peninsular Malaysia to cast votes. The system in Malaysia is such that counting of votes is a non occurring phenomena. The large number of votes from armed forces and non-residential Malaysians are manipulated into any constituency as the game planners choose. The Bersih movement for clean elections denied the declared results. The BN’s victory has not been accepted by Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition. Another dynamic was seen in PAS demanding Shariah implementation but being denied since Malaysia is already an Islamic Republic. The use of the Islamic label caused uneasiness among Chinese groups.

India-Malaysia Relations: Room for Growth
While India and Malaysia share a good relationship they are far behind potential. There is no growing curve. Defense cooperation exists between air forces’ maintenance collaboration and the navies patrolling the Straits of Malacca. However higher level engagement is absent. This is in contrast to the more active India-ASEAN relationship. Their friendship saw a new high with December 2012 on the commemorating two decades of Indian ASEAN relations. For the first time a strategic partnership was declared, pointing to very substantial direction. India and Malaysia too have potential for improving contacts by exchanges in technology, business and free trade.