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Malaysian State Election Results Mirror 2022 General Election
But rural states remain behind a green wall
By: Murray Hunter
Malaysia’s weekend election results in six state assemblies were a carryover from the November 2022 general election. Had the state elections been held at that time, the results would have been similar. The political reality is that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan administration was cobbled together after no political coalition could command a majority of support in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of parliament, and its mandate remains largely the same, with the government and the opposition holding the same states they have held for the past nine months.
What the election did do was to confirm that a green wall that excludes just about all parties not aligned with the opposition Perikatan Nasional coalition led by the 76-year-old Malay nationalist Muhyiddin Yassin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and dominated by the Islamist Parti Islam se-Malaysia has descended across the rural states of Perlis (last November), Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu, clearly dividing the Malaysian peninsula politically into two distinct parts. The peninsula is politically polarized as never before. PAS now has the best electoral machinery in the country, making PN a formidable opponent in the next general election due in 2027.
The government achieved 38 percent of the aggregate vote in the general election nine months ago. It was only coalition partners like the United Malays National Organization and the GPS alliance in Sarawak – and an order by the king to form a unity government – that gave Anwar a mandate to govern. To expect any other result in the six state elections held over the weekend would have meant voter sentiment had changed significantly. Anwar’s coalition government triumphed in Selangor and Penang, two of the country’s richest states, as well as Negeri Sembilan. The opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) bloc captured the poorer Malay heartland states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu in the north.
Although the weekend’s results are a personal triumph for Anwar in reversing what was feared to be an opposition tide, he and his government have been unable to win the hearts and minds of rural Malay voters over the nine months he has led the country. Pakatan’s major problem is that it isn’t popular within the Malay heartlands, and its coalition partner the United Malay National Organization is drastically losing Malay support.
It is most probable that the rush of voters to the polls during the afternoon on August 12 brought turnout over the 74.5 percent level at the last general election, which shored up Pakatan’s vote. However, that wave didn’t help UMNO, led by the indicted and tainted Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, which failed to maintain support from the rural Malay support base it dominated for 70 years until the party was wrecked by corruption and dissention. The only exception was the state of Negeri Sembilan, led by UMNO deputy leader Mohamad Hasan, who lost only one of the 15 seats the party had held in the state assembly before it was dissolved.
This is a signal for Mohamed Hasan to take over the reins of power within the party and to try to salvage what little of it is left after the infighting that has gone on since 2018, when former prime minister Najib Razak was ousted amid a welter of corruption charges stemming from the collapse of the state-backed investment firm 1MDB.
The opposition Perikatan Nasional coalition led by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Muhyiddin Yassin is now in the position that UMNO used to occupy within the Malay heartlands, shared with its dominant and rising Islamist ally Parti Islam se-Malaysia. PAS has now penetrated the Penang, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan state assemblies. This can be built upon in coming elections. Terengganu and Kedah are no longer swing states, and the opposition will most probably hold them for a generation to come.
The state elections also projected a new PAS leader, Sanusi Nor, who is set to take over the mantle of power from the aging Abdul Hadi Awang, who was very quiet during the recent campaigns. The foul-mouthed Sanusi was charged with sedition just before the campaign began for allegedly insulting the Sultan of Selangor. There is no doubt the Anwar administration wanted to sideline Sanusi and discredit him in front of the Malay constituency. However, this backfired and has created a political monster, who some within PAS now call Bossku2, the nickname given to Bossku 1, Najib Razak, now serving 12 years in prison.
These state elections are most probably the swan song for Syed Saddiq’s two-year-old youth-oriented Malaysian United Democratic Alliance. Pakatan supporters are now angry at MUDA for splitting the Pakatan vote. Syed Saddiq also has his own criminal case to face, four charges of criminal breach of trust, misappropriation of assets and money laundering, which will no doubt receive maximum attention from the media, and be used to discredit him.
The Penang-based Gerakan’s bid to revive its political fortunes led to the party winning only a single seat. The party, with a base in the Chinese community, failed to assist PN in winning the non-Malay vote, and most probably the present party backers have run out of patience.
Perhaps a surprise winner of the state elections was Anwar. Reversing Perikatan Nasional’s momentum was a massive task. He survived the elections and now has to settle down and govern. Even though his own Pakatan Keadilan Rakyat lost 17 seats across the states, the Chinese-oriented Democratic Action Party only lost one, and as a consequence has become the major component within Pakatan Harapan. However, now Anwar has a massive task to avoid becoming a one-term prime minister. He must use the potential political stability ahead to improve his government’s popularity.