Tomorrow, the 9th of May, thousands of Malaysians will cast their vote in the 14th general election. Many consider this election to be one of the fiercest political battle between the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (the National Front) and the opposition party, Pakatan Harapan (The Alliance of Hope).
Barisan Nasional or as it’s known in Malaysia as BN is led by our current Prime Minister Najib Razak. Who has been embroiled in a multibillion dollar embezzlement scandal for the past few years. To summarise the scandal, allegedly Najib has embezzled nearly $1 billion from a state investment fund called, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Honestly, the whole 1MDB scandal deserves its own blog post with reports that money from the fund was used to finance the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and to buy jewellery for model Miranda Kerr. Perhaps I will write about the scandal, but for now I want to focus on our general election.
Najib’s main opposition is the party known as Pakatan Harapan (PH) who is being led by Mahathir Mohamad, our 92-year old former Prime Minister. Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest serving PM returns to the political scene after stepping down in 2003. During his 22 years in power, he defied expectations and turned the nation into one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. He envisioned that by 2020 Malaysia would become a fully developed nation. A dream best symbolised by the Petronas Twin Towers, which is still the world’s tallest twin towers.
In an ironic twist of fate, Mahathir who was once Najib’s mentor has now teamed up with opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim – who is leading the charge from prison. Anwar was thrown into jail in 2014 for sodomy (yes this really happened) a charge which he says was politically motivated.
Mahathir has decided to return to politics after seeing two Prime Ministers go off track and fail at their jobs. After calls for Najibs resignation went unheeded, Mahathir stepped out of retirement to lead an opposition alliance.
“It’s hard to oust a prime minister,” Mahathir said at a recent rally in his home state of Kedah just days before the polls.
Mahathir should know — he cemented Malaysia’s single-party dominance, centralising all power for himself. He also ensured that the ruling United Malays National Organization won every election (It hasn’t lost at the polls since independence in 1957) Now he’s hoping to shift voters’ loyalties to instead vote for an opposition coalition (comprised of political figures he once persecuted). Should they overcome an asymmetric election systemic to win, Mahathir has pledged to reinstate the very civil liberties and checks on the power he curtailed.
The general election will see a record number of 2,333 candidates, an increase from 1,899 in the 2013 elections. The decision to set the vote during the middle of the week was seen as a way to discourage the millions of Malaysians living abroad from returning home to vote. However, social media campaigns like the #pulangmengundi (go home to vote) was launched as a way to connect Malaysians living abroad with sponsors who would fund the costs of their travel. This was done to help voters who could not afford the travelling costs return home to cast their vote.
With such an intense election occurring, Malaysians have urged one another to cast their vote for a suitable candidate for the future of the country. With many calling out BN for attempting to buy votes under the guise of “donations”.
Students like myself who are unable to vote (voting age is 21 in Malaysia) have resigned ourselves to watching live streams of the election and staying up to date with messages from our friends and family. Thousands of Malaysians, myself included want to see an end to the corruption that has long since tainted our country’s governance. Will the opposition party manage to usurp BN and make Mahathir the world’s oldest leader? We will find out tomorrow when polling begins.