Malaysia’s highly anticipated General Elections will be held on November 19, preceded by a 14-day campaign period. The Election Commission has set the candidates’ nomination day to November 5. Parties have just over a week to decide on seats and, more importantly, on possible alliances. However, the status quo could remain until the election concludes, after which there will be hectic negotiations unless one of the coalitions can win an outright majority.
As of now, three Malay-led fronts oppose each other: Perikatan Nasional (PN), Barisan Nasional (BN), and Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA). The two leading parties of PN and BN, respectively Bersatu and UMNO, are currently together in government led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of UMNO. It was under the pressure of his own party and against the views of most of the other parties’ leaders that Ismail Sabri suggested the king dissolve parliament on October 10. A few months ago, UMNO leadership announced that Ismail Sabri would remain UMNO’s candidate if early elections were to take place before the end of the year. However, UMNO’s party president, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, has recently been cleared of part of his corruption charges. In the light of this new development, it is very likely that if BN obtains enough support to claim a parliament majority, Zahid could replace Ismail to become the tenth prime minister of Malaysia.
While BN is very confident it can win a majority by itself, the situation remains fluid. The many possible combinations of post-polls political alliances to form government could create some surprises. At this point, discussions between PN, GTA, and the former ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) are ongoing. The main issue lies in the fact that the leader of each coalition, respectively Muhyiddin Yassin, Mahathir Mohamad, and Anwar Ibrahim, wants to become prime minister. This would mean a second term for Muhyiddin, a 25th year of power for Mahathir, or a first for Anwar, who has been the longest “prime minister in-waiting” in Malaysia’s history.
The leading party in PH, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), is more fractured than ever since the return of former PKR vice president Rafizi Ramli to active politics in March 2022. Party discussions on seat allocations are heated as Rafizi, now PKR’s deputy president, wishes to push the party’s old guns out. Rafizi is also in opposition to Anwar regarding possible alliances with PN and/or GTA. The young leader is the party’s number two, while Anwar remains the party president. Presenting himself as a true reformist pledging for political transparency, Rafizi’s intention to take over the party from Anwar is clear.
The days and weeks to come will reveal more schemes and surprises. Political energy is geared towards intense politicking, while debates and fresh ideas for the country’s direction have yet to emerge.
Sophie Lemière is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.