THE race is on. Malaysians are headed to the polls on May 9 for a crucial vote that will pit Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional against an opposition front. Najib had on April 6 called the 14th General Election to seek a fresh five-year mandate for the multi-racial coalition that has ruled Malaysia since Merdeka in 1957.
At stake is whether BN will be able to strengthen its hold on power and thus set the direction for Malaysia in the years to come. Najib argues only the BN can provide the strong and stable leadership and policy certainty and predictability, and build a better future for all Malaysians.
In the opposition, DAP, PKR, PPBM and PAN, which are contesting under the banner of PKR in a sign of unity, promise to “save Malaysia” from BN’s alleged misdeeds.
Pas, which was part of the opposition bloc in the 2013 general election, chose to go solo, putting up candidates in many of the three-cornered fights. With 11 days of official campaigning until May 9, here are the key things to know about the general election:
WILL THERE BE A MALAY TSUNAMI?
BN leaders and some political analysts argue that the possibility of a “Malay tsunami” is very slim or none at all. The Merdeka Centre, in a latest study, said although there could be a swing in Malay support to the opposition front in certain states such as Johor, it might not be enough to put Pakatan in power.
Pakatan needs to cross the 34 per cent-threshold to win federal power. The think tank said Pakatan’s level of Malay support is hovering at 20 per cent nationally. Pakatan has crossed the threshold only in Selangor, it said. “But in other states, the swing is in favour of BN, like in Terengganu and Kelantan,” said programme director Ibrahim Suffian.
HOW WILL PAS’ EXIT AFFECT PAKATAN?
IN contrast, Pakatan is experiencing a reverse “Malay tsunami” with Pas having left the coalition. In GE13, Pas, PKR and DAP garnered a combined 50.87 per cent of the popular vote.
Since DAP kicked Pas out of Pakatan Rakyat (and formed a new coalition called Pakatan Harapan that does not include Pas) PKR, DAP and Amanah now have only 36 per cent of the popular vote Amanah, the Pas splinter party, is struggling to win over Pas members and support. Pas alone effectively erodes some 15 per cent of Pakatan Rakyat’s popular vote.
“Killing off” Pas by splitting it into two and by kicking the party out of the opposition coalition has certainly weakened the opposition bloc. The inclusion of PPBM, led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is unlikely to match the influence and the efficient machinery of Pas.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN BATTLEGROUNDS?
WITH many political commentators labelling GE14 as the closest and most unpredictable in years, the battle for Putrajaya could be won or lost in the Malay heartland. These include the 54 Felda seats and numerous rural seats, where Malays form more than 70 per cent of voters.
But lately, ethnically mixed seats — where no one race forms more than 60 per cent of voters — are also seeing tough fights. These seats, which are traditionally BN strongholds, include Lumut, Bukit Katil, Alor Star
and Batu Pahat. This election may see BN regaining Lumut, Seremban and Bukit Katil, now renamed Hang Tuah Jaya, and keeping most, if not all, of the Felda seats.
BN leaders are also focusing on getting more voters to come out to vote and vote early in the day to boost their chances. One recent survey showed that some 12 per cent of voters are still undecided and another 8.0 per cent said their votes would not have any impact.
WILL THIS BE DR MAHATHIR AND LIM KIT SIANG’S SWAN-SONG?
AT 92, Dr Mahathir is making one final bid at power by returning from retirement to contest the parliamentary constituency of Langkawi, his adopted home. In the event he loses and Pakatan fails to win power, it will be the end of his political life. Likewise, DAP leader Kit Siang. Health-permitting, 2018 will likely see LKS going down to the battlefield for the last time, according to one Chinese newspaper columnist. And in the interest of succession planning, some BN old faces may also give way to younger leaders by the next election.
WHAT WILL THE ELECTION MEAN TO THE RINGGIT?
VICTORY for BN will be a net positive for Malaysian assets, says Jean-Charles Sambor, deputy head of emerging-market fixed income in London at BNP Paribas Asset Management, which oversees the equivalent of US$702 billion. “We see Malaysia local currency bonds as still under-owned by foreigners,” he told Bloomberg. “The market wants to see political and policy continuities.”
A win by Najib will be taken as a sign of continuity and positive for markets in the short term, said Roberto D’Ambrosio, CEO at Alpari Research and Analysis (UK) in London. The ringgit may strengthen as much as 1.5 per cent if Najib is re-elected, according to Malayan Banking Bhd analysts led by Saktiandi Supaat in Singapore.
Still, a lot of optimism may already have been priced in with the currency having risen around 6.0 per cent against the dollar in the 90 days before the dissolution of Parliament, the biggest gain for the period relative to previous elections since 1982, the analysts said, according to Bloomberg.