Malaysia’s opposition has said it will axe a goods-and-services tax introduced in 2015 if it wins the next general election that must be held by August.
The opposition Pakatan Harapan, or Pact of Hope, coalition manifesto promised to limit prime ministers to two terms in office and bar them from holding other ministerial roles.
Mahathir Mohamad, 92, is the coalition’s candidate for the premiership until jailed Anwar Ibrahim, 70, is eligible to take over after his expected release in June. Mahathir was Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, in power from 1981 to 2003.
His political protégé, Prime Minister Najib Razak, 64, leads the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), which has held power since independence in 1957 and dominates the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Najib, also finance minister, has ruled since 2009 and will feel electorally buoyed by growth of around 5.9 per cent last year.
Since his narrow victory in the 2013 general election (pictured), when he secured 60 per cent of parliamentary seats with just 47 per cent of the vote, Najib has been accused of looting the scandal-ridden 1MDB development fund, after he chaired its board of advisers.
Najib has also failed to adequately explain how around US$681 million appeared in his personal account around the time the US$4.5-billion scandal broke. He denies any wrongdoing.
But careful management of the next election might enable Najib to avoid paying a heavy price for the scandal.
Through a system of malapportionment, many districts have deeply uneven populations, so Najib can afford to get fewer votes than the opposition but retain a parliamentary majority. Although Malaysia’s constitution states that electoral districts must be “approximately equal” in population, constituencies proposed by the government-appointed election commission range in size from 18,000 to 146,000 voters. Najib’s coalition controls all of the 15 smallest constituencies, while 14 of the 15 biggest ones are held by opposition members.
The average ruling coalition seat has 30,000 fewer voters than the average opposition one.
The Economist argues that Najib has already stolen the election. The magazine opines: “The media are supine. The police and the courts seem more interested in allegations of minor offences by opposition figures than they are in the blatant bilking of the taxpayer over 1MDB and the open violation of the constitution at the election commission.
“The latest budget seems intended to buy the loyalty of civil servants, by promising a special bonus to be disbursed just after the likely date of the election,” it writes.
“[Najib] fears that most voters would not return him to office if given a choice, so he is taking their choice away.”
Campaigning during the 2013 general election. Picture credit: Wikimedia