Malaysia’s main opposition bloc is making gains and will probably win the popular vote in the May 9 general election, but Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to retain power, according to the independent pollster Merdeka Centre.
Despite growing anger among urban voters, Najib is widely expected to win another term in the election because of his rural support and the disproportionate share of agricultural constituencies in the 222-seat parliament.
The opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition is expected to win 43.7 per cent of the popular vote, up from a forecast of 42 per cent last month, Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian said.
Malaysia’s population is 76-per-cent urban, Asean’s third largest after tiny Singapore and Brunei, according to the United Nations. But only 97 parliament constituencies, about 44 per cent of the total, are deemed urban and semi-urban, according to the Politweet.org research firm.
Opposition parties took control of the regional assemblies in the most urbanised state, Selangor and Penang, for the first time in 2008. They are expected to retain those states on May 9, when federal and state seats are contested.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, is taking on his former protege who he dismisses as “corrupt”.
The opposition boss says he returns with “great reluctance” in the hope of becoming the oldest leader in the world. Mahathir ruled with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003.
“It’s still quite unexpected,” he told the Guardian. “I thought I would retire and have a nice time, but people demanded, kept on asking me to do something. Eventually, I’ve had to form a party. I’ve had to be directly involved. I have no choice.
“This election is personal. I feel betrayed by him, I can’t help it. Najib cannot separate personal things from political workings,” the veteran former leader said.
Najib has reportedly banned anyone in government from being in contact with Mahathir, even those former premier has known for years.
In 2015, Najib was implicated in the 1MDB scandal, when US$2.6 billion of the government fund that Najib set up went missing and was hidden overseas in numerous bank accounts. Around US$681 million of the money was allegedly transferred directly into Najib’s personal account.
A government investigation in 2016 was widely regarded as a whitewash, with not a single person arrested. According to Mahathir, the scandal made him realise that Najib was “not the man I thought he was”.
“This man steals money. Not a few hundred dollars, not a few thousand dollars – he stole billions of dollars and that has been verified by investigations here in Malaysia and the US.”
The Malaysian electoral system is heavily weighted in favour of the ruling coalition. Picture credit: YouTube