11/21/2022, 16.18
MALAYSIA
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Uncertainty over the new government follows UMNO’s defeat

by Steve Suwannarat

No coalition managed to win a majority. After ruling for almost half a century, UMNO won only 30 seats. Now attention will be focused on long marginalised states of Sarawak and Sabah, on Borneo Island.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia’s election on Saturday has resulted in a hung parliament, complicating an already uncertain political situation.

Some 21.1 million Malaysians were eligible to vote, including six million new voters, to renew the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives or People's Assembly). Despite fears, monsoon rains did not disrupt the election.

Although one seat remains to be assigned, projections indicate major changes to the country’s political life.

The outgoing coalition government, the Barisan Nasional (National Front), dominated by United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), suffered major losses, benefitting opposition coalitions.

The Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) led by Anwar Ibrahim, won 82 seats, followed by the Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance), led by outgoing Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, with 73 seats. After governing for almost half a century, UMNO took home only 30 seats.

In his campaign, Anwar Ibrahim was everywhere, focusing on certain themes, whereas Muhyiddin Yassin tried to play the nationalist and Islamist card, making electoral inroads among Muslim voters.

Both alliances claim that they are entitled to form the government, but who gets to rule will depend on building alliances with others.

Now attention has shifted to what MPs from Sarawak and Sabah will do. The two states, the largest in the federation, are located on the island of Borneo, and are home to substantial Christian communities, especially Sarawak.

Over the years, both states have complained that their development was subordinated to the interests of mainland Malaysia, but now they are well placed to extract the most benefits from the situation.

After serving as prime minister several times, the "grand old man" of Malaysian politics, 97-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, lost his bid for a seat.  Anwar's daughter, 42-year-old Nurul Izzah, also lost, in Penang, considered the family stronghold.

While many parties promised hope and stability, voters appear to have cast their ballots knowing that the outcome would be uncertain, far from an ideal situation.

Elections now seem to show that political stability will depend on the relative strength of the country’s various social forces and on the relative weight of the various parties’ platforms. In the new legislature, this means that everything is possible but also volatile.

In this election, the traditional battle between leaders and proposals centred on economic promises to voters has been replaced by more political issues.

The country faces a multiple crisis – economic, pandemic, energy, food – that might be less severe than elsewhere, but comes on top of existing divides based on politically charged ethnic differences.

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