Malaysia’s ruling and opposition parties say ready for polls

Carolyn Hong, Straits Times

It’s now just a matter of weeks before Malaysians go to the ballot box, as Prime Minister Najib Razak has finally announced the dissolution of Parliament on Wednesday after months of speculation.

Both Mr Najib and his rival, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, have declared themselves ready to face the 13.3 million voters. Both sides have expressed confidence about winning the 13th general election that will be the closest fought in Malaysia’s history.

In recent days, Mr Najib has expressed “cautious optimism” that his federal ruling coalition Barisan Nasional can regain its two-thirds majority control of Parliament, that is at least 148 seats out of a total 222.

Either side needs at least 112 seats to win with a simple majority.

Recently, Umno information chief Ahmad Maslan has even predicted winning as many as 160 seats.

The opposition Pakatan Rakyat has also been as confident, predicting a win of about 10 seats above the minimum 112, making it around 120 to 125 seats.

The BN won 140 seats in the 2008 general election, and the PR 82.

Analysts, however, have been more cautious. Many believe that the gap between the BN and PR has closed significantly in the last four years, and neither side has locked in a decisive victory.

Political analyst Ibrahim Suffian from the Merdeka Centre said both sides stand very close to each other in their chances.

“The ruling party has the preponderance of material resources to face the battle but they are confronted by an electorate that is increasingly critical, youthful and willing to experiment,” he said.

The 2008 general election also showed that the unexpected can lurk unseen, as the ground sentiment had swung so decisively at that time in such a quiet manner that few had even come close to predicting the outcome.

The BN suffered its worst ever electoral showing since independence although it managed to cling onto power. It lost the two-thirds majority in Parliament and five states, but later regained Perak through defections.

The contest will be a close one, with a lot depending on how the campaign goes. The Election Commission will announce soon the nomination and polling dates, with speculation that nomination will take place in about 10 days’ time, and polling in the last weekend of April.