Opposition forces in power play as Malaysian election looms


Intriguing coalition manoeuvres are taking shape in the opposition camp amid talk of an early election

Joseph Liow Chin Yong, Straits Times

The next general election in Malaysia is not due until August next year. But the fact that Umno (United Malays National Organisation) branch and divisional meetings have been brought forward to this year has prompted speculation that Prime Minister Najib Razak may call the election later this year.

This would allow the incumbent Barisan Nasional coalition to capitalise on the anticipated celebratory mood come August when Malaysia celebrates 60 years of independence.

However, there are also factors that mitigate against prospects for an early election. Malaysia watchers would be quick to point out that in 2013, Mr Najib waited until the 11th hour to request the dissolution of Parliament (by the Malaysian King), paving the way for the 13th General Election.

The forecast for the Malaysian economy this year is also hardly rosy: The value of the ringgit continues to plummet, US dollar-denominated exports are slowing down, and foreign bank lending has contracted in the wake of the 1MDB crisis.

Even so, rumours of an early election have spurred the opposition into action. There is talk of a potential alliance between Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, or Bersatu, the new political party comprising disgruntled former Umno members led by the nonagenarian former prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and Islamist party PAS that has captured the headlines.

Should a Bersatu-PAS alliance materialise, its significance should not be dismissed, especially given recent strains in PAS’ relationship with erstwhile political allies in the opposition movement and its flirtation with Umno.

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