Key issues as Malaysia prepares to vote

(Reuters) – Malaysia will hold its general election on Nov 19, the Election Commission (EC) said, in a contest that the country’s ruling graft-tainted party hopes will strengthen its hold on power.

Here are the key issues that will determine how Malaysians vote:

Economy and inflation

Rising prices and economic prospects will be voters’ top considerations as the government and central bank have warned of slowing growth next year.

The economy is expected to expand 4% to 5% next year, following this year’s expected 6.5% to 7% growth.

Prices have been creeping up, especially for food items.

The government has said it will trim back subsidies in 2023 due to fiscal pressures, which could result in further price increases if the new administration proceeds with the plan.

“The top issue (in the elections) would be socioeconomic well-being which is rapidly deteriorating,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with Singapore’s Institute of International Affairs.

Most of the country’s ethnic-Malay majority would expect Umno “as being most willing to provide handouts during these harsh times”, he said.

Political stability

Malaysians have been frustrated with the politicking that has rocked the country since the historic election win by the opposition over Umno in 2018.

The win by the then Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led Pakatan Harapan was the first by the opposition in Malaysia’s history.

Since its ouster, Umno has tried to make its way back to power and has been the main source of turmoil, with infighting both within its ranks and among its alliance partners.

The country has had three prime ministers in the last two years.

In announcing the dissolution of Parliament, caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said political instability has had a negative impact on the economy and expressed a need to return the mandate to the people.

Analysts also expect the instability to hurt voter turnout, especially among those who traditionally vote for the opposition, due to disillusionment.


Graft was a key reason for Umno’s defeat in 2018, and some critics say a convincing Umno win in the upcoming elections could worsen corruption and see the return of graft-tainted politicians to power.

Several of the party’s top leaders were charged after the election loss, and they were the ones who urged Ismail to call for early polls.

Ismail last month announced a wide-ranging misconduct probe against a former attorney-general who had brought graft cases against Umno officials.

Former prime minister Najib Razak, along with Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and several other senior party officials, were slapped with dozens of corruption charges. All have denied wrongdoing, with Najib and Zahid describing the charges against them as politically motivated.

In August, Najib started a 12-year jail term after being convicted of corruption and money laundering in a case linked to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal. He still faces four other trials.

Race and religion

Race and religion remain divisive issues in Malaysia, a diverse, multi-ethnic country of some 32.7 million people.

Ethnic Malays, who are mainly Muslim, and indigenous groups make up about 70% of the population, while the rest is made up of mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians.

Analysts say conservative Malays, who make up the bulk of voters, are more likely to return to supporting Umno after feeling sidelined by Mahathir’s administration, which saw a higher number of non-Malays appointed to high-ranking Cabinet positions.

Umno, as part of Barisan Nasional, governed Malaysia for more than 60 years since independence until 2018.

The party has built its support over the years through a strong system of patronage, especially with ethnic Malays.