Top 4 most anticipated political development in Malaysia for 2024

If Anwar’s administration can’t fix the economy or worse, sees the economy take a dive in 2024, not only can he forget about taking on Mahathir, he can kiss his reign goodbye. 

Nehru Sathiamoorthy

1. The fate of Mahathir

The seizure of the Daim Zainuddin’s RM 2.3 billion Ilham Tower at the end of 2023 is an indication that the ancien regime that comprises of Mahathir and his inner circle will most likely be in state of full blown of war against PMX Anwar Ibrahim and the reformasi movement in the year 2024.

The dispute between the two biggest names in Malaysian politics of the last 2 or 3 generations has been brewing for over 25 years.

Mahathir, the grand old man of Malaysian politics, who has won all the political battles he has fought in his long and chequered political career is facing the biggest political battle of his life.

Mahathir was instrumental in the toppling of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the founding father of Malaysia. He has brought down the political heavyweights of his times like Musa Hitam and Razeleigh Hamzah. Mahathir has even confronted and tamed the Malaysian Royalty.  His dispute with Tun Salleh Abas, the Lord President of the Federal (then Supreme) Court of Malaysia eviscerated the power and prestige of the Malaysian Judiciary. To top it all, his dispute with Najib Razak, the 6th prime minister of Malaysia, has not only brought Umno, the grand old party of Malaysian politics, to the brink of ruin, it has also resulted in Najib being the first prime minister of Malaysia to be thrown in jail.

Mahathir’s feud with the then Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis, not only resulted in Anwar Ibrahim being thrown in jail, it had also ruined and permanently stained the reputation of Anwar Ibrahim.

Other than his various political battles, many of which are instrumental in shaping the landscape of politics in Malaysia for generations, Mahathir is also known as the prime minister who reigned during the golden age of Malaysia. From the Penang bridge to  Putrajaya to the Petronas twin towers, Mahathir is credited for creating and overseeing a host of projects that fast tracked Malaysia’s development and  almost succeeded in transforming Malaysia into a developed nation.

Mahathir’s reign however, is also marred by accusations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. It was under his watch too, his critics will claim, that the seeds of religious tension and racial divide which beset the nation until today, gained a foothold.

98 year old Mahathir might have won all of the battles he fought in his life, but it is his final conflict with Anwar Ibrahim that is going to be the one that determines his legacy.

Regardless of the outcome, the fate of the man who has cast a huge shadow in all aspects of the Malaysian experience for the last 2 or 3 generations, is going to be the most anticipated political development in Malaysia in the year 2024.

2. The survivability of the unity government

Since the downfall of Najib in 2018, no Malaysian government has been able to reign for more than 2 years. Mahathir Muhammad, who made a comeback and replaced Najib, only managed to reign for 22 months. Muhyiddin, who toppled Mahathir, reigned for 17 months. Ismail Sabri, who replaced Muhyiddin, managed to reign for only 15 months.

Anwar’s unity government has so far managed to reign for 13 months. If it manages to reign for a couple of more months, it would exceed the tenure of Ismail Sabri’s administration, and break the curse that has struck down all of Malaysia’s government since 2018.

If the unity government manages to reign until the end of 2024, it would have succeeded in reigning for two years. If it manages to cross the two year point, it would have crossed a critical point, which will likely result in it gaining a  momentum that will ensure that it  continues to reign for at least one full term.

The road to reach the end of 2024 however, is beset with trials and tribulations. From racial and religious tension to economic troubles to an impending war with the old order, the unity government will likely have its hands full trying to make it to the end of 2024 in one piece.

3. What the new Agong is going to do

In an interview with the The Straits Times, Johor Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, who is scheduled to be Malaysia’s next Agong (king)  in January 2024, has said a great many things that are unusual for an Agong to say.

As the new King of Malaysia, he has vowed to crack down on graft.

To indicate his seriousness, Sultan Ibrahim also has even indicated that he wants such agencies and corporations like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Petronas to report directly to the office of the King.

In a rather direct sounding salvo, Sultan Ibrahim is even indicating that he desires to scalp some big names when he assumes office. “From my great-grandfather, we were great hunters. I make sure when I go hunting, I bring back nice game. But when I’m in KL, it’s a concrete jungle, so what do I hunt? I’m going to hunt all the corrupt people. I make sure I bring results,” Sultan Ibrahim has told the Straits Times.

Other than indicate that he will be playing a very active role in the anti-corruption campaign in the country, the next king of Malaysia is also indicating that he is going to have a lot to say about how the country is managed, including in determining whether such a project as the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is revived.

Sultan Ibrahim sounds like he really means what he is saying, because he was even specific on how he wants the HSR project to be revived. He wishes for the HSR between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to be so aligned, that its border crossing will occur at the Forest City.

All this is very novel, because no king in the history of Malaysia has ever spoken about their desire to take such an active role in running our country before.

The reign of his Majesty Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar has not even started, but it is already showing signs that it is not going to be like the reign of any other king that Malaysia has  had so far.

4. Economy, economy, economy

“Our priority for 2024 is certainly, the economy, economy, economy,” Anwar Ibrahim has already declared, to indicate that revitalising the economy will be the main priority of his administration for the year 2024.

As it is, Anwar’s administration is already making plans to increase electricity tariff to 15 percent of domestic consumers starting from January 1 and introduce a targeted subsidy for petrol in the second half of the year.

Although there are no plans yet to introduce any new taxation system, talks of reintroducing GST, a taxation system that was scrapped in 2018 by Anwar’s own coalition, is already making its rounds.

Inflation and skyrocketing prices of even basic goods like rice and egg, is already testing the confidence that people have in Anwar’s administration.

The battered Malaysian ringgit, which is the second worst performing currency in Asia in 2023, and an unprecedented RM 1.5 trillion debt is also another source of headache for the Malaysian government.

Add that to the lethargic global economy and the dramatic rise in geopolitical tension, all signs point to a stressful economic year for Malaysia in 2024.

Anwar Ibrahim’s government is made up of 4 coalitions and 19 parties who have different and often conflicting views on many fronts. It is being opposed by a powerful opposition that is frequently threatening to topple its reign. It is also overseeing a period where racial and religious differences are increasing and causing a palpable stress in the fabric of Malaysian society.

The one thing that is holding together the increasingly difficult to govern Malaysian society is a functioning though hobbling economy that can still sustain life and forward the aspirations of all Malaysians.

If Anwar’s administration can’t fix the economy or worse, sees the economy take a dive in 2024, not only can he forget about taking on Mahathir, he can kiss his reign goodbye.

Everything Anwar’s administration hopes for in 2024 depends on the confidence of the people, and the confidence of the people depends on the performance of the economy. If Anwar’s administration loses the economy, it will lose everything.