With Malaysia’s Opposition Weakened, Anwar Faces More Secure Future

Many observers have rued that the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim would not last. This is no longer the case.

Imran Shansunahar, Fulcrum

Since forming his unity government in the aftermath of Malaysia’s 15th general election (GE15) in November 2022, pundits have expressed a near-consistent pessimism about the long-term survival of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. They have pointed to his weak support among the majority Malay-Muslims and the solid gains made by the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition among Malay voters in GE15 and the August 2023 state elections. It has also been observed that many non-Malays have also increasingly begun to sour on him given the slow progress in implementing promised institutional reforms.

Twenty months in, however, it seems more and more likely that Anwar’s government will survive its full term. While acknowledging Anwar’s unpopularity among Malays and increasingly his own voters, one should also consider the failure of PN to provide effective opposition to Anwar’s government. Indeed, PN’s inability to attract non-Malay support alongside tensions between the coalition’s component parties — Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) — suggests an opposition with uncertain long-term prospects. One could also argue that Anwar’s control over the vast resources of the federal government is also starting to pay dividends for him.

The weakening of PN could be seen in their recent performance in the Kuala Kubu Baharu (KKB) by-election held on 11 May. A Selangor state constituency previously held by Lee Kee Hiong of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), one of the component parties of Anwar’s unity government, a by-election had been called after Ms Lee’s death on 21 March. Despite predictions of a reduced majority or even a loss for Anwar, the DAP candidate Pang Sock Tao secured a larger majority than her predecessor (57.2 per cent of total votes compared to Ms Lee’s 54 in the August 2023 state elections). The PN candidate, Bersatu member Khairul Azhari Saut, secured 41.4 per cent of the vote.

One by-election should not be seen as indicative of the future direction of Malaysian politics. The dynamics of state elections generally differ from that of national elections. Nevertheless, certain aspects of PN’s overall performance in KKB point to larger factors at play which have increasingly plagued the coalition in recent months.

Predictably, PN’s loss was primarily blamed on its inability to attract non-Malay support, with PN ultimately gaining most of the Malay votes and PH most of the non-Malays (Malays make up 49.3 per cent of total KKB voters, while the Chinese comprise 30.6 per cent and the Indians 17.9 per cent). Since GE15, PN has struggled to reach out to non-Malays, preferring instead to double down on its exclusivist, Malay ethnonationalist agenda for Malaysia.

Read more here