Najib surely has a better time in GE14 than his last one. In 2013, waist-deep in scandal and political pressure, his party, the National Front (Barisan Nasional) clashed against the opposition coalition in what was described as the “most fiercely contested election in more than 50 years“: with the opposition securing 51% of the popular vote, the Barisan Nasional still emerged victorious with 275 seats in the parliament, 46 more than of the Pakatan Rakyat’s(People’s Pact). Though every election seems to be the ‘dirtiest one‘, the GE14 may be Najib’s cleanest sweep thus far.
1MDB: a scandal with more bark than bite
Back in 2009, Najib’s government authorized the establishment of the “Terengganu Investment Authority”: a state-owned company with an initial fund of 11 billion Ringgit and 5 billion of which guaranteed by the Federal Government. Under Najib’s rein, it was transformed into the now notorious “1Malaysia Development Berhad” (1MDB). By the end of 2014, the Wall Street Journal started reporting 1MDB for wiring funds into Prime Minister Najib’s personal bank account. The scandal climaxed when former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad resigned from UMNO, the ruling party of Malaysia and issued the “Malaysian Citizens’ Declaration” with other opposition parties and civil organizations, demanding “the removal of Najib and restoration of the integrity of state institutions“. With their financial infrastructure once served as 1MDB’s conduits, Singapore and USA were prompted to begin investigations against “1MDB”.
Despite the severity of allegations, the ruling coalition was almost unscathed in three crucial elections of 2016. In the Sarawak state election, Najib’s trusted ally, Adenan Satem secured 72 seats as Barisan Nasional saw an increase in support by winning 63.7% of the popular vote. Bridget Welsh, an associate professor of Political Science at John Cabot University, noticed three factors that could account for Pakatan’s defeat:
- The opposition is losing support among the young, with turnout from the younger demographics suffering a greater decline than of 2011;
- The opposition was among some perceived as increasingly irrelevant in a period of economic decline and uncertainty, as voters opted for the familiar rather than the unknown, the functioning rather than the dysfunctional, the winner rather than the loser;
- While BN was making strides with better campaigns and machinery in the rural area, the opposition was losing support in their urban turf.
All these portrayed an opposition with fading allure to its voters, largely due to inter-factional bickering and the lack of a central, let alone representative, figure. Although BN’s victory in Sarawak may be a fragile one (it was also plagued by infighting), it is not the case in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar.
In June 2016, two by-elections were held in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar and the results painted an even grimmer picture for the opposition. The two states were never BN’s strongholds and it only won by a slight margin of 400 and 1000 votes respectively in 2013. Yet, three years later, BN won by a landslide by 9000 and 7000 votes, 30% more than its competitors. Some even suggested that Najib was very likely to secure a snap victory if he were to hold the General Election immediately afterward.
The coming GE14 stir speculation as to whether former Prime Minister Mahathir would exert enough political pressure on Najib, his successor, which is quite ironic, as the Mahathir’s regime is widely considered as the main reason behind the excessive prime ministerial power and, by extension, Malaysia’s dysfunctional democracy. As a case study of “Electoral Authoritarianism”, the events that led to Malaysia’s current predicament are of great research value.