Dr. Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan overthrows the Corrupt Najib-led Barisan Nasional (BN)

May 15, 2018

Dr. Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan overthrows the Corrupt Najib-led Barisan Nasional (BN)

by  Clive Kessler, UNSW


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“…Mahathir expressed his regrets and contrition. But that was not why people voted for him. They voted for the alternative offered, not for its salesman. They voted not out of any naive nostalgia for Mahathir but rather out of a yearning for how they remembered themselves in his time in power: a time when (unlike the Najib years from 2009 to 2018) they had found it possible to feel good about being Malaysian.”–Clive Kessler


In the end, Malaysia’s general election result came as a surprise. Outgoing prime minister Najib Razak had, with enormous thoroughness and with the enthusiastic cooperation of the Election Commission, imposed campaigning and voting-day restrictions to ensure only one possible outcome: victory for the country’s ‘permanent government’, centred upon Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Or so it seemed.

Najib Razak, an always wooden and increasingly rattled campaigner, pushed so hard that he drove many troubled voters into the arms of the opposition. Unhappy with Najib’s personal and political style and with the evident excesses of his government — namely its dubious financial machinations and its increasingly authoritarian character — many Malaysians voiced their aggrieved feelings through the ballot.

Yet to vote out Najib and his UMNO grandees, Malaysians had to vote for former long-serving Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, whose own record when it comes to financial mishaps and an authoritarian political manner is far from spotless. The UMNO-Barisan Nasional (BN) campaign dwelt heavily upon those shortcomings. But people regardless voted in great numbers for the opposition coalition that Mahathir led and of which he was the public face.

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To counter the doubts encouraged by Najib’s side, Mahathir expressed his regrets and contrition. But that was not why people voted for him. They voted for the alternative offered, not for its salesman. They voted not out of any naive nostalgia for Mahathir but rather out of a yearning for how they remembered themselves in his time in power: a time when (unlike the Najib years from 2009 to 2018) they had found it possible to feel good about being Malaysian.

The restrictive electoral regimen that Najib and his Election Commission imposed served only to push Malaysian voters towards that alternative. Najib’s people did not allow the opposition coalition to offer a common political logo or voting symbol. They also refused Mahathir’s new party (which was part of the opposition coalition) to register itself and its own campaign logo. This meant the entire opposition was pushed to campaign under the one symbol of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party. Najib created a situation where an opposition that had never been able to present a united force was now made to appear cohesive.

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Najib’s forces even insisted that images of Mahathir’s face not be nationally displayed during the campaign period. Official operatives cut his visage out from opposition posters and banners. But by doing so Najib eloquently advertised his desperation and built up Mahathir and the opposition he headed. Najib convinced many Malaysians that he and his political associates, having lost all reason, could no longer be abided.

From the outset of the election results, an official eagerness to preserve calm was evident. As usual the Election Commission declared all the good news for UMNO-BN first and early, and it held back announcing the bad news of the reverses UNMO-BN had suffered until midnight when crowds and energies would be less. The swearing in of the new administration was also delayed until late evening, and a two-day holiday was declared to keep people away from crowded public transport where tempers might fray.

Much remains unresolved. While Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition team campaigned under one banner, they are a diverse, even motley, collection and face big challenges. Can they form a workable, unified cabinet? Will the new and largely inexperienced ministers respect the boundaries of one another’s portfolio responsibilities? Can they agree upon any clear policy orientations and programs? Will they be able (and allowed) to assume the reins of power in Putrajaya, the federal capital? Will they find the discipline to hold together? Will the civil service and judiciary be amenable to facilitating rule by a Pakatan Harapan government? And will they be allowed to govern in peace?

There will be many, especially among the extremist Malay ethno-sectarian groups and martial arts fellowships who often serve as street-level enforcers for UMNO warlords, who will not be happy with the outcome of these elections. These individuals have both the inclination and capacity to demonstrate their discontent; they have a record of turning to street actions to create civil unrest. If they now choose this path, the new government may have its room for manoeuvre curtailed — if it is not set aside completely to permit a takeover by a non-elected administration, as happened in 1969.

One must remember here that Malaysia’s elections chose not only a federal government but also a dozen state administrations. While nine of these are clearly of an UMNO-BN or Pakatan Harapan hue, the results in three states — including the two principal peninsular states of Perak and Kedah — are on a knife-edge.

After the 2008 elections there was one such knife-edge state (Perak), and the destabilisation and overthrow of its non-UMNO-BN administration provided the opportunity for Najib to oust his prime ministerial predecessor and begin his own doomed prime ministership. The opportunities this time are much greater. Will those with an inclination for creating mayhem control themselves or be controlled? Much rests on these questions and on whether a new, diverse, fragmented and inexperienced administration will find the ability, good sense and strength to handle them.

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A nice irony to conclude Najib’s tragic performance on the electoral stage: to monitor the elections and attest to their integrity, Malaysia invited observers from such places as the Maldives, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan. What fine and surprising instruction in the ways of electoral democracy and popular sovereignty — courtesy of Najib, UMNO and its Election Commission — they received.

Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales. He has been studying Malay culture, society, religion and politics since the early 1960s.

Malaysia: GE-14 Four Possible Scenarios

May 9, 2018

Malaysia: GE-14 Four Possible Scenarios

Few observers of Malaysian politics have made hard and fast predictions about the outcome of elections and not lived to regret it.

Nevertheless, it’s customary to wrap up a New Mandala pre-election series with a few guesses as to what the results might be. So, we’d like to offer up four scenarios for today’s election, based on our observations of the campaign and conversations with Malaysian and international experts clued in on the electoral dynamics in the country.

We’ll find out how right or wrong we are tonight, when New Mandala will be hosting a live blog from the Australian National University campus in Canberra, with guest bloggers contributing analysis and observations from the ground in Malaysia. You can keep up with our contributors’ commentary at the Live Blog page from 5:00pm KL time/7:00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Until then, here are what we think are some possible outcomes of today’s vote, ordered from most probable to least probable:

1: BN wins the election, but loses the popular vote and wins with fewer seats than in GE13 (133 seats).

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How? BN does well in Sabah and Sarawak and holds a significant number of Malay-majority seats in Peninsula, in part as a result of malapportionment and the role of PAS in splitting the non-UMNO Malay vote (i.e. what Malaysian politicos are calling the “three-cornered fight” phenomenon). BN wins somewhere between 112-130 seats.

The popular vote can be used to try to claim a moral victory. The Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Rakyat coalition won 51% of votes in at GE13 in 2013. If the latest opinion polling from the Merdeka Center is accurate, then BN neither the two main coalitions will win a popular vote majority, with PAS taking up the remainder.

What would this mean? Barisan’s declining popular vote contributes to the erosion of Najib’s legitimacy in the eyes of both the Malaysian public and the international community. If UMNO loses significant ground in the seat count, disgruntled UMNO members have further reason for finding another prime minister when (or if) they hold party elections. Najib had previously delayed these party elections, saying he wanted his party to focus on GE14. If the result is bad, the knives will be out. Najib has shown himself to be a smart political operator, but will need to continue to harden his rule to do so. This means more crackdowns on political opponents, on media freedom (online and offline) and civil liberties more broadly. And expect more pro-Malay, Islam policies to shore up popular support.

2: Hung parliament. PAS supports BN which enables it to retain power.

How? BN wins less than 112 seats but more than or similar number to the opposition. Together with seats from PAS (presuming PAS gets enough to get BN over the line) BN are able to form a minority government.

3: BN wins the election with more seats than in GE13.

How? Mahathir’s party flops, due in large part to poor local candidates and lack of party machinery in rural areas. Or, BN benefits significantly from the “three-way fights” as PAS splits the non-UMNO Malay vote, leaving BN winning seats on plurality thanks to the first-past-the-post system. BN does well in Johor in particular, which would be a big disappointment for the opposition.

What would this mean? That Najib has significant legitimacy in the eyes of his party, UMNO, given that the result was better than the previous election. He is wholeheartedly reinstated as UMNO leader in party elections next year. His immediate subordinates presumably win their seats, and remain happy with a Najib-led government. If the BN wins the crucial two-thirds parliamentary majority, that would mean they have the power to change the constitution.

4: The opposition wins the election. Mahathir becomes Prime Minister.

How? The “Malay tsunami” happens, and the opposition wins around 100 seats in Peninsular Malaysia. PAS voters switch to opposition parties PKR and Amanah. Or, Sabah’s Heritage Party (Warisan) is successful enough to help get PH over the line.

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What would this mean? Mahathir would declare an undisputed victory, but the immediate question would be whether Najib accepts defeat. The recent comment by the armed forces chief and the police that they don’t support any political party is significant, suggesting that the potential for regime change is at least being discussed. But would the BN really give up power? The 2016 National Security Council Bill gives virtually unlimited powers of the Prime Minister to call a state of emergency in a particular state or indeed nation-wide.

GE-14: Get even today and throw out the corrupt UMNO Hegemon, Najib Razak

May 9, 2018

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Today, MAY 9, 2018, is Polling Day in Malaysia. Voters must go out early to respective polling stations. Don’t forget to bring your identity cards and check the electoral register to verify that your name is in the register. Vote carefully since a spoilt vote favours UMNO-BN. Unlike the writer of this article below, S Thayaparan who is “angry”, you can remain cool and calm. Just get even by voting for the alternative Pakatan Harapan led by  Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in large numbers.–Din Merican, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

GE-14: Get even today and throw out the corrupt UMNO Hegemon, Najib Razak

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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“I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

– Howard Beale, ‘Network’ (1976)

COMMENT | It is the eve of this great election. ‘Great’ to me is an ominous word. So much hope has been put in this election by folks who want change. I do not fear the Umno state. What I fear is that the hope of change is but an illusion. That the people who claim to lead for change will not transform this country before it slips into the delusional dreams of Islamic extremism.

Image result for najib razak and rosmah mansorNow it is the time to take this toxic couple out of Seri Perdana


What I do know is that if we do not take this first step, we are really screwed. A first step that we have never been in a position to take and if we do not, we would have lost the single best chance to change this country. If we do not finally have a two-party system, then we will only be able to watch as our country slips further down the dark path of totalitarianism. You think it’s bad now, wait and see.

For the record, my definition of a two-party system is a system where two coalitions have had a chance to govern the country. We have never had this. Yes, the opposition has made gains and is a credible threat to the Umno/BN establishment but we have only known UMNO rule and whatever permutations of it since Independence.

I know this man. A “pakar” Malay officer who worked his way up, as we say. He revered Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat and was a lifelong member of PAS, even back in the day. We reconnected in the heady days when PAS took to the streets after the ejection of then Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim from Umno paradise.

He still referred to me as “Tuan” and it was the happiest day of his life when PAS formally joined Pakatan Rakyat. With the passing of Tok Guru and the fragmentation of PAS, he quit the party. His family and most of his friends joined him.

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Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohamed Ali–Malaysia’s  Couple of the Moment with Decades of Public Service.

Then former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad made his play with the opposition. This old sailor who had left PAS and was thinking of sitting out in this election was suddenly stirred. He can’t explain it. He knows for a long time that Mahathir was the “mahafiraun”. It was what PAS had taught him.

However, these days he sees PAS cuddling up with UMNO and he hears how Mahathir wants to correct his mistakes that he made when he was with UMNO. He sees Tok Guru’s family “manipulated” by UMNO. He sees mothers turning against sons. He sees an old adversary not allowed to visit the grave of a religious scholar who once led the way. This old sailor is angry.

Now, of course, most of them (like my sailor friend) are retired but when they hear the call by their old Prime Minister, they understand that UMNO is not to be trusted. They tell their friends and families. They make it known by going to ceramahs. They donate to the cause, even though they do not have much.

These are not the service personnel – the high-ranking officers who got fat from the gravy train. These are the men and women who served on the ground. Who understood that the state security apparatus was a branch of government and that there were some honour and dignity in serving.

He has repented, my old colleague says to me. “Soon, there will be many in PAS, who may have to repent as well.”

Anyone who has read my articles will know that my issue with PAS is not their Islamism. My issue with PAS is their Umnoism. My friend will not join any political party, but he will vote Pakatan Harapan in this election. From now on, I am independent, he says.

Your choice

Now, of course, the “choices” in this election may seem identical but eventually, these will be refined or redefined. The first step is understanding that you have a choice. This is what UMNO fears. This is what the former Umno prime minister is banking on – that people will take that leap of faith. That the Malay community realises that they have a choice. And because the Malay politics is defined by Malay institutions, he wisely chooses to directly appeal to those institutions.

Will things change? Who knows? I do know that after decades of being ruled by Umno, things have to change. I do know that after decades of being told by successive UMNO potentates that they are the only ones who can rule this country, that things have to change. I do know that after decades of UMNO rule, our country is heading down a dark path and it’s not because of the corruption or the systemic discrimination but because the underlying policies of Umno – using religion – has opened the majority to influences from the outside that would bring ruination to this country.

Could the opposition bring this change? I have no idea. I only know that we cannot carry on this way. We cannot carry on believing that this country is doing well when there are no political voices to dissent against the hegemon in Putrajaya. I know that if politicians think that it is their birthright to rule this country in perpetuity that this will only lead to sorrow.

I know that if politicians continue to think that they are not accountable to the people, they will continue suppressing voices of dissent. The UMNO regime is doing everything in its power to stack the deck. They are doing everything in their power to ensure a victory that they do not deserve. This is politics, they say, so what has “deserve” got to do with it.

Fair enough, but every time the establishment does something like this, they make people angry. I am not talking about the vitriol that some opposition supporters display online. I am talking about the real-world anger that could manifest in so many ways.

In a Muslim-majority country, this is especially dangerous. I am on record as saying that the greatest danger to this country is the National Security Council Act. There is a reason for this obnoxious law. But I think that the state security apparatus understand that their role is to facilitate a smooth transition of power and not hamper it.

All I know is this. After decades of rule by a single party, watching the corruption, the bigotry and smug assurance of rule, I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore.

We can worry about how we are going to reform the system later. We can worry about how we are going to reform the institutions later. We first need to take the first step with people who say they are interested in doing those things and have never – well, the majority of them – had the opportunity to govern this country.

If the opposition carries out even a quarter of what they promise, that would be something that the country desperately needs.Are you as mad as hell and not going to take this anymore?

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Ambitions in the east coast: Terengganu and Kelantan

May 6, 2018

GE-14: Polling Day, May 9, 2018 is on the horizon.  Here is your chance to remove through the ballot box a toxic Najib Razak regime and bring positive change to our country. Vote Pakatan Harapan.

Ambitions in the east coast: Terengganu and Kelantan

by Dr. Bridget Welsh  @www.malaysiakini.com


COMMENT | The 14th General Election can be argued to be a battle for the Malay soul, with Pakatan Harapan calling for a ‘Malay tsunami’, BN rallying Malay nationalism on the ground while promising more ‘goodies’, and PAS pushing its ‘choose Islam’ agenda.

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Nowhere is this battle more apparent than in the beautiful states of Terengganu and Kelantan. Making up only eight and 14 parliamentary seats respectively, or a total of 10 percent of the seats nationally, the number belie how critical they are for the political landscape.

In part, this is due to the intense level of political competition, with large numbers of competitive seats and both having had repeated changes in governments. More important, however, is the fact that these areas will determine the role that PAS will play on the national stage as either the victor or vanquished.

Pundits and pollsters have already repeatedly called Kelantan for BN, and applied this similar outlook to Terengganu, predicting BN will win the majority of parliamentary seats. On the ground, voting trends are harder to call, especially at the state level.

The sentiments do not have to do with the same political struggles in the Malay community elsewhere, namely battling a sense of disloyalty to UMNO and anger with the perceived excesses of the Najib administration in a climate of broad perceived economic hardship.

Rather, in these east coast states, the question of loyalty is one of long-standing family ties to either PAS or UMNO, and the sense of failures at the state leadership levels. Hardship and daily struggle are sadly an integral part of life in these areas, as development, social problems and poverty remain concerns for large shares of the populations.

While both those from Terengganu and Kelantan are well connected to developments outside, they have strong inward political orientations as local factors predominate. There is less attention to what is happening nationally, and as such, Harapan candidates and parties have limited traction, although the issues raised in rallies and on social media have permeated local discussions.

Messages and memories

The contests are largely between PAS and Umno, as these two parties have framed the competition for decades. Harapan’s campaign is only resonating significantly in urban areas, notably Kota Bharu where is has a chance of winning. BN chief Najib Abdul Razak’s picture is noticeably absent on the east coast, especially in Kelantan.


Ordinary citizens in these two states repeatedly speak of a common set issues in the campaign – Islam, GST, development, corruption and state leaders – Terengganu’s Abdul Hadi Awang and Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman, and Kelantan’s Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah and Mustapa Mohamed.

These tap into the different messages.

PAS has adopted a campaign focused on religion, openly calling for electing an ulama leadership who comprise the majority of their fielded candidates in both states and framing a vote for their party as a religious duty.

Unlike the ‘defend Islam’ message elsewhere in multi-ethnic areas, here PAS pushes more of an empowerment and community mission. Their campaign has been low-key, focused on fence sitters, tied to sermons and conducted in smaller ceramah.

After the split with Amanah, the party has aimed to reconsolidate its political machinery, severely weakened after key leaders left and later joined the Harapan coalition. Quietly, PAS has sent out the message that this election is also about the future of the party, as predictions of BN winning Kelantan have provoked defensive ‘survivalist’ mobilisation from the party faithful. In Terengganu, there is a direct appeal to assure ‘Hadi’s legacy’.



BN in contrast has pushed hard its commitment to ‘development,’ focusing on the economy. Fielding the popular UMNO technocrat Mustapa Mohamed (photo), or Tok Pa as he is affectionately known, as a possible BN Menteri Besar has won support.

Posters across the state showcase promises of projects and spending to come with a potential BN Kelantan win. Mustapa’s hard work in Jeli is testimony to how a politician can positively transform a district, as it is arguably one of the most vibrant industrial and education centres in Kelantan despite its remote location.

BN is capitalising on the apparent weakness of PAS’ state leadership, whose governance since the passing of Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, or Tok Guru, in 2015 have shown little in the way of development or direction for the state. PAS has governed Kelantan for 28 years and it is more vulnerable to losing the state than ever before.

In Terengganu, the BN ‘development’ call has less appeal, as UMNO has held the state government since 2004. Many of its projects have been ridiculed for overspending and accused of corruption. GST and high costs of living work in PAS’ favour. The promises for greater rewards appear hollow, although harder working BN MPs in the north and south continue to have support.

The centre of the state has the most heated contests. A recent example of a heavily criticised project is the RM3.3 million amphibious bus (Amphicoach) that was accidentally broken when the Terengganu MB drove it in March. This analogy is being touted as illustrative of UMNO’s sinking fortunes at the state level.

Amidst these contrasting messages are even more sentimental and powerful memories of the past. In Kelantan, Tok Guru is very much featured. Harapan has undercut PAS’ connection to Tok Guru by fielding Nik Omar Nik Aziz, the spitting image of his father in his younger years.

Nik Omar’s (photo) appeal is stronger outside of Kelantan than inside, and he appeared very late in the campaign, but it speaks to how powerful the memory of Tok Guru remains.

While Dr Mahathir Mohamad has made multiple visits – including visiting Kelantan today – the memories of his tenure are not as positive as elsewhere in Malaysia. Here there is a sense that the east coast was left out of the development of the Mahathir era.

In Terengganu, the most potent memory is of 1999 when PAS took over power of the state for the second time. Then there was a deeply unpopular Menteri Besar, Wan Mokhtar Ahmad, who was caricatured as paralleling the rule of Mahathir at that time. Caretake Menteri Besar Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman is also being quietly labelled as Najib’s political stooge, and sentiment against Najib is being directed at him.

Little Napoleans and power plays

This dynamic is being fueled by continued speculation of a deal between PAS and UMNO over Terengganu, tied to the perceived close personal and political relationship between Hadi and Najib. Talk is that seats are to go to BN at the parliament level while the state government is to be ‘given’ to PAS. This is seen as a parliamentary safety net for Najib if the overall election is close.

Both sides adamantly deny any deal. Questions remain, however, given the weak candidates being fielded in some BN seats, especially in Hadi Awang’s own parliamentary seat of Marang. The Terengganu PAS campaign is also flush with cash, with a record number of flags and slick posters – quite different than those in number and scope in Kelantan or earlier Terengganu campaigns – and alleged reports of handouts on the ground.

To complicate the Terengganu situation is the continued infighting over the menteri besar position in the state within UMNO. Razif (photo) has yet to consolidate his position and support, as others continue to believe they deserve the position.

Ahmad Said, the former incumbent in BN, remains a powerful figure and could very well hold state power in the balance. People speak of the ‘Little Napoleon’ problem, in which many people believe they deserve positions. There is a similar infighting in Kelantan within PAS which remains factionalised.

Within Terengganu (and across the country), there are accusations that Hadi is packing the party with his own men. Fielding his current political secretary Dr Ahmad Samsuri as a potential PAS Terengganu menteri besar in his own constituency has led to calls that ‘New Turks’ are rising in the party hierarchy.

Hadi has fielded his son-in-law, ustaz Mohd Akmal Kamarudin, in Selama, Perak (where he lost narrowly in 2013), although other his son-in-law in Selangor, Zaharuddin Muhammad, was dropped after fierce internal party opposition. Charges of nepotism percolate quietly as many hard-working members on the ground have been overlooked with the Najib-like loyalist candidate selections on the part of the Hadi-led campaign.

The power plays occurring within the Islamist party go beyond individual states, as the Terengganu leadership under Hadi appears to be aiming to finally move the party’s leadership to their state. Long left out (especially in 2008), Terengganu PAS has been subservient to Kelantan. This time round a loss of Kelantan would work to their advantage. As such, complaints rumble in Kelantan that their state is being ignored in the GE14 campaign, financially and otherwise.

As with Najib’s post-election contest in UMNO, PAS’ leadership will face a reckoning for their campaign decisions within the party.

Hadi’s legacy

Most see this as Hadi’s (photo) last general election as PAS President.

He is facing criticism for his relationship with Najib, charges of using UMNO money and accusations of a sell-out of principles of good governance – all denied by the leadership. At the same time, he is lauded as a hero within the party faithful for the focus on a ‘pure’ religious agenda and his staunch defence of the faith. A delivery of Terengganu into PAS’ hands would entrench his legacy, especially if the losses in Kelantan are minimised.

The current PAS leadership cares little for victories on the west coast. They do not see these losses as a potential vanquishment. It is quite the opposite – they would have potentially sacrificed these seats for the greater good. Despite even if they lose half of the seats the party current holds, PAS will continue to be an important player on the national stage – and if they win more than 10 seats in GE14, it will be a key player in the post-election scenarios.

Terengganu and Kelantan contests will come down to primarily party loyalties, followed by personal candidate assessments. The outside voters returning home (estimated at 10 percent and 30 percent of the states’ overall voters respectively) will be reduced considerably due to the Wednesday polling day and registration of party members as voters in Selangor and other states.

Terengganu leans at the state level to PAS, and Kelantan to UMNO, but frankly given the closeness of the contests and the number of highly competitive seats at the state level, it is too close to call. Young voters are the crucial group and contribute to the leans above, as they favour change in both states.

The parliament seats to watch are Kuala Terengganu, Kuala Nerus, Dungun (in Terengganu), Kota Bharu, Machang, Tumpat, and Pasir Mas (in Kelantan). Look out for considerable split voting, a pattern long evident in Kelantan and likely to occur in Terengganu as well this election. Expect a few surprises, as this is the norm.

Irrespective of the outcomes, Terengganu and Kelantan’s elections embody the different ambitions of Malaysia’s political actors. Najib and Hadi are very much relying on these outcomes for political leverage. The ambitions of citizens in these states are however what will determine the outcomes. Neither side can control the sentiments on the ground, and these are strongly held and will come out on Wednesday.

BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She is following the Malaysian GE14 2018 campaign on the ground and providing her analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini readers. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Also by Bridget Welsh

Ambitions in the east coast: Terengganu and Kelantan

A tightening ‘Umno Belt’ in Malacca, NS, Pahang

Battle royale in Johor: Determining the future of Umno leadership

Engaging disengagement – the youth vote in GE14

Power and place in Penang

All quiet on the Sarawak front

Is Sabah ready for political change?

GE14 unknowns: Malaysia’s highly competitive polls

Dr. Mahathir is our Man of the Hour–May 9, 2018

May 6, 2018

GE-14 is only 72 Hours away. Fellow Malaysians go out in large numbers to vote Pakatan and Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and make a real difference without Caretaker Najib and Barisan Nasional. Unfortunately I cannot vote since my name is no longer in the electoral role (since GE-13). –Din Merican

The Shifting Political Wind 

by Dr. M. Bakri  Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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This Wednesday, May 9, 2018, election day, voters will have a chance to be predators and rid Malaysia of her weak and desperate leaders. Go for the jugular and grab Najib by the neck and decapitate UMNO. It is time for Malaysia to have strong, competent, and confident leaders with integrity. Elect Mahathir and his coalition.– Dr.M. Bakri Musa


In the animal world, once you are perceived as being weak or desperate, your predator would pounce on you fast and without mercy. This is also true if not more so in the animalistic world of politics.

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Reject this Crook on May 9, 2018

Najib’s political desperation was evident long before he dissolved Parliament. There was the fast passage of the Fake News Act, the blatant and obscene gerrymandering exercises, and last but most despicable of all, his making the Police and Armed Services chiefs pledge allegiance to him instead of king and country, as they were sworn to do upon taking office. Najib hoped those antics would strengthen his position ahead of the election.

The low was on nomination day when Mahathir was prevented to fly to Langkawi to file his papers. His pilot said that the plane was not safe. Mahathir charged sabotage. Najib did not factor in the kindness of others, or that he could not control everyone and everything. Mahathir found another plane. That sabotage attempt was not only pathetic but also dangerous. We are talking about lives endangered here, that of the pilot and his passengers.

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Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is our Man of the Hour. He deserves your Vote

Najib threatened to charge Mahathir under the new Fake News Act. Mahathir ignored him and kept repeating the serious charge. Najib’s threat was but an empty one, his impotence exposed for all to see. Or may be that Mahathir’s charge of sabotage was not fake news after all.

The top military commander also retracted his misplaced allegiance to Najib after Mahathir sent him and his fellow commanders an open letter reminding them of their oath of office. A few days later the Naval Chief issued an unprecedented command to his sailors. They were free to vote for whichever candidate and party they choose. He assured them that their votes would remain secret. He was widely lauded for his brave action.

Brave is not too a strong a word here. After all this is Malaysia. The fact that he had to issue that command in the first place speaks volumes of the country’s democratic processes. The Police Chief too followed suit and issued a similar statement.

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Mahathir’s open letter was more powerful than whatever Prime Minister Najib may have said earlier to his Police and military chiefs. Or those chiefs had put their wet fingers in the air and felt that the wind was changing direction.

Najib’s most comical act of desperation was having his Elections Commission (EC) issue a directive to tear down Mahathir’s pictures on election billboards! It was a sorry sight to have those otherwise unemployable young Malays in their EC uniforms climbing the scaffoldings to tear down those giant posters. In the end, unable to complete their task fast enough, they resorted to just cutting out Mahathir’s face. Then still not fast enough, they just pasted on blank sheets to cover his face. Pathetic!

The order was given out so hastily and without much thought that, conspicuous by its absence, I did not see those workers wearing any safety harness when they were climbing those billboards. Their supervisors were either irresponsible or too dumb not to think of their workers’ safety. They considered their workers’ lives cheap.


Realizing that the 1MDB scandal was a major issue, Najib sent the company’s CEO to campaign for him, a PR man – and not a very good one at that – masquerading as chief executive. The poor man bitterly complained that no one came out to hear him. Touching! He would have been better off and more persuasive had he simply released 1MDB’s audited financials, standard for all companies. He could not; the company had none. That’s the crux of 1MDB’s problem. It does not take a CPA or MBA to figure that out, and fast. Any CEO who does not grasp that on his first day at work is not chief executive material but an expensive hired hand.

Long before Najib announced the election he had his Registrar of Societies, a mousy Malay lady, her impressive title notwithstanding, deny the registration of Mahathir’s party. As such its candidates, Mahathir included, could not use the party’s name or symbol. For added measure and not satisfied with just tearing down Mahathir’s pictures, EC directed that Mahathir could not campaign beyond his constituency as he is not head of a registered national party. He blithely ignored that and stormed the country, taking his campaign right to Putrajaya and Pekan, Najib’s home town, and drawing huge crowds.

Mahathir’s flouting EC’s directives again exposed Najib’s impotence. Most heartening of all, despite his 92 years of age and recent frequent attacks of bronchitis, Mahathir had no difficulty delivering his pungent messages. And they resonated with the electorate. The campaign invigorated him; a patriot on his mission to save his country.

What a contrast to Najib; he was inarticulate, stumbled over his words, and could hardly wipe off the saliva drooling from his lips. A thief caught with the loot and a chicken.

This Wednesday, May 9, 2018, election day, voters will have a chance to be predators and rid Malaysia of her weak and desperate leaders. Go for the jugular and grab Najib by the neck and decapitate UMNO. It is time for Malaysia to have strong, competent, and confident leaders with integrity. Elect Mahathir and his coalition.

A tightening ‘UMNO Belt’ in Malacca, NS, Pahang

May 5, 2018

GE-14: Day of Reckoning (May 9, 2018) is fast approaching. The crooked caretaker is feeling the pressure. Tun Daim Zainuddin,  Rafidah Aziz and Rais Yatim have been removed as UMNO members.

A tightening ‘UMNO Belt’ in Malacca, NS, Pahang

by Dr. Bridget Welsh
 Image result for dr. mahathir mohamad

Here is your chance to vote Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Pakatan Harapan and dump the Caretaker and his UMNO-BN  

COMMENT | In GE-14, an important area to watch is what I call the ‘UMNO Belt’ – the three charming states of Malacca (with six parliamentary seats), Negeri Sembilan (eight seats) and Pahang (14 seats) that collectively make up 28 seats in Parliament.

The UMNO Belt is an important indicator of how strong Bersatu is and whether its influence extends beyond the base of its senior leaders – Johor and Kedah. It is also a test of whether Pakatan Harapan as a coalition is able to work well together. Last night’s large rally in Malacca shows that there are indeed strong undercurrents in states long seen as an integral part of the BN’s core.

The UMNO Belt states are often overlooked because in the past they didn’t seem to matter. Sure, a few seats such as Kuantan, Rasah and Kota Melaka were won by the opposition, and seats such as Bentong and Raub were close contests with the former remembered for the alleged blackout during the 2013 counting of votes, but overall, the smaller number of seats and generally lack of competitiveness left these areas out of analysis.

In this election, all seats in Negri Sembilan, while still leaning BN, are competitive, and five out of six seats in Malacca (excluding Jasin) are similarly so. Masjid Tanah and Tangga Batu are especially interesting to watch, as they have long been considered part of Umno’s seat bank. Pahang remains safer for BN, with only six out of the 14 seats, or 42%, competitive. Pahang’s competitive seats include Bentong, Raub, Kuantan, Indera Mahkota, Temerloh and Cameron Highlands.

Mahathir’s development legacy

To understand why these traditionally secure areas are more politically open to change, one has to look at three important factors. First is the legacy of Dr Mahathir Mohamad in these areas. These states were largely developed during his tenure, especially Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

It was during his tenure that basic services were brought in and expanded, and the lives of ordinary people in these states changed. Felda schemes were expanded, with local schools built and new roads creating better access. As such, Mahathir – as the father of modern Malaysia in areas that showcase this modernity – still has political traction in the UMNO Belt.

Ironically, it is the modernity of these areas, their connectivity and access to alternative information that make these states more open to political change. Messages that Mahathir is ‘really BN’ don’t work, for example. The safe areas in Pahang, in contrast, are arguably in more remote areas, such as Rompin and of course, Najib Razak’s own constituency of Pekan.

This is compounded by the fact that many retired civil servants have moved to these states, appreciating their greater affordability and quality of life. These civil servants remain loyal to Mahathir decades on.

Najib’s campaign mismanagement

Najib is the second factor. His picture floods these states as he has made the election about himself, but the problem is not just his persona but his campaign decisions. Overconfident, he has apparently mismanaged the political campaign in these states and provoked anger towards him (and his allies) on the ground.

The controversial disqualification of Harapan’s Dr. Streram Sinnasamy in Rantau, Negri Sembilan, put this state on the national map. To date, the Rantau disqualification has backfired, sending ripples of sympathy to the ground, notably in UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin’s seat of Rembau. The infamous photo of a man held back from entering the nomination centre embodies the sense of electoral restrictiveness being placed on GE14 and has brought home to the UMNO Belt the unfairness of the election.

Najib has made matters worse by contributing to the local infighting within the BN with the appointment of his favourite candidates. It is estimated that Najib has appointed over 20 of his (and his wife’s) personal loyalists nationally, many of whom have been slated in the supposedly “safe” UMNO Belt.

For example, in Alor Gajah, his political secretary for Chinese affairs, Wong Nai Chee, has been parachuted in, a decision that has not pleased local actors (and many national MCA members as well).

Najib has also appointed political allies. Most of these appointments aim to assure a stronger position for Najib in the post-GE14 UMNO party election. This is why Najib has foolhardily fielded former Minister of Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism Hasan Malek  in Kuala Pilah.

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Image result for Hasan Malek the Sardine Ayam Brand man

Dato Hassan Malek, Malaysia’s Absentee Ambassador to The Kingdom of Cambodia. He became known as Menteri Chap Ayam and a photo shop version of a Chap Ayam sardine had his face replacing the sardine picture.

Associated with his call to switch from chicken to fish, Hasan was the brunt of jokes in 2014 over his defence of rising food prices and was dropped as minister in 2015 and made Ambassador to Cambodia. The end result of the choice has made this seat more vulnerable. Najib’s focus on his political fortunes rather than that of his party has created disgruntlement in the BN ranks.

 At the same time, Najib is worsening UMNO infighting in these states by continuing to use the election as a means to squash his political opponents within the party. Nationally, many of Deputy Party Leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s proposed candidates with strong grassroots were dropped, with some of the potential effects being felt at the state level in Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

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Mohd Sharkar Shamsudin in Pahang

In his candidate selections, Najib has continued to try to displace local warlords such as Ali Rustam in Malacca. He has also created unnecessary resentment by fielding Mohd Sharkar Shamsudin in both the state seat of Lanchang and parliament seat of Temerloh, fuelling speculation that Sharkar is in fact a potential replacement for caretaker Pahang Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob, who has held that position since 1999. All three of these states have contestation over their leadership, and Najib has unwisely stirred the state leadership pots.

On the ground, there are Umno pockets of protest against Najib taking place. The uproar over giving Jelebu to MIC in exchange for Port Dickson (formerly Teluk Kemang) – which was reversed after protest – is just the surface of the unhappiness within UMNO. Most of this protest is happening at the ‘cawangan’ or branch level. If indeed BN loses seats in the UMNO Belt, it will be the result of UMNO push back against Najib himself.

Controversial decisions

Finally, Najib is facing the fact that many of the controversial decisions of his administration are ‘real’ for those in these states. It is not just a matter of the cost of living, as voters in these states are grappling with the controversies of Najib’s administration first hand.

Felda settlers in Negeri Sembilan are very aware of the problems in the management of this body. The person tainted with the scandal is none other than their former Chief Minister of 22 years (and Najib’s close political ally), Mohd Isa Samad.


The notorious Isa Samad has been dropped. He is lucky not to be in prison for corruption and abuse of power

While he was dropped as a candidate in GE-14 (in the final weeks), his loyalists are still in the state and unhappy with how he was treated. At the same time, many settlers are angry he was even considered as a candidate at all. If there is one area where the Felda scandal potentially will be felt, it will be in Negeri Sembilan in seats like Jempol, Kuala Pilah and Jelebu.

For Malacca and Pahang, the controversy that is most apparent is the presence of China. Pahangites in Kuantan and Indera Mahkota are talking about the “Great Wall” of China, the investment in the port area a few kilometres outside of these highly competitive seats. The talk is largely negative, as the investment is seen to be non-transparent and raising questions about Malaysia’s sovereignty and the ‘special treatment’ given to China companies.

Pahangites are also aware of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) as it goes through their state and serious questions are being asked. The large Malacca deep-sea port investment had similar nationalist overtones as well, as people are seeing first hand China investment on the ground. This issue is being fanned by Mahathir’s anti-unchecked China investment campaign, and for those in the UMNO Belt, these projects are happening in their backyards.

Opening for Harapan

Local and national loyalties have made these states more competitive than in the past. BN holds the clear advantage (as this is indeed the UMNO political base after all). Swings have to be considerable for Harapan to win seats, especially parliamentary seats. Increasingly, signs are that Harapan is squeezing the BN in these states. Contests have become tighter.

However, Harapan’s campaign in these areas is uneven, lacking coordination and moving slowly. It faces the serious weakness of poor machinery in the UMNO Belt and nationally. The opposition also faces challenges from three-cornered fights (potentially losing Cameron Highlands and Sungai Siput (in Perak) as a result of their fight with Parti Socialis Malaysia) and from PAS, where it is stronger (compared to Malacca and Negeri Sembilan) in the Pahang seats of Kuantan and Indera Mahkota.

Other seats to watch are the DAP contests in Seremban, Raub and Bentong – all highly competitive, and dependent on a combination of Malay swing and high Chinese turnout for Harapan to win.

The fact that these areas are competitive at all, however, speaks to how GE14 is a different contest than the past. Mahathir has been a game changer, but ultimately the person who is trying the hardest to manipulate the game to his advantage is Najib. Some of these manoeuvres to date have miscalculated as his focus has been on the post-UMNO party contest as opposed to GE-14 itself.

The UMNO Belt of Malacca, Negeri and Pahang will be testimony to the success (or failure) of his efforts.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She is following the Malaysian GE14 2018 campaign on the ground and providing her analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini readers. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.