Campaigning Ramps Up Ahead of Malaysia’s November 19 General Election

‘GE15’ race heating up . . . 

Campaigning for Malaysia’s November 19 general election (GE15) kicked off on Saturday. All eyes are watching to see if Barisan Nasional (BN), the world’s longest-serving coalition, with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) as its head, can make a comeback after its first-ever defeat in 2018 to Pakatan Harapan (PH). Following that loss, BN coalition member parties splintered, and the PH suffered from internal defections and lost power in March 2020. The ensuing political instability, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to a particularly competitive electoral landscape.

Revolving-door leadership . . .

Since March 2020, Malaysia has been led by a string of short-term prime ministers appointed by Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah. Current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of the UMNO triggered early elections last month, hoping to capitalize on his party’s wins in state-level elections earlier this year. But there are no guarantees that an UMNO-led coalition will gain a majority or even keep its razor-thin majority. Other familiar faces in the race, such as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of PH and 97-year-old, two-time former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, will be doing their best to take votes away from UMNO. Competition will be fierce; 945 candidates are running to fill 222 seats in the federal parliament and 116 representatives for the UMNO-led legislatures in the states of Perak, Pahang, and Perlis.

Youth the deciding factor?

Pundits have noted that a critical factor in the UMNO’s state-level victories earlier this year was low voter turnout and disenchantment rather than increased support. High voter turnout in next week’s election could shake things up, but monsoon-season rains may deter voters. Regardless, all parties will be focusing on a few key battleground states, including Johor, which holds 26 of Peninsular Malaysia’s 165 parliamentary seats. Some pundits think that minority groups could shift election results. But perhaps even more significant is that this is the first general election since Malaysia’s voting age was lowered to 18 in 2019, automatically adding some 5.5 million new voters, or about 26 per cent of all eligible voters. That means the youth vote could be a deciding factor in the GE15.