Malaysia at the crossroads

KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 — Malaysia is at the crossroads in this 13th general election, the most closely contested in its history, the Singapore Straits Times reported today.

The daily said the questions facing the 13.3 million voters are whether they will vote for stability or change, and whether the two-party system, which emerged in 2008, will survive and thrive?

Five years after landmark polls shook the ruling Barisan Nasional’s (BN) dominance, this election will show if its young challenger Pakatan Rakyat (PR) can maintain its momentum, it added.

In 2008, PR unexpectedly won more than one-third of the 222 seats in Parliament, and control of five states, although it later lost one — Perak — due to defections.

Despite infighting over the last five years, PR has grown more cohesive to become a real challenger to BN, which has ruled for more than 50 years.

The Straits Times reported that for the first time, there is a contest of ideas, with PR coming up with an alternative budget and manifesto.

“A two-party system is already here, how else can you define the system that we have had since 2008?” it quoted Dr Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, as saying. “We have begun to go back to where we were before 1969.”

He noted that up to the 1969 polls, Malaysia had several political parties but many were absorbed by BN, which grew from three to 14 members.

The Singapore daily said the BN backbone, Umno, grew so dominant that political watchers regarded its party elections as even more important than the general election. By convention, the Umno president and deputy become prime minister and his deputy. The victors in its party polls end up in the Cabinet.

The newspaper quoted political analyst Khoo Kay Peng as saying that if neither side wins a two-thirds majority this time, it will be all the better for checks and balances, and for a two-party system to thrive.

Most analysts believe that the outcome of today’s polls will be just that: a close victory, with neither side gaining overwhelming control.

Surveys place the rivals neck and neck.

“It’s going to be the closest election Malaysia has ever seen since its independence,” Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg last Friday.



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