Hornbill Unleashed

April 26, 2013

Malaysia’s GE13 too close to call – former US ambassador

Malaysia's GE13 too close to call - former US ambassadorJohn Malott

Malaysia’s 13th General Elections on May 5 will be the most important — and the most hard-fought — in Malaysian history. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its coalition partners have ruled the nation since its independence in 1957. But now, for the first time in history, the Malaysian opposition is united and strong, and it believes it has a real chance of coming to power.

And also for the first time, UMNO, as well as those who have benefited politically and economically from their connections to the ruling party, fear that the voters might reject their party and the system that have governed the country continuously for over five decades.

Major differences

This is not simply a question of who wins. There are major differences between the ruling party’s and the opposition’s approaches to political and human rights, economic policy, and affirmative action. An opposition victory would bring change in many areas. The opposition promises to shift the focus of the government’s affirmative action programs from a race-based to a needs-based system. It pledges it will crack down on the corruption and crony capitalism that is holding back the country’s economic potential, and open up more political space by easing the restrictions on political freedom.

Fortunately for the United States, there are no appreciable differences in the foreign policies of either side. But what happens on May 5 will have a major impact on Malaysia’s future political and economic direction, and that is why we in the outside world need to pay attention.

No matter who wins, a realignment of Malaysian politics is inevitable. Win or lose, there will be pressures on the current Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, to step down. Win or lose, UMNO will have to decide whether to “re-invent” itself, something it failed to do after the last elections in 2008, when it suffered major losses.

If it does decide to change, then the question is whether it will be in the direction of more openness, or whether it is towards appealing to the more chauvinistic Malay elements in its party. If it is the latter, which I believe is more likely, then we can expect to see more racial polarization in the country as well as continued emigration by minorities, and especially college-educated minorities, to Singapore and elsewhere.

Too close to call

The election is too close to call. The ruling party has many structural advantages, including control of the television and radio networks and mainstream press; influence over the election commission and other instruments of state power, such as the police; and access to public monies for political purposes. One academic has estimated that the Najib government has spent almost US $19 billion on election-related incentives over the past four years. That is equivalent to 20% of the Government’s annual budget.

The opposition, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, has the greater political momentum, and the Government is on the defensive for the first time in history. Judging by the turnout at political rallies, opposition enthusiasm is high, and it is making inroads into what used to be safe areas for the ruling party. It has become adept at using the internet and other alternative media to reach voters. But an opposition victory will depend not just on the will of the voters, whatever that might be, but also on ensuring that electoral fraud and intimidation are kept to a minimum.

John R. Malott was the United States Ambassador to Malaysia, 1995-1998. He has written analyses of Malaysia for the Wall Street Journal, Malaysiakini, and the East-West Center.


  1. Boxes of ballot papers favouring Bn have been kept in secret place by the EC. Malaysians must seek out this secret place and prevent these boxes been switched on counting days.

    Comment by Special Branch — April 27, 2013 @ 6:14 PM | Reply

  2. All Malaysians who love our country must guard our airports 24/7 to prevent UMNO from carrying out another dirty plot.

    Speculations are rife that the government has chartered five aircraft from the Malaysian Airlines System Bhd’s charter division MAS Charter to facilitate a covert operation to fly Malaysians from Sabah to the peninsular in time for the May 5 general election.
    Sources said the operations had begun on April 24 and an aircraft engineer had been seconded to oversee the maintenance of these unscheduled flights.
    Sources here claimed that of the five planes that have been charted, three are Boeing B747 and two Airbus A330s.
    According to sources, the A330 planes can hold about 300 passengers while the B747 can ferry 350 passengers.
    It is also rumoured that these flights will each be making two and three trips a day respectively.
    This means that the B747 alone will be able to ferry 2,100 passengers, and the A330, some 1,200 passengers a day.
    In total between April 24 and May 4 (the end of the charter) an estimated 36,300 individuals will have arrived in KLIA and in Johor international airport in time for the May 5 general election.

    Malaysians must remember the sequence of events leading to ESSCOM in Eastern Sabah.

    Ops Daulat will end in a few days time and its operations will continue under Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

    Najib said Ops Daulat will end in name, but police and armed forces will continue to take action until all intruders and their supporters are wiped out.

    “No one inside or outside the country will be allowed to jeopardise our security, peace and safety of the country, ” he said in Desa Kencana Felda Sahabat Lahad Datu Saturday afternoon at an Ops Daulat appreciation ceremony for security forces.

    Najib also announced a special award called Pingat Kedaulatan Negara (National Sovereignty Medal) which will be given to all individuals who served in Ops Daulat.

    Earlier on Saturday, Najib officially launched Esscom, which has four key strategic areas of operations.

    “These focuses is to make sure that the livelihoods of the people in these areas are secure. We want people to be feel safe,” he said after officially launching the Esscom headquarters at the Lahad Datu Marine Police headquarters here Friday.

    The first key area of focus is intelligence gathering, which would ensure that any potential threats were identified and neutralised in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) that encompasses 10 districts from northern Kudat to south eastern Sabah. The second was on heightening and improving coastal surveillance on movements within the area.

    He said the other two areas of focus was to increase the ability to intercept intruders or people coming into the sea area; and to strengthen the ability to capture intruders who managed to slip into the mainland.

    Najib said that Sabah’s east coast tourism had been marginally affected, but Sabah’s investments remained undisturbed.

    He said the government had put in place the Esscom and created positions for Esscom in one month after announcing it on Mar 6.

    “The creation of 46 positions, including the director-general post for Esscom within 24 hours, is the fastest decision (by the Public Service Commission),” Najib said

    He added that the positions also included the creation of two security forces posts with the rank of Mejar Jeneral and two for the police with the rank of Commissioner.

    “Of the 48 positions, 36 have been filled and the remaining will be filled soon,” he said, adding that RM200mil has been allocated for Esscom, with further allocations possible if insufficient.

    Security is also being tightened up in the Felda Sahabat area, with the involvement of Felda’s 100 auxiliary policemen and the creation of four askar Wartania (territorial army reserves) platoons.

    As for houses damaged or destroyed during Ops Daulat, Najib said that the government will help to rebuild better homes for the locals, while houses will also be built for those without proper supporting documents.

    The real reason is to prevent the angry Suluks in Sabah from voting for Pakatan Rakyat and to round them up, organise and transport these illegal voters to Selangor, Johor and other parts of Peninsular Malaysia.

    Comment by Special Branch — April 26, 2013 @ 9:48 PM | Reply

    • It is an easy but not so perfect plot to get right wing Malays to rally behind Najib and Mahathir’s UMNO by supporting the ban on use of Allah by Christians and to arrest Anwar on trumped up charges that he had conspired to destabilize Sabah by inviting the Sulu Sultanate to invade Lahad Datu.

      Comment by Abang Sazali — April 26, 2013 @ 11:31 PM | Reply

      • I will not vote BN this time because I know that the Najib administration will keep on solving any economics problems with more debt, they seems to have run out of creative and cost effective ways to do things.

        Comment by ZMK — April 27, 2013 @ 10:56 AM | Reply

  3. Pakatan supporters, please have your video cameras and smartphones ready for polling day. Record anything that appears suspicious. In particular, record all those suspicious looking Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Indonesians.

    Tens of thousands of these ‘instant Malaysians’ will be coming out to vote. More importantly, take videos of them as they disembark from BN buses as well.

    Comment by Anon — April 26, 2013 @ 11:54 AM | Reply

    • Don’t be silly, Anon. They won’t come out to vote on a broad day light. The cunning BN would have thought about it that the rakyat will keep an eye on them during voting day. I have even heard that our ‘instant Malaysians’ has already casted their votes behind closed door and they were even given some ‘pocket money’ ! I trust this is true …

      Comment by Minnie — April 27, 2013 @ 11:30 AM | Reply

    • BN is cheap man.

      Comment by Arqam — April 28, 2013 @ 2:27 AM | Reply


    The US diplomatic and intelligence community is well aware of the corrupt and rigged electoral system which form part of the built in structural obstacles to the Opposition winning and than to the Opposition ruling if it wins.

    The core obstacle for the Opposition is the entrenched Malay chauvinism in the civil service and other government organs.

    There is a 51% chance for the Opposition to win if only it can reconcile with Sabah and not play the spoiler there! With the vote so split here, in part caused by PK fielding non-starter candidates, PK must be dreaming of winning.

    Sarawak is in Malayan pockets whether UMNO or Pakatan. Again whether the opposition political campaign of the past 3 years has taken root remains to be seen as there is not big signs of public brain activity compared to vibrant Sabah.

    In part the politicians are such a lack lustre lot that the people are not greatly inspired.

    How can you win local support when you fly a foreign flag?

    Comment by anon — April 26, 2013 @ 6:14 AM | Reply

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