The 1MDB case, the largest (known) financial scandal in Malaysia’s history, is taking another turn with accusations of corruption and conflicts of interest against Nazlan Ghazali, the judge who sentenced former prime minister Najib Razak. While the controversy could be another attempt by Najib’s circle to delay the case, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has opened an investigation against Nazlan. Despite all controversies, Najib’s popularity in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party is steady. While UMNO leadership announced that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be the party’s candidate for the next general elections, a positive outcome in Najib’s trial and the confirmation of his eligibility to stand in the elections would be a game changer.
Meanwhile, elections will be held next month to (re-)elect the party leadership of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat. While Anwar Ibrahim is the only contestant for the party president post, Rafizi Ramli and Saifuddin Nasution Ismail are waging a war against each other for the deputy president position. Tian Chua, one of the most senior leaders in the party and early companion of Anwar’s Reformasi movement, has decided that he will not seek another term as vice president. Tian has been accused of being part of the Azmin Ali faction that left the party in January 2020 following Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation as prime minister, and he and his team have faced several attempts of expulsion from the party and harsh criticism from other factions. However, Tian has remained in Keadilan and never joined Bersatu, the party where the Azmin faction landed. Tian has thrown his support to Saifuddin to block Rafizi’s way. Rafizi left politics in 2019 in a dramatic announcement but returned to the party earlier this year. Now omnipresent in the media, Rafizi is leading an aggressive campaign. In his move to become deputy president of Keadilan, he hopes to push Anwar into retirement and ultimately take over the party.
Early general elections are expected this year, and all intra-party tensions and maneuvers have intensified. Realignment and new alliances are to be expected in coming months. Though, for now, the former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional is in the most favorable position to reconquer the country.
Sophie Lemière is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.