Spotlight - Malaysia: February 3, 2022
Last month, the sultan of Johor dissolved the State Assembly, and the Election Commission will set a polling day before March 23. The current chief minister of Johor is from Bersatu, the party led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Bersatu and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)—the party that dominated Malaysian politics since the country’s independence in 1957 until 2018—were allied under the banner of Perikatan Nasional (PN) until UMNO pulled its support, provoking the resignation of Muyhiddin in August last year. Today, both parties are sharing power in the cabinet led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, an UMNO leader close to another former prime minister from UMNO, Najib Razak.
The three parties that form PN—Bersatu, UMNO, and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS)—are in a complex relationship. They are together in the government, but the coalition is split at the state level as UMNO has decided to run without PN. Additionally, UMNO leaders stated clearly that in the next general election, they would run together with their allies in Barisan Nasional, another coalition they have led for over 60 years. UMNO has rebuilt strong confidence after its victory in the November 2021 Melaka State election and is confident that it can regain Johor, its former stronghold. Meanwhile Bersatu, together with the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, has claimed that an election in Johor will be a risk due to the Covid-19 situation.
The discussion in PH is getting more tense as Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and of the opposition coalition, has announced that his candidates will be using the party’s logo and not that of the coalition (as they did previously). To Anwar, Keadilan is suffering from the mistakes of the former PH government led by Mahathir Mohamad, which crashed in 2020, and the party needs a fresh start. Others claim that the fresh start should start with the resignation of the PH old guard. The next general election is due in 2023, but an early election in 2022 is highly possible.
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.