Spotlight - Malaysia: March 31, 2022
While many observers expect Malaysia’s next general election to be held in July or August, parties’ negotiations have intensified over the possible creation of a new political configuration for the opposition. The question is what alliance would be sustainable? And how?
The split between the two governing coalitions, Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Barisan Nasional (BN), is no secret. There is a possibility that PN would walk away from the government and for former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin to try to regain his position. He could achieve this without an election by allying with Pakatan Harapan (PH)—currently the main opposition coalition—to ensure a parliamentary majority. It would be the same strategy he successfully applied in 2020 when he first ascended to the highest post. However, this time, it is unlikely the king would reappoint Muhyiddin, whom he pressured to resign last year.
It seems likely that PN will try to work with all or part of PH, and possibly other opposition parties (i.e., Pejuang, Warisan, or MUDA). Muhyiddin and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad are said to have reconciled for the sake of the country and are keen on reuniting against BN—and more specifically to counter the return of former prime minister Najib Razak, or anyone in his faction, to power (a story we know too well; this same alliance brought down Najib in 2018). However, if an alliance between PH and PN were to materialize, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob would immediately dissolve the Parliament to provoke an election and to prevent another political coup.
Meanwhile the political mess in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) continues. On the eve of the party elections to be held in April 2022, Rafizi Ramli, who departed the political scene in dramatic fashion in 2018, has made a comeback. The former party vice president is now trying to overthrow his former mentor, Anwar. Rafizi is eyeing the deputy party president post left vacant after Azmin Ali joined Bersatu and the PN coalition in 2020. As deputy party president, Rafizi would be in a key spot to push Anwar into retirement and succeed him. Nurul Izzah Anwar, daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, is siding with Rafizi against her own father. Other party leaders have offered Izzah the deputy position in lieu of Rafizi, but her decision remains unknown. The party has taken severe losses in recent state elections and is drifting further away from its political reformist ideals.
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.