Authorities say Malaysia will hold a special election on November 19 because the ruling party wants to win back power after its former leader was imprisoned for corruption.
After being ousted from power in 2018 due to a massive corruption scandal, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which had ruled the nation for more than 60 years, took advantage of the chaos in its opposition to retake power in 2021.
To increase the tenuous parliamentary majority of the Barislan National coalition, which UMNO leads, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has decided to call elections a year early.
Eight weeks after the former prime minister and UMNO leader Najib Razak started serving a 12-year sentence for corruption in the 1MDB financial scandal, the election date was announced.
Some observers worry that Najib could be released and additional anti-graft investigations could be dropped if UMNO wins in November.
We want to end corruption, said seasoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the Pakatan Harapan alliance, a bitter rival of UMNO.
The main concerns we have been voicing concern the cost of living, access to affordable housing, health, and educational standards, he continued.
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Pejuang, led by 97-year-old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has put himself forward for a third term as premier, is one of the other parties joining the fray.
The date for candidate nominations is November 5, according to the chairman of the election commission, Abdul Ghani Salleh, who also spoke at a press conference.
While UMNO has the political infrastructure to do so, the 1MDB corruption scandal tarnishes its reputation. UMNO expects to win big and solidify its rule.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, president of the UMNO, is also charged with graft.
According to Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia, there are worries that the rule of law won’t be upheld in Najib’s conviction if UMNO prevails.
“Voters will effectively be deciding whether Zahid, president of the UMNO party, and Najib will be punished for the criminal charges they are facing.”
Ex-premier Mahathir expressed similar concerns earlier this month, telling reporters that if UMNO won, “their first objective is to free Najib” and drop all other charges.
Mahathir’s reforming alliance overthrew UMNO in 2018, but because of internal strife, it only held onto power for 22 months.
Soaring inflation, tumbling currency
Investigations into the massive fraud involving the 1MDB state fund were launched in the US, Switzerland, and Singapore. Our financial systems were allegedly used to launder the money, damaging Malaysia’s international reputation.
According to the US Justice Department, high-ranking employees of the fund and their accomplices stole more than 4.5 billion dollars between 2009 and 2015, using the money for expensive art and high-end real estate.
With inflation skyrocketing and the value of the local ringgit plummeting, the economy and the growing cost of living will also play a significant role in the election.
James Chin, a Malaysia scholar at the University of Tasmania, says, “this election is critical because they are picking a government that will pull Malaysia out of the epidemic and back to normalcy.”
Concerns about the elections occurring during the monsoon season, when significant flooding is expected, are also present.