By Weiling Tay
This election year in Malaysia, the main contenders are the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), and new opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH). Relative economic prosperity, peace, and protection of ethnic-based privileges for roughly 69% of the Malay population has preserved the BN’s power since the country’s independence. Despite accusations of corruption, incompetence, and repression, they may yet regain the popular vote along with their easily retained parliamentary majority.
Ironically, the PH candidate for Prime Minister is Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a former BN stalwart. As Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, he oversaw rapid modernisation, diminished judicial power, and restriction of civil liberties.
Political opposition was long defined against him; the previous leader was his former deputy and subsequent rival, Anwar Ibrahim. Now imprisoned for sodomy, Anwar apparently gives Mahathir his blessing.
Not everyone is so forgiving. A small independent movement to spoil votes, #UndiRosak, is gaining steam. The response has been vicious – its proponents receive daily abuse, many of the misogynistic variety. These often come from PH supporters, who fear vote-splitting.
Will #UndiRosak lead to better standards for Malaysian politics, or just more of the same, as detractors argue? It remains to be seen. Elections must be held before September; much can still happen before then.
Photograph: Phallin Ooi via Flickr