EXPLAINER- Key issues as Malaysians vote in tight parliamentary elections
Malaysians were voting on Saturday in a close election pitting Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob against longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Here are the main election issues: ECONOMY, INFLATION
Rising prices and the economic outlook are top concerns for voters as the government and central bank have warned of slower growth next year. Prices have risen, especially for food items, even as growth is expected to slow to 4%-5% next year from this year’s forecast of 6.5%-7%.
The government has said it will cut subsidies next year due to budget pressures, which could lead to further price hikes if the next administration goes ahead with the plan. “The main problem (in the election) would be socio-economic well-being, which is rapidly deteriorating,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
Most of Malaysia’s ethnic Malay majority would expect the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party to be “the most willing to provide donations in these difficult times”, he said. POLITICAL STABILITY
Malaysians are frustrated with the political politics that have rocked the country since the opposition ended six decades of UMNO rule in 2018. Malaysia’s first opposition victory was led by Mahathir Mohamad, who was previously Prime Minister of UMNO. Since its ousting, UMNO has attempted to return to power and has been the main source of unrest, with infighting both within its ranks and among its alliance partners.
The country has had three prime ministers in the past two years. Announcing the dissolution of parliament, Prime Minister Ismail said political instability had hurt the economy, saying the mandate must be returned to the people.
Analysts expect disillusionment with the instability to hurt due voter turnout. CORRUPTION
The transplant was a key reason for UMNO’s defeat in 2018, and some critics say a convincing UMNO victory could deepen corruption and see corrupt politicians return to power. Several of the party’s main leaders were charged after the electoral defeat. They are the ones who urged Ismail to call for early elections.
Ismail last month announced a broad misconduct investigation against a former attorney general who had brought charges against UMNO officials. Former prime minister Najib Razak, along with UMNO chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and several other senior party officials, have faced dozens of corruption charges. All have denied wrongdoing, with Najib and Ahmad Zahid calling the charges against them politically motivated.
In August, Najib began a 12-year prison sentence for bribery and money laundering in a case related to the multi-billion dollar 1MDB financial scandal. He still faces four other trials. RACE AND RELIGION
Race and religion remain divisive issues in Malaysia, a multi-ethnic country of 32.7 million people. Ethnic Malays, who are predominantly Muslim, and indigenous groups make up around 70% of the population. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians.
Conservative Malaysians are split between UMNO and another Malaysian party led by Muhyiddin, analysts say. Many had felt sidelined by Mahathir’s administration, which had seen more non-Malays appointed to senior ministerial posts.
Malaysian nationalist UMNO has built its support over the years through a strong system of patronage, especially with ethnic Malays.
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