Malaysians will go to the polls on May 9 in the country’s 14th general election. This is the most hotly contested election in Malaysia’s history, pitting the scandal ridden incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak against a coalition led by former political enemies: former prime minister Mahathir Mohammed, who is 92 years old, and his former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, whom Mahathir had imprisoned. Anwar is once again in prison, on more trumped up charges, and is unable to contest the election, instead endorsing his former boss, who quit the ruling UMNO party that he led for 22 years in what he claims to be disgust over Najib’s corruption. Mahathir has since apologized for sacking Anwar, but make no mistake: this election is about strange bedfellows.
Najib won the 2013 election only through rampant vote-buying and gerrymandering and malapportionment. The government won only 47 percent of the popular vote, but won 60 percent of parliamentary seats. There is evidence that some of the $681 million in embezzled 1MDB funds that found their way into Najib’s personal bank account were used to secure votes. The opposition rightly felt they were robbed. The government recently announced new electoral districting ahead of the polls.
Despite some record-setting rallies, the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan is looser than it appears. There are key rivalries and differences between the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR), and Mahathir’s party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, that the government tried to have de-certified. Mahathir was set to run on the PKR ticket, but a court has since stayed the delisting.