Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s call for fresh elections presents his fractured, multiethnic country with a stark choice: Stick with a ruling party that has governed the Muslim-majority nation for over half a century, or usher in an era of potentially sweeping change by electing Anwar Ibrahim’s opposition alliance. The date remains to be set by Malaysia’s Election Commission after Mr. Najib dissolved Parliament on Wednesday. But the race already is shaping up to be the most important and closely fought contest since independence from Britain in 1957, and one that could radically alter the future of what is widely regarded as one of the Islamic world’s most dynamic nations. Since taking office four years ago, Mr. Najib, 59 years old, has nudged through reforms aimed at outflanking Mr. Anwar’s supporters and containing a growing clamor for greater accountability and more democracy. After several mass rallies on the streets of Kuala Lumpur in recent years, Mr. Najib scrapped a decades-old law enabling security forces to detain critics without trial, and began chipping away at a sprawling affirmative-action program designed to help the majority ethnic-Malay Muslim population catch up with generally wealthier ethnic Chinese.
The aristocratic son of a former premier, Mr. Najib also has moved to sell off state assets, reducing the government’s influence over the economy in a bid to spur growth. Last year’s initial public offering of palm-oil plantation concern Felda Global Ventures Bhd. was the world’s third-largest IPO in 2012, raising more than $3 billion, while the broader economy expanded 5.6% in 2012, thanks in large part thanks to a $444 billion spending program designed to help resource-rich, tropical Malaysia aim for equal footing with high-income Asian countries such as South Korea by 2020.
Speaking in a live television broadcast Wednesday, Mr. Najib urged voters to stay the course. “Don’t gamble on the future of your children and Malaysia; think and contemplate because your vote will determine not only the future of the country, but also your grandchildren,” he said.
In an interview last year, Mr. Najib said Malaysia needs to keep pace with the rest of the world. “There is a new generation coming to the fore now, and they have different expectations,” he said. “I keep telling other leaders that no matter how much they have contributed to the party and the glorious past—fighting for independence and building up the country and so on—this generation isn’t going to pat them on the back and say, ‘Thank you very much.’ They are going to say, ‘What’s in store for us?’ ”
Many government critics, however, say Mr. Najib hasn’t done enough to meet Malaysians’ rising expectations for change, and he is facing a strong challenge in Mr. Anwar.
Full Article: Malaysia’s Fresh Elections Offer Striking Choice – WSJ.com.