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Malaysia’s opposition coalition must radically change to survive

By Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Most of Malaysia's political analysts foresaw that the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition, which stumbled from power in February 2020 after a lackluster performance in power, had electoral appeal issues, but not the magnitude of the disaster that befell them in the weekend state elections in the historic town of Melaka.

The corollary is that Melaka has clearly shown that the scandal-steeped United Malays National Organization is back, with convicted felon Najib Razak, the former prime minister and author of the biggest scandal in Malaysian history, being hailed as a hero with 4.5 million followers on Facebook despite facing 12 years in prison and additional legal action against him. By one reckoning, he may now be the most powerful political figure in the country, his political resuscitation complete.

UMNO, with formidable grassroots election machinery, has shown they are now the dominant Malay party once again, taking onn the Perikatan Nasional challenge with ease. With the MCA and MCA, the Barisan Nasional returns as a multiracial umbrella once again.


Pakatan Harapan not only failed to take the reins of government but was nearly decimated. This should be extremely alarming for the coalition's top leadership. If it can't win Melaka, it will have no chance of winning Putrajaya. If the coalition can't change, then Pakatan as we know it will not survive the coming general election.

Melaka was a good bellwether for the rest of the peninsula and rationally it should have held considerable appeal for the Pakatan voters. It is semi-urban, with a majority of Malay voters in 20 of 28 of the state seats. The state is also a good indicator of overall party support is because local issues played a minimum role in the election, with the exception of candidate selection

The final results gave the Barisan Nasional 21 seats, 18 of them to the United Malays National Organization, which picked up four new seats, the once-moribund Malaysian Chinese Association picking up two new seats, and the equally moribund Malaysian Indian Congress picking up one. Parti Pribumi Bersatu, under the Perikatan Nasional coalition maintained two seats, with the rural Islamic Parti Islam se-Malaysia not winning a single seat.

The opposition Democratic Action Party held onto four seats, losing four, with Amanah losing one of the two seats it won in 2018. Parti Keadilan Rakyat, headed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, lost the three seats it won in 2018. This gives the Barisan Nasional a two-thirds majority in the new assembly. IU the last general election Pakatan won the state with 15 seats to the Barisan Nasional's 13 seats.

Reality must sink in for Pakatan

For Pakatan Harapan, the results reflect their dismal image with the voting electorate. Melaka has quantified voter disappointment, apathy, and even anger that all knew about, but couldn't numerically sum-up until the Saturday night election results.


An analysis of the comments made on online news-sites and social media indicates a number of issues that have created negative perceptions of Pakatan, and were translated into a poor electoral performance. These were not comments made by cybertroopers to discredit Pakatan, voting patterns clearing reflected the feelings of the electorate out there, waiting for a chance to express them.

Discontent long running

Disenchantment has been widespread with Pakatan since its unexpected general election win in 2018. The coalition, dogged by infighting, failed to implement much of its reform agenda. A string of bylections sent a message the electorate was disappointed. Cronyism and corruption issues raised their head within the administration before it was turfed from power after the leader Mahathir Mohamad suddenly resigned amid an attempt to set up a Malay-first coalition that brought Muhyiddin Yassin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition to power.

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This article was first published on Asia Sentinel.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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