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Malaysia's 13th general elections will be the most crucial in decades. Since the country’s first vote in 1959, one coalition—Barisan Nasional (BN) —has dominated the political system and easily won every election. But the last general elections in 2008 foreshadowed a shift in the mood of the electorate. For the first time, BN lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority and thus its power to amend the constitution, as well as five of thirteen state elections. The surprising performance of the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, in the vote added new energy to Malaysian politics and a powerful voice critical of the incumbent administration. In this edition of Perspectives, we will speak to representatives from the different political parties to discuss what is at stake for the future of Malaysia.
- Malaysia has done well under BN rule. It has seen robust growth, and poverty has been virtually eliminated. But even the government acknowledges that Malaysia is now caught in a middle income trap - where it is unable to compete with low-cost producers on cost, but also lacking the institutions, human resources and technological capabilities to compete with advanced economies in innovative products and processes. What is the way forward?
- Job creation is an election promise of both parties and BN and Pakatan have different approaches to this. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s job creation rests on government-linked corporations. Big infrastructure construction jobs, oil, gas and petrochemical investments and world-class education are part of the deal. By contrast, Pakatan wants to abolish monopolies. It wants government-linked companies to divest via management buyouts. What are the pros and cons of each approach?
- 80 per cent of Malaysia’s labour force has no more than the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (equivalent to O Levels qualifications), and universities and colleges are producing large numbers of graduates that the Malaysian labour market deems inadequately skilled. What types of education reforms are needed to help Malaysia escape the middle-income trap?
- The manifesto of both parties promises elections goodies. Pakatan has promised free tertiary education, lower car prices, an increased minimum wage, and cheaper fuel. BN is promising one million new affordable homes, subsidised car prices, doubling cash handouts for the poor and lowering private and corporate income tax. Both sides have been accused of populism. How will these measures be funded?
- Washington-based financial watchdog Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that close to RM871.4 billion (US$288 billion) has been lost through illicit outflows from Malaysia over a 10-year period. Both parties have vowed to tackle corruption. What are the solutions being proposed?
- Pakatan is arguing for a dismantling of race-based affirmative action. Whilst BN has said that the bumiputra policy is here to stay, they are in the process of carrying out some reforms. Is the bumiputra policy still relevant and needed in Malaysia today?
- The number of Chinese eligible to vote now stands at 29.68 per cent of Malaysia’s total voters. What are the issues important to them?
- As Internet access has spread — two-thirds of Malaysians can now use it, up from about 55 percent at the last election in 2008 — independent voices and opposition parties have had an easier time reaching voters. How is cyberspace impacting this general election?
- Electoral fraud is a concern for voters. Three major demonstrations were held over the last two years by the group Bersih, which is a movement advocating for a clean election. The BN government has since made concessions. Is enough being done to make this general election a fair fight?