Dubious Victory

Malaysia’s Nov. 29 general elections resulted in a strong win for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his National Front Coalition. But the victory was not a watershed, as Mahathir now faces more opposition that at any time in his 18-year rule.

Eddie Toh writes in Kuala Lumpur’s independent Business Times on Dec. 1 that the “theocratic Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS)…was the big winner in [November’s] general election, more than tripling its numbers in parliament to 27.”

The independent Bangkok Post commented on Dec. 2, “Mahathir might have won [the] election, but in the heartland of Malaysia, he has lost.”

What Mahathir lost was much of the support of Malay voters, who make up 55 percent of the population. His traditional backers threw their support behind the Barisan Alternatif candidates, reports the opposition Harakah of Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 11. “One thing is for sure,” says Harakah. “For the first time in Malaysian history, the Malay voters have bravely made a paradigm shift in their voting pattern.”

But the real embarrassment came when Wan Azizah Ismail beat the National Front candidate in the contest for the Penang seat. It was last held by her husband, deposed Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently serving a six-year jail sentence.
Ian Stewart writes in Hong Kong’s centrist South China Morning Post on Dec. 1 that “Mahathir earlier this year indicated that he would like the Anwar affair to be ‘forgotten.’ But now he will be constantly reminded of his former deputy when Azizah sits across from him in the opposition benches of parliament.”