Malaysia election: GE14 and the future of Malay politics in Malaysia

The upcoming general election is poised to be game-changing, at the core of which will be the future of Malay politics. Will it take a new turn, bringing along with it an altered political landscape?

Malaysia’s coming general election has long been expected to be explosive, given the tense build-up since the last polls in 2013 which saw the opposition making significant inroads.

But nobody had expected it to take this new turn: Umno, the backbone of the entire political system, is suddenly facing the dire prospect of being deregistered, the result of a legal challenge by a group of disconcerted members.

The “Group of 16” has taken legal action claiming that Umno is now an illegal party, having failed to hold internal elections which had been postponed twice, thus denying them the right to elect their leaders.

This legal challenge carries unimaginable repercussions, threatening to replay a similar crisis in 1987, perhaps even more severe.

If Pandora’s box is opened as a result, it could expose Umno to all manner of possibilities. Given the fluidity, surprises will be aplenty .

UMNO CRISIS 2.0: HOW IT ALL BEGAN

It will not be an easy matter for the court to adjudge. In 1987, when Umno faced a similar debacle, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister and Umno president when his leadership was contested by his popular finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

Malay politics, according to the writer, is at a watershed. Both BN and PH are Malay-led. Whichever side wins, it will still be a Malay-led government in Malaysia. But the flux in Malay politics is, by extension, throwing the whole political landscap
Malay politics, according to the writer, is at a watershed. Both BN and PH are Malay-led. Whichever side wins, it will still be a Malay-led government in Malaysia. But the flux in Malay politics is, by extension, throwing the whole political landscape into fluidity, given the central role of the Malay or Malay-dominant parties on both sides of the political divide. PHOTO: REUTERS

The upshot: The High Court ruled a year later that Umno was an unlawful society for having unregistered and therefore illegal branches; Umno was dissolved.

But Dr Mahathir quickly picked up the pieces and mobilised the loose membership to form “Umno Baru” (or New Umno).

The new Umno subsequently took on the body and soul of the original Umno and gradually morphed into the New “Old Umno”, even eventually calling itself just Umno, as if nothing had happened.

Should Umno be returned to power, this will therefore not be surprising, especially given the changes in the electoral maps to enhance the chances of Umno/BN candidates. But if the results are not in Umno’s favour, the opposition expects Datuk Seri Najib to draw his one last weapon: emergency rule. Even a hung Parliament, which is likely, could be cause for emergency rule, should the political deadlock lead to instability.

The big difference this time, 30 years later, is this: The country is on the brink of a critical general election, which takes place on May 9.

If Umno is going through some deep internal tension as a result, it is as good as an existential struggle. How did it all come to this?

While this year’s general election was picking up steam, the political war was expanding into the legal front, and on two flanks. On the first flank, the Registrar of Societies (ROS) ordered the temporary suspension of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM aka Bersatu) – the Umno breakaway led by the man…

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