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Malaysia State Election: Status quo preserved as ruling govt and opposition each retain three States

In a closely watched Malaysian state election, both Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s PH-BN coalition and the opposition Islamist bloc, Perikatan Nasional, retained three states each.

While the results preserved the status quo, a surge in support for the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) indicates growing concerns among Muslim Malay voters, casting the future political landscape of Malaysia in a new light.



MALAYSIA: As the sun set on Saturday (12 Aug), the curtains fell on the polls across six Malaysian states.

Despite lukewarm voter response, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his coalition government, Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional (PH-BN), retain control of three states as widely expected.

Likewise, the Islamist opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) bloc, which includes the hardline Islamist party Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), captures three Malay heartland states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu in the north.

Selangor and Penang, are two of the country’s richest states, while Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu are poorer and conservative.

Prof Azmi Hassan

The main takeaway from the result of the state election showed the worries of the Muslim Malay voters from the number of seats PAS has captured, according to Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Profesor Dr Azmi Hassan.

Azmi said the green wave (PAS) that occurred in the 15th General Election on 19 Nov, 2022, is creeping slowly into Penang, Negeri Sembilan, and Selangor.

“PN cannot claim that they had won the state elections even though they won many seats in Penang, Negeri Sembilan, and most importantly, Selangor at yesterday’s election, because PH-BN has the 2/3 majority, more than a simple majority.

“Also, PN cannot said that their votes translated to Malaysian’s dissatisfaction (of Anwar’s administration).

“Similarly, PH-BN cannot say that they have lost this state election even though they have lost a number of seats in Penang, Negeri Sembilan, and Selangor.

“However, they (PH-BN) cannot make their way into Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu. It is not the fault of Pakatan-PH but its component party Umno-BN,” he told Gutzy Asia.

Malay worry that their rights would be eroded under a non-Malay-dominated government (the current cabinet has five ethic Chinese ministers, one ethnic Indian, and three ministers from Sabah and Sarawak indigenous communities out of 28 cabinet members).

In addition, PN has sought to portray itself as clean of corruption, and has strongly criticised Anwar for forming an alliance with his coalition’s former rival, the graft-tainted United Malays National Organisation, in order to gain a majority in parliament.

The opposition portrayed him as disregarding the Malay-Muslim majority.

Oh Ei Sun

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said the support for “green wave” (PAS) gave PN a breakthrough win in the wealthiest state, Selangor, with more than 1/3 of seats.

In addition, PH-BN failed to win any of the three state seats under Permatang Pauh, the parliamentary constituency which has been almost synonymous with Anwar Ibrahim.

“The green wave is alive and kicking, it has broken the 2/3 majority in Selangor, previously enjoyed by PH-BN coalition. It looks sad for the country’s politics if it were to go this way,” he told Gutzy Asia.

In Terengganu, Umno, a BN’s component party, lost all contested seat in despite making a slew of cash-aid-laden promises to Terengganu voters ahead of the state polls, as part of its election manifesto.

“Terengganu set to be increasingly conservative after Kelantan. As religious yearnings have increasingly replaced socioeconomic concerns in the minds of Terengganu voters.

“Terengganu has changed hands (state government) in recent times, so BN must have thought that with the right ‘incentives’, the voters there could be enticed to swing their support,” said Oh who is also the principal adviser of Pacific Research Centre.

Awang Azman

A socio-political analyst from Universiti Malaya Awang Azman Pawi said the political status quo meant the government led by Anwar Ibrahim had to strengthen its existing machinery.

“He (Anwar) has to show success in development programmes to increase support, especially in the Malay area.

“The green wave (PAS) needs to be addressed comprehensively and search for PN achilles’ heel before further development.

“For PN, they need to prepare a higher quality leadership and not just use religious and ethnic rhetoric to expand their influence,” he told Gutzy Asia.

Responding to the state election results, Anwar told reporters the ruling coalition would “continue working hard to serve the people in line with our desire to build Malaysia”.

Some argue that it would not be fair to assess both Anwar and the unity government at this state election as they do not have sufficient time to put their policies into action. It is just less than a year after it becomes the federal government.

A voter dipping a finger in an indelible ink. Photo by Mlaysia’s Election Commission

In Malaysia, federal level elections are those for membership in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of Parliament, while state level elections are for membership in the various State Legislative Assemblies.

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