Problems in paradise: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi (photo via ????, Flickr)
His party was expected to lose seats – but first results from the Malaysian elections smell like a serious setback: Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s ruling National Front coalition is not only in danger of losing its 2/3 majority in the federal parliament, it seemingly has also lost its majority in Penang, the country’s only Chinese-majority state.
This shows that the Malaysian authorities will have to deal with a new fragility: The preference of the Muslim indigenous community by the state (Bumiputra privilege) has led to an estrangement in the Chinese and Indian part of the population. The Bumiputra make up 60 percent of the population, but make 87 percent of government employees. They also get special discount on housing and special quotas for university courses.
There have always been tensions, but in the last couple of months, the Indian minority, which makes about ten percent of the population and is exceptionally poor, openly protested against their disadvantages. At the same time, the Chinese community grumbled about Mr. Abdullah’s economic policy. There is still strong growth, but as the economy is not only the base for keeping interethnical peace, but also largely depends from exports, troubles lie ahead. Growth is likely to suffer from a downturn of the American economy and has been achieved by keeping wages low while price inflation continues to hit the country.
The opposition meanwhile seems to be in good shape to take advantages of Mr Abdullah’s problems. Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, the quasi-leader of the People’s Justice Party has a emerged as a prominent opposition figure who draws voters (though he was banned from participating in this election) and foreign media; the three main opposition parties also agreed not to combat each other in elections. With the help of the internet, the opposition has managed to find a way around the state media, too. It intensively used blogs to promote its views during the campaign.
For the first time in decades, the National Front may have to deal with strong head wind. The constitutional election advantage has proven not to be enough to keep the opposition small; for the future, Mr Abdullah has to think twice if continued suppression of open opinion is still enough to keep Malaysia’s people satisfied.