Malaysia: Anwar Ibrahim Will Win Next General Election Despite Declining Popularity – Analysis


Given the current conditions, the ‘unity government’ would manage maintain power after the next general election, due by 2027. This would require the components of the so called ‘unity government’ staying together, where Anwar Ibrahim would have a second term as PM 

The coming Kuala Kubu Baharu byelection, although a very safe seat for the DAP is being touted as a bellwether for the next general election. However, the massive swing that will go against the Pakatan Harapan candidate Pang Sock Tao will most probably exaggerate overall public disenchantment in the ‘unity government’. Opposition candidates can usually obtain bigger swings against government candidates in byelections, due to the opportunity to make a protest vote. This is what happened in the five byelections held, when Pakatan Harapan under prime minister Mahathir Mohamed between 2018-20. 

Nevertheless, on current sentiment, UMNO and PKR are set to take massive losses at the next general election, unless some sort of ‘black swan’ event changes the electoral situation. The question is whether these losses would be enough to toss them out of government at the next general election?

Poor record in administration wont ‘push’ the ‘unity government’ out

Current public perception of the ‘unity government’ is poor. At the end of 2023, prime minister Anwar Ibrahim’s personal popularity rating had fallen to 50 percent. Both UMNO and PKR are not making any inroads into the Malay Heartlands, the part of the electorate Anwar desperately wants to make his government ‘legitimate’. 

Parti Keadilan Rakat (PKR) first formed with the objective of obtaining Anwar’s freedom from prison. It’s growing membership was made up of Malaysians in the B40 category, who aspired for a reformed Malaysia, where their livelihoods would be better off. Pakatan’s lack of reforms has disillusioned its traditional support base. At the 25th PKR congress held recently, the usual chants of ‘reformasi’ at past conventions didn’t occur. 

The non-Malays and liberal-urban Malays are quickly becoming apathetic towards Pakatan. As the majority in this group won’t support Perikatan Nasional, many may decide to just stay at home next general election and refrain from voting at all. Voter turnout will be a very crucial factor for Pakatan. 

Expect the turnout for the next general election in urban areas to be one of the lowest ever. This will cost PKR a number of seats, and turn some safe DAP seats into marginal ones. 

Economic management has been haphazard, where RM100 billion was just added to the already record budget deficit with the public sector wage hike. With the low Ringgit increasing the prices of importuned items, and the cost of food going up faster than the official inflation rate, many households are finding it very difficult to make ends meet, as wages are not growing. The regressive tax changes are being felt by lower incomes, while the targeted subsidy scheme could disadvantage many if not implemented correctly. The malaise on education, public health, and other social issues just continues to expose mediocrity in performance. Not many voters really care about foreign policy and trade issues, which Anwar has focused heavily on. 

Communication Minister Fahmi Fadzil’s overzealous crackdown upon free speech is just creating more unpopularity towards the ‘unity government’. Fahmi is singlehandedly destroying Pakatan’s reputation as being a middle ground coalition. Malaysia ranked 73/180 in the 2023 RSF Press Freedom Index. It will be interesting to see what ranking Malaysia receives in 2024. The arrests and charging of Perikatan leaders for ‘various alleged crimes’ appears to be massively backfiring. The ‘Trump effect’ is increasing the popularity of those arrested and charged. The perceived political persecution of Bersatu and PAS leaders only makes them more popular in the Malay heartlands, the very area the ‘unity government’ wants to win over. 

Rifts arising within the coalition are a major threat

All is not well within the ‘unity government’ with a rift developing between the prime minister and his deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. This is starting to fester something like the rivalry that occurred between former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed and his deputy Anwar back in 1997/98. Anything that happens with Najib Razak’s detention could be very critical to the stability of the ‘unity government’. 

Kaula Kubu Baharu and beyond

Pakatan may well hang onto Kuala Kubu Baharu on May 11. However, come the next general election PKR could lose up to 10 seats, and UMNO could lose somewhere between 5-10 seats. That would give Perikatan Nasional 15-20 seats more in GE16, than they won in GE 15. That would leave Pakatan Harapan-UMNO with somewhere between 92-97 seats after GE 16, with Perikatan holding somewhere between 89-93 seats.

The above assumes Amanah will hold onto the 8 seats it won in 2022. If Amanah losses seats, this will advantage Perikatan Nasional. 

The result would be another hung parliament, where Sabah and Sarawak will once again become the kingmakers. The ‘unity government’ as the incumbent has the advantage and may be given the first opportunity to try to form a government. 

Consequently, it should be expected that Anwar would soon after begin his second term of office as prime minister. There is still anther three years into Anwar’s term of office and the situation could drastically change if there was more instability within UMNO. The continual political persecution of the Perikatan leadership is still an unknown factor. If it goes too far it may attract those apathetic voters to cast a sympathy vote for Perikatan. Any moving of Najib to home detention would further erode Pakatan support, although it may have an opposite effect for UMNO. 

The above is not to write off Perikatan Nasional. PN have been primarily silenced in the media now. PN are not getting sucked into the controversies that are meaningless electorally. They know there are no votes to be won on issues like the ‘Allah’ sock issue, etc. PN has primarily bypassed the media and putting great effort, and very successfully so, into social media. 

The advisors close to Anwar know the above, so there shouldn’t be any expectations that the nature of his administration will change before the next general election. 

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

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