Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim faces a crucial test of his leadership in the state elections on Saturday, August 12, 2023. The polls will determine the fate of his unity government, which came to power nine months ago after a close-run general election.
Anwar’s government is a coalition of parties that represent different ethnic and religious groups in Malaysia, a multi-racial nation of 32 million people. His vision is to create a progressive and inclusive administration that can overcome the deep divisions and corruption scandals that plagued the previous regime led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
However, Anwar faces a formidable challenge from the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, which is dominated by the Islamist party PAS and the breakaway UMNO faction Bersatu. The opposition has been appealing to the Malay majority, who account for more than 60 percent of the population, by portraying themselves as the defenders of Islam and Malay rights.
The state elections will be held in six of the 13 states in Malaysia: Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perlis and Terengganu. These states are mostly rural and conservative, where PAS has a strong base of support. The opposition is hoping to capitalize on the discontent among the Malay voters.
Anwar, on the other hand, has been campaigning across the country, highlighting his government’s achievements in handling the health crisis, delivering economic stimulus packages, and implementing reforms in governance and education. He has also tried to woo the non-Malay voters, especially the Indians, who have felt marginalized by his government’s focus on winning over the Malays.
The stakes are high for Anwar, who needs to win at least three of the six states to secure his government’s stability and legitimacy. Poor performance could undermine his authority and trigger defections from his coalition partners. A strong showing could boost his confidence and credibility as the leader of a diverse and democratic nation.
The results of the state elections will also have implications for the next general election, which is due by 2025. Anwar will need to consolidate his support base and expand his appeal to a wider electorate while facing the rising challenges from the opposition and civil society. The state elections are thus a pivotal test for Anwar’s unity government and Malaysia’s future direction.