Malaysian polls will be a test for Anwar’s coalition government

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Malaysia is gearing up for a crucial election on August 12, when six states will go to the polls to decide the fate of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition government. The regional elections will not directly affect Anwar’s majority in parliament, but they will be seen as a referendum on his performance and leadership since he took office in November last year.

Anwar’s coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), is facing a tough challenge from a conservative Muslim opposition alliance led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin, who heads the Perikatan Nasional (PN) bloc. PN has gained popularity among the ethnic Malay majority, who make up about 60% of the population, by portraying itself as clean of corruption and championing Malay rights and Islam.

Anwar, on the other hand, has faced criticism for forming an alliance with his former rival, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), which is tainted by corruption scandals involving several of its top leaders. Anwar’s deputy, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, is currently facing 87 charges of corruption, money laundering and criminal breach of trust.

The six states that will vote are Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah. PH currently holds power in three of them: Selangor, Penang and Negeri Sembilan. The other three are ruled by PN or its allies. Some 9.8 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots.

According to the latest opinion poll by YouGov, PH may win 35% of the vote, followed by PN at 20% and the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) at 17%. However, 20% of the respondents did not disclose their choice, making the race too close to call. The poll also showed that Muhyiddin is the most preferred candidate for prime minister, with 33% support, followed by Anwar at 29% and Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the current leader of BN, at 22%.

The main issues that concern voters are the rising cost of living, government integrity and incomes, according to the poll. The election comes amid a sluggish economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit Malaysia hard. The country has recorded more than 1.8 million cases and over 20,000 deaths so far.

The election will also be the first to include millions of young voters who are voting for the first time. The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 last year, adding about 7.8 million new voters to the electoral roll. Analysts say that this group could be a decisive factor in the outcome of the polls.

The election is expected to be a tight and heated contest, with both sides accusing each other of corruption, incompetence and betrayal. Anwar has vowed to never forgive those who steal money and betray the Malays, while Muhyiddin has expressed confidence in making gains against Anwar’s government. Both leaders have also appealed to voters to give them a strong mandate to govern.

The results of the state polls will have implications for the next general election, which must be held by September 2023. If Anwar’s coalition suffers significant losses in the state polls, it could weaken his position and trigger instability within his ruling bloc. If Muhyiddin’s alliance performs well in the state polls, it could boost his chances of returning to power at the federal level.

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