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Insights and Analysis

Tensions High as Malaysians Head to Polls

May 1, 2013

By Herizal Hazri

With only four days left before Malaysians cast their votes in the nation’s 13th general elections, both the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat are intensifying campaign efforts to win the hearts and minds of voters. Political giants from both sides of the competing coalitions, such as the incumbent prime minister, Najib Razak, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, and opposition leaders Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, and Hadi Awang have all attracted massive turnouts at their campaign events. Thousands of posters and flags cover almost every intersection in the country, with some party workers and supporters being more creative than others, making giant replicas of the scale, rocket, and moon from flags to represent their party logos. Even more creative citizens have also “planted” small flower-like flags around Kuala Lumpur to express their hope for a peaceful “Malaysian Spring.”

Malaysia Elections 2013

Election campaign posters cover buildings across Malaysia. The last days of the campaign period have been marred by incidents of political violence, the highest in the history of Malaysian elections. Photo/Flickr user Johnragai

Amid the excitement, the last days of the campaign period have been marred by incidents of political violence, the highest in the history of Malaysian elections. Reports of arson, threats, and physical and verbal abuse from opposing party members appear in the news daily, in sharp contrast to the tolerant and moderate image that Malaysians pride themselves on. From the start of the campaign (April 20, 2013), a staggering 1,166 incidents of political violence have been reported, with 43 arrests made so far.

Some of these incidents are quite serious. For example, last Thursday a petrol bomb was thrown into the house compound of the daughter of a Pakatan Rakyat candidate for the Sri Andalas state seat, setting her car on fire.

Petrol bombs were also thrown at BN operations centers in Penang, Selangor, and Kedah last week, and a bomb exploded in northern Penang state late last Tuesday near a political gathering of the BN coalition, resulting in a 35-year-old security worker being injured by flying debris. Caretaker Penang chief minister, Lim Guan Eng, filed a police report last Thursday over a text message he received that threatened death against his wife and son if he was reappointed as chief minister.

There is no doubt that the coming election will be the most closely contested in the history of the nation. Emotions are flying high for campaigners, politicians are running at full steam to win votes, and voters are eagerly waiting to cast their ballots. This could all mean a brighter future for Malaysia, if both citizens and politicians can contribute to ensuring that the electoral process is free, fair, and safe where all can participate and contest healthily. From what we have seen so far, Malaysia has a long way to go.

Herizal Hazri is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Malaysia. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Malaysia
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions, Elections, Good Governance


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