12 Feb The Be all and End all? BN’s continued strength
Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim is contesting a seat in Kajang in Selangor in order to be eligible to take over the role of chief minister. Selangor, which is run by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PKR) and is Malaysia’s richest state, has seen rising religious tensions, most recently over the seizure of Malay-language bibles in the state; the opposition claims that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) is stirring this up. Anwar claims he is running in order to provide stronger political leadership. The current chief minister, Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, is a good steward of the economy, but has been unable to contain the political problems in Selangor.
Meanwhile, in East Malaysia, Taib Mahmud, the long-serving chief minister of Sarawak, has announced his retirement. He faces allegations of corruption in offering palm oil concessions in the state, and is blamed by environmental groups for Sarawak’s rapid deforestation. However, his retirement does not mean that his influence will wane. Press reports state that he is seeking to become Sarawak’s governor, which would allow him to remain in power.
These two seemingly unrelated events showcase that although the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) did poorly in the 2013 elections, it remains strong. In Selangor, Anwar has been forced to step in to provide stronger political leadership to the opposition. His planned move to Selangor is self-serving, as it positions himself better for higher office, but also demonstrates his insecurity over PKR’s ability to control Selangor. In Sarawak, Taib Mahmud’s influence will linger on, and provided that he is able to control its patronage networks, East Malaysia will continue to remain BN’s “fixed deposit”.
What these incidents demonstrate is that BN retains entrenched advantages, which allow it to use nationalism and patronage in order to remain in power. Despite political maneuvering by the opposition these advantages will not disappear quickly.
Anwar: What I would do as Selangor MB [Malaysiakini, 4 Feb 2014]
Controversial Malaysia state boss due to ‘retire’, but keep influence [Yahoo (Reuters), 10 Feb 2014]