‘Bread-and-butter issues’ drive history-making change in Malaysia

by Naimah Talib / 17 May, 2018
Opinion.

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad waiting for him to be sworn in last week. The new Prime Minister's moves will be closely watched as he forms a new government. Photo / Getty Images

Malaysians will be closely watching the formation of their new government after voting for history-making change, writes the University of Canterbury’s Naimah Talib.

A new dawn in Malaysian politics began with the swearing-in of Mahathir Mohamad as the seventh Prime Minister last week. Mahathir, 92, led the historic election victory over the incumbent ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, after six decades in power. Malaysia has never had an opposition party win power before last week and many Malaysians will be closely watching the next steps taken by Mahathir to form a new government.

Mahathir was the premier of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, and his governance style has often been described as “dictatorial”. He emerged from retirement to join the ranks of an opposition united in its resolve to oust the former leader, Najib Razak, from power. Najib’s government was marred by allegations of abuse of power and corruption, including a money-laundering scandal involving state development fund 1MDB, which is currently being investigated internationally.

As leader of the opposition, Mahathir initially faced an uphill task convincing opposition members to work with him. Many in the coalition have had unpleasant experiences with Mahathir, including his erstwhile nemesis and former finance minister, Anwar Ibrahim. In previous elections, Anwar was not able to fully focus as the opposition leader due his long incarceration on trumped-up charges [Editor's note: Anwar was given a royal pardon and released from custody on 16 May 2018]. To his credit, Mahathir managed to resolve differences and broker a working alliance with opposition members, presenting a viable alternative to Barisan Nasional.
High on Mahathir’s agenda is the removal of the GST and replacing it with a more equitable sales and services tax.

Various polls before the election predicted the opposition would increase their gains, but would fall short of securing a simple majority. What turned the tide against BN in this election? What were the issues that pushed people to demand a change in government?

Many observers believe rather than the 1MDB scandal, it was bread-and-butter issues that drove people to vote Najib out of office. The unpopular six percent goods and services tax (GST), which was introduced in 2015 and aimed at decreasing over-reliance on oil revenue, hit the poor- and the lower-middle classes quite hard. Many also pointed to the removal of petrol subsidies as a contributor to the increased cost of living.

One of the first priorities of Mahathir’s government is to fulfil a number of his campaign promises. High on his agenda is the removal of the GST and replacing it with a more equitable sales and services tax. This may prove challenging, given that GST yielded RM44 billion (NZ$16 billion) in 2017. However, it is likely that current higher oil prices will soften the impact of the GST removal. Before the election, the growth forecast for Malaysia was 5.5 percent to 6 percent for this year, and it remains to be seen if the economic strategy and fiscal policy of the new government will be able to sustain economic growth.

Perhaps a bigger challenge facing Mahathir is meeting the rising expectations that often accompany a major change in government. Malaysians have been buoyed with enthusiasm about their future and expect the new government to improve living standards and reduce the cost of living.

Mahathir’s government has a long list of campaign promises to accomplish during its first 100 days in office. The test of Mahathir’s leadership will lie in his ability to manage the pace of change in order to keep up.

 

Naimah Talib is an adjunct senior fellow and part-time lecturer in political science at the University of Canterbury. Views expressed are personal to the author.

– Asia Media Centre

 

Latest

Wally Haumaha appointment process was 'adequate and fit for purpose'
98982 2018-11-12 12:20:20Z Politics

Wally Haumaha appointment process was 'adequate an…

by Jo Moir

An inquiry into the government's appointment of the deputy police commissioner has found the process was "adequate and fit for purpose''.

Read more
Yellow is Forbidden: A Kiwi director's fashion doco stands apart from the rest
98978 2018-11-12 00:00:00Z Movies

Yellow is Forbidden: A Kiwi director's fashion doc…

by James Robins

China’s foremost fashionista is the subject of Pietra Brettkelly's strikingly beautiful new documentary.

Read more
Philip Temple on his relationship with the great NZ writer Maurice Shadbolt
98324 2018-11-12 00:00:00Z Books

Philip Temple on his relationship with the great N…

by Philip Temple

From his new Maurice Shadbolt biography, Temple writes about why he took on the task of recounting the life of this colourful & controversial figure.

Read more
Why you should raise your child as an intuitive eater
98505 2018-11-12 00:00:00Z Health

Why you should raise your child as an intuitive ea…

by Jennifer Bowden

There’s a balance between schoolkids eating enough for their energy needs and learning to recognise hunger through intuitive eating.

Read more
How Cuba Street became the heart of Wellington's bohemia
98657 2018-11-12 00:00:00Z Travel

How Cuba Street became the heart of Wellington's b…

by Redmer Yska

A once-seedy precinct has become an eclectic mix of cafes and hip retailing, its history celebrated in a new book.

Read more
Aro Valley: The home of Wellington's craft-beer success story
98661 2018-11-12 00:00:00Z Travel

Aro Valley: The home of Wellington's craft-beer su…

by Redmer Yska

Aro Valley is a suitably grungy fit for Garage Project, the darling of Wellington's craft beer scene.

Read more
Riders on the storm: Shared bikes and scooters show the need for new road rules
98668 2018-11-12 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Riders on the storm: Shared bikes and scooters sho…

by Virginia Larson

With the advent of ride-share scooters and e-bikes, it's time to reconsider the road rules - so everyone can stay safe.

Read more
Armistice Day: Untold stories of the war wounded and those who cared for them
98832 2018-11-11 00:00:00Z History

Armistice Day: Untold stories of the war wounded a…

by Anna Rogers

Anna Rogers gives these groups, often profoundly damaged by war, the recognition they deserve in her centenary history With Them Through Hell.

Read more