NEW: Ruling coalition returned to power, results show
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has not conceded the race
Barisan Nasional has been in power for more than 50 years
Allegations of vote-rigging have marred the election
Malaysia’s ruling party has extended its decades-long grip on power after one of the country’s most hotly contested parliamentary votes.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional coalition has ruled Malaysia for 56 years. Razak, the son and nephew of former prime ministers, has been in office since 2009 and appears to have won a new mandate in Sunday’s vote, according to results from Malaysia’s electoral commission, which reported the coalition won 133 seats in parliament.
Razak’s leading challenger, Anwar Ibrahim, and his Pakatan Rakyat party – which won 89 seats, according to the commission – have not yet conceded the vote, however, alleging widespread vote-rigging before and during the election.
Turnout was high, with the election commission saying 80% of eligible Malaysians have voted. The weeks leading up to Sunday’s poll saw reports of firebombs, texted death threats and beatings. Just days before polling booths opened, the potential for voter fraud was being alleged after reports that indelible ink used to mark the fingers of advance voters was washing off with water.
“The whole purpose of introducing indelible ink is to cut off multiple voters – that is now being compromised by low quality ink,” said Maria Chin Abdullah from BERSIH 2.0, which campaigns for electoral reform.
“The election commissioner had the cheek to tell us they forgot to shake the bottle. How ridiculous can that be, right?”
In a bid to end the claims, Malaysia’s election commissioner staged a public demonstration Thursday to prove his assertion that the ink could not in fact be washed off.
Other allegations surfaced Sunday, with Ibrahim’s party and election observers alleging the government exchanged cash for votes and brought in foreigners to cast their ballots in favor of Barisan Nasional.
The ruling coalition disputed the allegations and said the vote was free and fair.
Ibrahim, a former finance and deputy prime minister, served time in prison on corruption and sodomy charges which he says were politically motivated. The first sodomy charge was overturned in 2004 and in January 2012 he was acquitted of a second charge of sodomy, a serious offense in Malaysia which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Ethnic tensions bubble beneath vote
In a hard-fought campaign, both parties tried to entice voters with promises of generous government spending, though analysts say it’s ultimately a choice between old and new, the status quo and an untested opposition.
“Both manifestos actually do not contain anything policywise; there are just little giveaways, they promise you this, promise you that but there’s not much policy difference between both of them,” said James Chin, professor of political science at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University.
Bubbling under the surface is racial tension that has divided the country ever since Barisan Nasional introduced policies in the 1970s to favor ethnic Malays. The country’s constitution effectively splits the country between Bumiputera, or ethnic Malays, and natives of Sarawak and Sabah, and citizens of mostly Chinese or Indian descent.
According to the CIA World Factbook, just over 50% of the country is Malay, while Chinese make up 23.7% and Indians 7.1%.
There are set government quotas on how much of the country’s wealth should be held by Bumiputera. They are entitled to discounts on housing and must be offered enough stock in a company if it wants to be listed on the stock exchange.
The policy has created discontent that the opposition harnessed in its campaign, saying the policies must be reformed to create a more open society. But one analyst said a PR win would not mean wholesale change.