One in three candidates from Malaysia’s ruling coalition for the May 5 election will be new as Prime Minister Najib Razak opts for a slate of fresh faces to fend off a resurgent opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim.
“We are going to put many new faces in places and states that we have lost to the opposition,” Najib, 59, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur today. Candidates’ names will be made public tomorrow, with 33 percent new contenders in the national parliament and 49 percent in state assembly seats, the prime minister said.
Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Peter Chin, former Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, former Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz and former Health Minister Chua Soi Lek are among long-serving politicians who have announced they won’t be contesting next month. Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who resigned as minister for women, family and community last year amid a corruption probe against her husband, has also said she won’t run, state news service Bernama reported April 9.
In taking the coalition to the polls for the first time as prime minister, Najib has touted his credentials on fighting graft, and announced cash handouts for low-income families and higher pensions for civil servants. He has warned local leaders to avoid infighting as he seeks to defeat Anwar’s People’s Alliance and extend 55 years of unbroken rule.
Najib didn’t confirm which current and past ministers won’t be running in the election, nor name any of the new contenders.
“The numbers don’t necessarily tell us that he’s actually bringing in new ideas, people who have new talent,” Bridget Welsh, associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University, said by phone. “We have to wait and see who the people are.”
The 13-party Barisan Nasional, also known as the National Front, won 63 percent of seats in parliament in the last election in 2008, its worst performance since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. It lost control of five of the country’s 13 state assemblies, before later regaining power in Perak following defections from the opposition alliance.
Internal sabotage cost the coalition its two-thirds majority in parliament in 2008, Khairy Jamaluddin, UMNO’s youth wing leader, said in an interview last month. Najib’s coalition now holds 137 seats and the opposition alliance has 75, according to the Malaysian parliament website.
Anwar, 65, leads an ideologically disparate opposition that includes one party with mostly ethnic Chinese and another whose members support the wider implementation of Islamic law. While his People’s Alliance party has yet to release its full candidate list, it has announced nominations in some states. Anwar has already said he will defend his seat in Penang.
Brokerages from RHB Investment Bank Bhd. to Citigroup Inc. expect a closer election result than in 2008. The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index closed at a record high on April 11, though it has lagged other benchmarks in Southeast Asia since the start of the year, rising 0.5 percent. The KLCI index closed little changed today.
Najib inherited an economy in recession when he took over in 2009. The economy has expanded by more than 5 percent for each of the past six quarters through the end of 2012, buoyed by domestic demand and investment.
Private investment has tripled since Najib began his economic-transformation program in September 2010, rising 25 percent last year to 139.5 billion ringgit ($46 billion), according to government data.
While Malaysia moved to 54th from 60th place among 176 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year, it was ranked last for bribery among 30 nations surveyed. Najib is trying to counter criticism from the opposition that companies from power producers to toll-road operators have unfairly benefited from their government ties.
Almost half of the people surveyed in a Merdeka Center for Opinion Research poll said fighting graft is a more pressing issue for the government than taming inflation or boosting foreign investment.
The survey of 1,021 voters conducted Jan. 23 to Feb. 6 also showed Najib’s approval rating slipped to 61 percent in early February from 63 percent at the end of December, while 48 percent of respondents said they were “happy” with the government.
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