Lim Guan Eng. Source: Wikimedia
An opposition-controlled Malaysian state is considering early elections as a corruption scandal hits its chief minister in a move that might strengthen the all-conquering Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition.
The Democratic Action Party (DAP) was holding talks with its allies before deciding whether to call elections in Penang, the state’s chief minister Lim Guan Eng said. Coalition partners the People’s Justice Party (PKR) said it was not convinced of the need for an early election.
The PKR president in Penang, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, said: “We believe we are yet to be convinced of the goal or objective of holding the elections. We are prepared to continue discussions … on this matter.” And the DAP appears ready to talk.
“We will not make a unilateral decision, we will discuss it with our coalition partners,” Lim told the media. “When you talk about making a decision together, it will naturally take some time. Of course, it cannot be forever.”
Lim was charged in June with corruption and abuse of power over property deals. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on 1 million ringgit (US$249,000) bail.
The opposition is in crisis, having splintered amid political differences since the 2013 general election. With one leader in jail and Lim facing charges that could result in jail time, the opposition is failing to mount a united front against Najib.
Political fatigue was also affecting the Malaysian electorate which might harm the opposition in Penang if an election was held, said Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
“The point of calling for early elections is to show strong support,” Ooi opined. “Lukewarm support will not do. Weakening support for the opposition will be demotivating for their supporters in the rest of the country.”
Najib has won provincial polls in the biggest Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo in May and two federal by-elections in June.
Opposition parties hold 75 per cent of seats in the Penang assembly, meaning Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) is unlikely to regain power in the state that it lost control of in 2008.
Lim became Penang’s first opposition chief minister in 36 years in 2008. He is also Malaysia’s only ethnic-Chinese state leader. Penang is the second-smallest state but one of its largest contributors to GDP, hosting foreign electronics firms like Intel Corp.
The DAP has 19 seats in the state’s assembly while PKR has 10.
“If DAP Penang decides to go head with the snap polls, it is no loss to BN,” said Fui Soong of the Centre for Strategic Engagement in Kuala Lumpur.