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DESPITE falling exports and high levels of political uncertainty, the Malaysian economy is continuing to do well. Official figures show that South-east Asia’s third largest economy expanded by a better-than-expected 5.2 per cent in the third quarter.

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Defections by senior retired government officers, together with opinion polls showing his popularlity slipping, appear to have convinced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to delay widely expected national elections until later this year.

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Government supporters are no doubt hoping that the resignation of UMNO minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil on March 11 will take some of the sting out of opposition claims that the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak is soft of corruption. But the damage may already have been done.

Key Political Risks

Now that the general assembly of UMNO, the senior partner in the ruling National Front coalition government, is over, the long-awaited general election could be held at any time. Constitutionally, Prime Minister Najib Razak has to call elections before April 21st 2012, after which the Elections Commission must hold the election within 60 days.

Widely expected to be the most hotly contested in Malaysian history, the polls will pit Mr Najib's government against a rival political coalition led by charismatic opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. 

While the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance attacks what is says are the corrupt and authoritarian ways of the government, Mr Najib has been describing the opposition coalition as an unnatural alliance of Islamic fundamentalists and multi-ethnic and liberal parties.

The strong economy is likely to favour the government.


  • The size of the expected government victory, particularly the ability of the ruling party to retake control of key states such as Selangor. Mr Najib needs to win convincingly if he is to implement long-delayed economic reforms. These include reducing oil and food subsidies and introducing a goods and services tax to boost government revenue.
  • The ability of Mr Najib to placate conservative elements of his Muslim-based UMNO party who disapprove of his policy of boosting national unity through greater inter-faith and ethnic tolerance.
  • The extent to which the government is able to convince the public that the coming elections will be free and fair. If the election result is close, influential organisation such as Bersih could declare them illegitimate, and stage major protests.

About Me

My name is Dr Bruce Gale and I am a senior writer with the Singapore Straits Times. I studied at  LaTrobe University (BA Hons) in Melbourne and later at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Monash University (MA). My PhD thesis, which focussed on Malaysian political economy, was completed at the Malaysian National University (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in 1987.

From 1988 to 2003 I was Singapore Regional Manager for the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). 

I have written several books and articles on Southeast Asian affairs, including Political Risk and International Business: Case Studies in Southeast Asia (Pelanduk Publications, 2007). Books on language include Mastering Indonesian: a guide to reading Indonesian language newspapers (Pelanduk Publications, 2008)

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