Malaysia’s long-ruling coalition on Tuesday axed four controversial current and former ministers from May 5 elections as it seeks to portray a fresh image for the hotly contested polls.
The regime dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) faces the greatest threat yet to its 56-year rule, with an up-and-coming opposition tapping into discontent over authoritarianism, graft and living costs.
On Monday, Prime Minister Najib Razak had promised a “transformational team”.
Nominee lists released on Tuesday showed that controversial figures dropped included former women’s affairs minister Shahrizat Jalil and current Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen, two female Barisan leaders accused of corruption.
Information Minister Rais Yatim – a target of online abuse for comments seen as opposing free expression – also was axed.
So was former health minister Chua Soi Lek, a leading politician tarnished by a 2007 video that surfaced, showing him having sex with his mistress. Chua is married.
“This is to satisfy the demands of voters who want to see Barisan Nasional and UMNO change and reform,” Najib had said on Monday.
The Barisan Nasional (National Front) ruling coalition is among the world’s longest-serving governments, its dominance at the ballot box unthreatened since independence in 1957 thanks to decades of economic growth and authoritarian rule.
But it is under pressure from a three-party opposition alliance led by charismatic former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim that tripled its number of parliament seats in 2008 and eyes a historic upset.
Najib – a lifetime Barisan politician who took office in 2009 after the polls setback – has sought to cast himself as a reformist to win back support but faces resistance from UMNO conservatives.
He said a third of Barisan’s parliamentary line-up were new faces, and at least a dozen former leaders who have served in the Cabinet of the multi-ethnic, Muslim-majority country were left off the lists.
But Bridget Welsh of Singapore Management University, who researches Malaysian politics, said the new faces were “a record low” for the coalition.
“This is not a revitalisation, this is a status-quo election list by a cautious, careful and hemmed-in prime minister,” she said, adding Najib faced resistance within UMNO to any substantive shake-up.
She noted that other powerful yet controversial figures made the nominee lists.
Most analysts expect Barisan to win but with a further reduced parliamentary majority.