Malaysia’s ex-leader calls PM Najib Razak a ‘monster’ as government push to redraw electoral maps sparks anger
Electoral constituency bill tabled in parliament Wednesday, two days after the government proposed a law to combat ‘fake news’
Scores of activists protested Wednesday outside Malaysia’s Parliament against the government’s plan to redraw electoral boundaries, denouncing it as a method of “cheating” to ensure victory for the ruling coalition in the upcoming general election.
Embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak sought parliamentary approval for the new voting maps, which critics say will worsen inequality among the constituencies and etch them based on racial lines in favour of Najib’s ruling coalition.
Activists say the changes will mean that a ruling party candidate will need fewer votes than an opposition lawmaker to win elections.
Yellow-shirt activists and opposition leaders marched Wednesday from a nearby park but were blocked from entering Parliament by anti-riot police.
“This is the biggest cheating to ever happen,” said activist Maria Chin Abdullah, slamming the government for seeking to push through the unconstitutional changes despite ongoing legal challenges against it in court.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who now heads the opposition alliance, called Najib a “monster” and a “rogue”.
‘’These coming elections will most certainly not be clean,” he told the rally.
Najib told Parliament that the changes were independently proposed by the Election Commission based on geographical changes and denied there was political interference.
Support for Najib’s National Front coalition has dwindled in the last two elections. In 2013, it lost the popular vote for the first time to the opposition.
Najib has been dogged by a multibillion-dollar financial scandal and is under pressure to improve his coalition’s performance.
Bridget Welsh, a political-science professor at John Cabot University in Rome, said the new plan could affect at least of third of the 222 parliamentary seats and six of the 13 state assemblies.
It could potentially help Najib’s coalition, which now holds 132 parliamentary seats, win back a two-thirds majority in parliament, said Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert.
“The government has adopted new practices of packing and cracking, stuffing seats and breaking up areas with support for the opposition,” she said.
The new voting maps are likely to be approved in Parliament with a simple majority vote and can be used in upcoming elections once they receive royal consent.
It would be the sixth time electoral boundaries have been altered since independence from the British in 1957, but the first that doesn’t involve the creation of new seats despite a sharp increase in voters since the last changes were made in 2003.
Elections due by August but widely expected in the next few weeks will pit Najib against the opposition coalition led by Mahathir, who served for 21 years before he stepped down in 2003.
Mahathir made a high-profile comeback to politics two years ago to oust Najib, who has clung to power despite a corruption scandal that involved hundreds of millions of dollars passing through his bank accounts.
The US and several other countries are investigating allegations of cross-border embezzlement and money laundering at the 1MDB state fund, which was set up and previously led by Najib to promote economic development, but which accumulated billions in debt.
The US Justice Department said at least US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by associates of Najib, and it is working to seize US$1.7 billion taken from the fund to buy assets in the US, potentially its largest asset seizure ever.
Najib, who denies any wrongdoing, has fired critics in his government and muzzled the media since the scandal erupted three years ago.
On Monday, the government proposed a new law to outlaw fake news and punish offenders with a 10-year jail term that raised concerns of a crackdown on dissent and media freedom amid the 1MDB scandal.
Analysts say Najib is expected to win a third term due to infighting in the opposition, the unfavourable electoral boundary changes and strong support for the government among rural ethnic Malays.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse