GE14: Riots unlikely unless purposely started, forum told

A recent dry run to prepare for protests. Although there are concerns over racial riots following the May 9 election, newsman says this is unlikely to happen.

KUALA LUMPUR: A forum in Singapore heard yesterday that racial riots are unlikely to take place in Malaysia after the May 9 general election.

“If there is going to be any trouble on the streets, it’s going to be fomented by certain pressure groups. It’s not going to be a popular uprising,” the Straits Time’s (ST) Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh said.

The possibility of racial riots was one of the questions discussed by three panelists at the ST Global Outlook Forum panel discussion.

Among other questions raised were: What would happen if there was no clear winner and whether Dr Mahathir Mohamad would actually hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim if Pakatan Harapan (PH) wins.

Teoh told the forum on “Malaysia’s General Election: Prospects And Possible Outcomes” that unlike the period when Malaysia’s race riots took place on May 13, 1969, many Malays were now better off economically, therefore race riots were unlikely.

When asked what would happen if no clear winner emerged on May 9, Francis Hutchinson, the coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said if Barisan Nasional (BN) won only 120 parliamentary seats but wrested control of Selangor from PH, “then Najib (Razak) will be in a much stronger position”.

However, if BN fared poorly compared with 2013, BN parties in Sabah and Sarawak might consider switching allegiances, which would lead to closed-door negotiations by BN to keep them in, ST quoted him as saying.

Teoh said if BN failed to get at least 120 seats, Umno could be roiled by an internal coup to replace its president Najib, pointing to the ouster of Abdullah Badawi as Umno president and prime minister after the poor results in the 2008 election as a precedent.

“Unless he does reasonably well, at least as well as he did the last time, we don’t have any certainty that for the next five years he will be prime minister. So it’s not just about 112 seats,” Teoh was quoted as saying.

Teoh was referring to the fact that a minimum of 112 seats are needed for a simple majority in Parliament and to take federal power. In the previous election in 2013, BN won 133 seats, a comfortable 60% share, despite getting just 47% of the total vote.

The opposition parties in 2013 won 89 seats. PAS, which won 21 seats, was part of the previous opposition pact, Pakatan Rakyat. However, it is not part of the new PH coalition. PH now has 72 seats, 40 seats short of a simple majority.

Asked if Mahathir, who heads PH, would relinquish his “interim” prime minister post to Anwar as agreed if PH wins federal power, Teoh said the two men had come to an “uneasy compromise” after realising each had his own sphere of influence.

The ST report quoted Teoh as saying: “But it’s not a straightforward process. It could be a while before you see Anwar getting all the boxes checked so he can become prime minister.”

Anwar, who is in jail for sodomy, is expected to be released in June. However, he cannot contest an election for five years after that and thus become prime minister unless he is pardoned by the king.

Meanwhile, Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank said: “In the case of Malaysia, you’ve had 60-plus years of rule by BN, so if there is going to be a huge change, there will be a fair amount of trepidation.”

The forum was moderated by ST foreign editor Zakir Hussain and sponsored by OCBC Premier Banking.

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