Webinar on “Political Coalitions and Malaysia’s Next General Election: Compete or cooperate? (It’s complicated)”

In this webinar, Dr Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi, Selangor, delved into the complex political dynamics between and within coalitions in the run-up to Malaysia’s 15th General Election.


Monday, 20 June 2022 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar titled “Political Coalitions and Malaysia’s Next General Election: Compete or cooperate?” with guest speaker Dr Ong Kian Ming. Dr Ong was formerly the Malaysian Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry (2018 to 2020) and has been a Member-of-Parliament (MP) since 2013 representing the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Prior to joining politics, he worked in the fields of management consultancy and academia. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, with an economics undergraduate from the London School of Economics (LSE).

Dr Ong Kian Ming (left) shared about the possible inter-coalition dynamics in the next general election. With Dr Norshahril Saat as moderator. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Ong began his presentation with an overview of the events leading up to the Sheraton Move in February 2020. He argued that Azmin Ali, one of the key protagonists in the Sheraton Move, had deep reservations towards the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition since its formation. The departure of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) from Pakatan Raykat (PR) in 2015 compelled the remaining component parties to form PH. Dr Ong commented that Azmin, as the then Chief Minister of Selangor, perceived his Chief Minister’s position as significantly weakened without the inclusion of PAS. Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), led by Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin, joined the PH coalition in 2016.

Dr Ong further shared that Mahathir was chosen as PH’s Prime Minister candidate prior to the 2018 General Election due to the insistence of DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, despite much resistance from Azmin and PPBM. PPBM had preferred its party president Muhyiddin as the coalition’s Prime Minister candidate. Azmin and Muhyiddin would eventually stage the Sheraton Move as they withdrew support from PH, leading to a mid-term change of administration in 2020.

Dr Ong argued that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri faces a catch-22 situation on whether to call for an early general election or complete the full parliamentary term which lasts until September 2023. Dr Ong explained that Ismail Sabri – in terms of party hierarchy – is subservient to his party president Zahid Hamidi within the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Zahid has an interest to push for an early general election as he is currently under trial for corruption with the verdict expected to be delivered in the coming months. In addition, UMNO hopes to capitalise on the low voting turnout as seen in the recent Melaka and Johor state election which has enabled the party to achieve landslide victories. Dr Ong cautioned however that Ismail Sabri remains uncertain if he would retain the Prime Minister post after the general election. In addition, there is a desire within certain segments in UMNO for a general election to be held only after the conclusion of corruption trials. Dr Ong shared that the opposition PH is prepared to extend the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which is tentatively due to expire next month, on the condition that an anti-hopping bill is passed in the upcoming July parliamentary session.

Dr Ong subsequently shared on the possible inter-coalition dynamics in the next general election. He conceded that there are ongoing informal discussions between PH and Perikatan Nasional (PN) to deliberate on seat negotiations for the upcoming general election, with the objective to avoid multi-cornered fights against BN. Dr Ong however dismissed the possibility of a joint electoral campaign or alliance between PH and PN. Instead, he commented that a pre-election agreement, if agreed upon between PN and PN, is likely to be informal and localised. Dr Ong nonetheless acknowledged that, depending on the outcome of the next general election, PH may choose to collaborate with BN at the state level in certain regions.

In the question-and-answer session, participants asked if Mahathir remains an influential figure in the upcoming general election, the possibility for PH to regain electoral support among ethnic Malays, the trust deficit for PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim, among others. The webinar attracted 154 participants.

Dr Norshahril Saat, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)