'End of an era' for Malaysia's Barisan Nasional, after corruption issues hurt candidates at GE15: Analysts
SINGAPORE: Analysts on Sunday (Nov 20) said the results of Malaysia's 15th General Election (GE15) marked the "end of an era" for Barisan Nasional (BN), with corruption playing a key role in the downfall of the country's former ruling coalition.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) won 81 seats while Perikatan Nasional (PN) emerged victorious in 73 seats. BN finished a distant third with 30 seats, down from the 79 it won at the last election in 2018.
Among the key BN figures who lost their seats were finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin and veteran MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob did, however, retain his seat, as did BN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
"What we've been seeing tonight is that it's the end of an era," political observer Serina Abdul Rahman from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute said during CNA's election night broadcast early on Sunday.
With less than half of the number of seats secured by other parties, "they've just lost all the clout that they've had for more than 61 years", she added.
Dr Serina also described the result as "pushback" for the last two to three years of tumultuous Malaysian politics.
Dr Francis Hutchinson, also from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, added later in the broadcast that BN did not do enough following its defeat at the last election in 2018.
"One of the things that kind of stands out is, given the huge loss that they had in 2018, you really didn't see any internal party renewal, there was no cleansing," he said.
"It was very much the old guard and the traditional people staying in power, so what we're really now kind of seeing is this coming home to roost – both in terms of the people leaving or being ejected in the run-up to the election … This is payback for not cleaning up," he added.
Analysts CNA spoke to on Sunday said that it was clear what brought down the coalition.
"Zahid destroyed the party's choices by his leadership, and campaign decisions," said Ms Bridget Welsh, an honorary research fellow of the University of Nottingham Malaysia's Asia Research Institute.
"He was not the right leader to lead UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) into the campaign and his focus on himself ... backfired."
"Zahid may have won, but I do think he – and corruption generally as an issue – dragged them down," said Dr Meredith Weiss, professor of political science at the University at Albany.
Ms Aira Nur Ariana Azhari, manager of the democracy and governance unit at think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), pointed to a swing in the Malay vote – as well as youth vote – to PN, especially in the northern states of Perak, Kedah and Penang.
"It has been the trend where UMNO Malay supporters have started to shift from UMNO to PN," said Dr Lau Zhe Wei, assistant professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia’s political science department, adding that in this GE, the swing was "more than enough" to help PN triumph in a number of seats.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said BN had called the election too late.
"If they (had called) the polls right after the Johor state election which saw their overwhelming win, then perhaps they could (have ridden) on the Johor win to a national win," Dr Oh said.
"But more than half a year later, during this rainy season, and when more scandals (have) been dug out which sort of implicated a number of leaders in the Barisan Nasional, I think perhaps the voters had second thoughts."
WHAT'S NEXT FOR BN?
With Malaysia now in the midst of a hung parliament scenario, BN could still play a role in determining who governs the country. But the coalition would have to make major changes if it is to revive its fortunes, the analysts said.
Referring to a "magnanimous" statement from Mr Zahid on BN's acceptance of the election results, Dr Hutchinson said: "They're kind of positioning themselves as now a minor party, which, of course, is a real climbdown."
However, Dr Hutchinson added that BN's haul was "not an inconsequential number of seats … so they could be part of an extended rainbow coalition".
Speaking specifically about BN's main component party UMNO, Dr Oh said that he does not see this election defeat as the end of the road.
"UMNO, it's very resilient, it has an incredible ability to resurrect itself, such as it did less than two years after it was historically defeated in 2018 – it came back into power," he said.
"So I think with the current batch of senior leaders (being) in a sense purged, and with new leaders coming up, UMNO will still have the kind of resources and enough support within the Malay community to resurrect itself in the future."
Director at government affairs and public policy consulting firm BowerGroupAsia Adib Zalkapli said it could no longer be business as usual for BN going forward.
"It's a major setback for BN; after losing two general elections in a row, perhaps this is an opportunity for party rejuvenation," he said.
"They can no longer operate the way they used to. Fresh leadership would help."