National Press Club

Malaysia's May 5 election 'too close to call,' former U.S. envoy says

April 28, 2013 | By Peter Hickman |

Malaysia's 13th general national election on May 5 will be "the most important---and most hard-fought" in the country's history, a former American ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation, said at an April 24 National Press Club Newsmaker.

John R. Malott, president and chief executive officer of the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., said the United Malays National Organisation and its coalition partners, who have ruled the country since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, face a united and strong opposition "which believes it has a real chance of coming to power".

There are major differences between the ruling party's and the opposition's approaches to political and human rights, economic policy and affirmative action, said Malott, the U.S. envoy to Malaysia from 1995 to 1998.

The election is not "simply a question of who wins," he said.

An opposition victory would bring change in areas including "shifting the focus of the government's affirmative action programs from a race-based to a needs-based system," he said.

Malott said the opposition has also pledged to "crack down on the corruption and crony capitalism that is holding back" Malaysia's economic economic potential, and open up more political space by "easing restrictions on political freedom."

Fortunately for the U.S., "there are no appreciable differences in the foreign policies of either side," he said, but what happens May 5 will have a major impact on Malaysia's future political and economic direction.

"That is why we in the outside world need to pay attention," Malott said. As of now, "the election is too close to call."