Is change really on the cards in the Malaysian General Election?

Political scientist Professor Edward Aspinall from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific has just returned from a whirlwind two-week tour of every state in Malaysia, talking to voters and candidates, and getting a sense of the political mood. He says that it is more nuanced picture than social media or the Internet might indicate.

“It’s an extremely varied picture on the ground,” said Aspinall.

“You get a change of mood as you move from state to state. In some places you can see there’s a really strong mood for change, but once you go out into the rural Malay heartland you see a much more complicated picture and see the strength Barisan National (BN) has in terms of having a formidable political machinery.”

Aspinall added that both the ruling Barisan National party and the opposition party were both trying to appeal to Malaysian’s hip pockets to secure their votes.

“Obviously (Barisan National) are running on an economics-focused message and their major campaign is about how they’ve fulfilled on their promises in the past.

“But [the opposition] have also emphasised economic policies. For instance, we went on a walkabout with campaigners for a DAP candidate from Sibu in Sarawak, and when they approached voters they were emphasising economic and social welfare policies.”

He said that although he doesn’t know which party will win, he thinks the incumbents will be hard to topple.

“Just seeing how formidable the BN machinery is on the ground in those rural areas – it’s capacity to reach right down to the household level – it’s a formidable machine that will be hard to beat,” said Aspinall.