1. What do you think will be the most important issue that the new government must address?
Amidst all the endless claims and counter-claims of this protracted election-ready period, the Sulu incursion, the multiple recent scandals, the Bersih protests, and so forth, I think either coalition will need to make a concerted effort to restore popular trust in government: in the electoral process, in the policymaking process, and in the reliability and integrity of political leaders.
2. What do you think is Barisan Nasional’s greatest strength?
It has over 50 years’ experience in governing; a dense, nationwide network of supporters; and a valid claim to broad inclusivity–those are all tremendous advantages.
3. What do you think is Barisan Nasional’s greatest weakness?
Two key weaknesses: first, I think the BN lacks a clear ideology, vision, or direction; and second, its key component parties–especially UMNO–are riddled with “money politics” and counter-programmatic, instrumental alliances.
4. What do you think is Pakatan Rakyat’s greatest strength?
While media attention tends to focus on Anwar, Pakatan Rakyat has a number of charismatic, competent leaders who appeal to a range of different constituencies. Really, though, just the fact that the coalition offers “change” is a strength in appealing to disillusioned or frustrated voters.
5. What do you think is Pakatan Rakyat’s greatest weakness?
Opposition pacts and coalitions have historically had a hard time cohering over the long term in Malaysia. Pakatan still has some big issues to iron out–from the specific hierarchy of key leaders in a potential Pakatan government, to the place of Islam within the polity, to the workability and sequence of the reforms it promises (especially in areas that challenge vested communal interests)–if it is to endure and thrive.
6. What is your hope for Malaysia?
I would like to see a truly free and fair election, such that the hopes of the electorate–of which I am not a part–can come to fruition. Beyond that, I hope the media and public sphere broadly can move beyond threats and recriminations, toward serious discussion of policy alternatives on issues ranging from how best to target government assistance, to how to pursue economic development that is truly sustainable in both human and environmental terms, to how to maximize civil liberties and social justice while preserving social harmony.
Meredith Weiss is Associate Professor of Political Science, State University of New York at Albany
New Mandala is asking Malaysians and Malaysianists worldwide their views on the two coalitions vying for power at the 13th general election in Malaysia. Their responses are published unedited.