Malaysian voters sided with conservatism in opinion polls over the weekend, analysts said

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It will be a tough road to victory for Malaysia’s reformist party Pakatan Harapan after the weekend’s general election, where voters skewed towards conservative and religious parties, analysts said.

Malaysia faces a hung parliament with no clear coalition winner to form a majority government.

Pakatan Harapan led with 82 seats, followed by the incumbent government coalition Perikatan Nasional with 73, as candidates and coalitions rushed Monday morning to close deals ahead of a 2pm Singapore/HK time limit set by the country’s king. The king then extended the deadline to the same time on Tuesday.

Parties and coalitions must win 112 of the 222 seats in parliament to form a government.

The largest opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, is led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is seeking to become prime minister after being denied leadership for more than two decades. The rival Perikatan Nasional coalition is led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of Pakatan Harapan on Monday morning before meeting the king.

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“I think it will be extremely difficult for PH, despite having won the most seats to form or even join a coalition government,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs , to CNBC.

“And that it’s because I think there’s some form of ‘power’ that the rich are doing their best to prevent PH from ever running the country.”

He said the opposition group’s “slightly reformist image … poses a clear threat to the vested interests of the ruling powers and I think they are very keen to consolidate interests, and they will not be happy to be disrupted by PH’s rule .”

Many of the country’s younger voters, including those aged between 18 and 21 who vote for the first time, have also turned to more conservative parties, despite expectations that the demographic will be more progressive, Oh added. referring to the Islamic PAS festival and the Bersatu festival.

Hopes for reforms to the Malaysian political system dominated by the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition are fading after the weekend’s elections, Oh said.

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While voters beat Barisan in the polls – the coalition won about 30 seats, less than half the number of seats its rivals won – they did not visibly move towards PH, as the results have shown. Instead, they tended toward more conservatism, Oh said.

“In recent years there’s been a realization that maybe we need to turn away from this kind of patronage politics a little bit, but those who turn away from patronage politics, instead of going to the more reformist side, maybe they decided to move to more religious, radicalized or extremist sides,” said Oh.

The historic loss of former Prime Minister and former statesman Mahathir Mohamad of his seat in Langkawi shows that politics in Malaysia is changing, said Better Malaysia Assembly lawyer and brother of imprisoned former Prime Minister Najib Razak, Nazir Razak.

Muhyiddin Yassin, chairman of Perikatan Nasional (PN), says he has the numbers to become prime minister.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

“That’s extraordinary. I mean, that’s like saying, you know, people don’t vote for brands. They vote for what you can deliver for them. So I think the politics are changing,” he told CNBC’s ” Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

Nazir also said more moderate Malaysian voters were surprised by the results.

If reform was what these voters wanted, he added, they would have to “get their act together” and present a better case to the more conservative voters in the north and east, for example.

The youth also did not vote in the direction of a more progressive vote, as they too wanted a Malaysian-led coalition, but not one as liberal as Pakatan Harapan, Nazir said.

Correction: This article has been updated to accurately reflect that Nazir said the youth vote was not leading to a more progressive vote. An earlier version of the story misrepresented him.



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