Significant political events that happened in Malaysia in 2023
This year, Malaysia was not short of significant events which further coloured the nation's political landscape.
2023 also marked the erosion of the moderate middle ground, which made divisive racial and religious rhetoric a more profitable strategy than ever before, particularly for the Perikatan Nasional coalition. While the unity government completed their one year in office, the looming challenges of political disillusionment and polarisation threaten to reshape the contours of Malaysian politics indefinitely.
The government’s choices in navigating these trends will not only determine its electoral prospects but also the future of Malaysian politics. The clock is ticking, and the unity government’s actions — or inactions — in the face of these challenges will be its ultimate litmus test. Here are some five significant political highlights which coloured the past year:
UMNO EXPELS AND SUSPENDS NOTABLE AND SENIOR PARTY MEMBERS INCLUDING FORMER CABINET MINISTERS
In January, Malaysia's political landscape was forever altered as Umno president and current Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi in one fell swoop expelled or suspended those who had spoken out against his decisions for the party, including his decision to become bosom buddies with the party's long time arch nemesis DAP.
Outspoken former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin was thrown out along with Noh Omar, who was the former Entrepreneur Development and Cooperative minister and former Umno chieftain in Selangor for several years.
Former Defence Minister and Sembrong Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein found himself suspended for six years, along with the party’s former information chief and two others.
“Umno members who have been sacked based on disciplinary breaches, according to the party's constitution, due to wrongdoings during the 15th General Election are Noh Omar and Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar,” the party said in a statement after its Supreme Council met on the third week of January.
“Umno members whose rights in the party have been suspended for six years are Hishammuddin Hussein, Maulizan Bujang, Mohd Salim Sharif and Shahril Sufian Hamdan.” the statement read.
Khairy had responded on social media.
“Tonight, I was sacked by the party I love, to which I owe allegiance. Unbowed, unbent, unbroken,” he wrote on Twitter.
The sackings and suspensions did not come as a complete surprise to many because Zahid had announced a purge earlier.
The party would carry out a “large-scale cleansing,” targeting those who had “sabotaged” the organisation and “shot themselves in the foot,” Zahid told reporters then. “Those who haven’t felt the heat yet, they will, tomorrow night.” Umno's statement did not list these members’ “disciplinary breaches,” but their so-called transgressions were well-publicised.
The move cost the party its strong grassroots support and has further caused division among party members.
PRIME MINISTER DATUK SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM'S CONTROVERSIAL POLITICAL RESPONSE TO A STUDENT
Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's controversial response to a student inquiry about racial quotas in education evoked mixed reactions from political leaders and youth groups.
A student had asked Anwar a question about the country's quota system, limiting the prospects of Chinese and Indian students pursuing tertiary education at public universities. Anwar had answered her question in a harsh manner and stopped the young student several times from trying to further explain her question.
"When will the quota system be abolished and replaced by a meritocracy system? My friends and I, as well as others that are not known, are affected by this quota system, all because they don't have Bumiputera status," the Kolej Matrikulasi Pulau Pinang student had asked.
Anwar then stopped her before she could explain, with the visibly shaken student stammering at one point.
He then told her that she should have followed previous sessions as he had already answered a similar question.
"If you had followed the Temu Anwar' sessions... someone had asked this question, and I already answered. Next time, follow." Anwar then spoke for about 10 minutes, while criticising the student for not being fair to Bumiputera in remote schools.
He said instead of touching on the quota system, where Bumiputera are prioritised for intake into public universities, the student should have pointed out specific cases of non-Malays being denied entry so that the government could look into them.
The student tried to explain several times, only to be cut off by the Prime Minister, who was greeted with applause.
Anwar then ended the session by saying that abolishing the quota system would cost him the elections.
Malaysian took to social media to criticise Anwar's response, with many saying the Prime Minister acted like a bully to an honest question posed by a young student who did not expect a political answer.
KEDAH MENTERI BESAR DATUK SERI MUHAMMAD SANUSI MD NOR ALLEGEDLY INSULTING THE SELANGOR ROYAL INSTITUTION
During a Perikatan Nasional talk in Selayang, Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor was reported to have belittled the appointment of Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari by the Sultan of Selangor.
Sanusi also drew comparisons between the Sultan of Kedah (Al-Aminul Karim Sultan Sallehuddin Sultan Badlishah) and the Sultan of Selangor in appointing Amirudin as Menteri Besar which he labelled as 'cokia' (substandard).
Due to the incident, several police reports were lodged against him as well as criticism including from Pas spiritual leader Datuk Hashim Jasin, who was quoted as telling Sanusi and other party leaders to watch their language when commenting on the 3Rs - race, religion and royalty.
Police also launched an investigation into Sanusi It was also reported that police launched an investigation into Sanusi for the remarks he made, which later led to Sanusi sending an apology warkah (letter) to Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah to explain his remarks.
"In the warkah, I started off by apologising and seeking forgiveness while hoping that the wrath of the DYMM Tuanku Sultan Selangor would not arise due to the issues that were deliberately raised from the speeches (that Sanusi made during the ceramah).
"In addition, I pray for the good health of the Sultan of Selangor as well as the Tengku Permaisuri Selangor," Sanusi had posted on his Facebook account.
STATE ELECTION STALEMATE SUGGEST CRACKS IN PRIME MINISTER ANWAR IBRAHIM'S UNITY GOVERNMENT
Malaysia’s August 2023 state elections left the country’s political landscape in a precarious equilibrium.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim kept the opposition at bay, but his unity government — an alliance of political forces anchored by the Pakatan Harapan coalition and the former long-time ruling coalition Barisan Nasional — lost ground, mainly in Malay-majority constituencies.
A significant loss. Although the unity government seems to enjoy a measure of stability, due to the East Malaysian electoral influence and royal endorsement, it still seems to be perched on precarious ground, mainly due to trends that are now shaping public opinion, political disillusionment and polarisation.
TOURISM, ARTS AND CULTURE DATUK SERI TIONG KING SING'S KLIA COMMOTION AND WAR OF WORDS WITH KEDAH MENTERI BESAR DATUK SERI MUHAMMAD SANUSI MD NOR
The relationship between Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing and Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor has been strained recently due to a series of verbal altercations.
The conflict began when Sanusi made a derogatory remark about Tiong, referring to him as a 'pot-bellied deity' during a Kedah state assembly meeting on Dec 1, 2023.
In response, Tiong criticised Sanusi's choice of words and warned him about the potential impact on tourism in Kedah, advising him to 'watch his words' to avoid further damage to the state's tourism industry.
The ongoing feud between the two leaders led to a war of words, with Tiong accusing Sanusi of having 'lost his mind' two days after the derogatory remark was made. In addition to the 'pot-bellied deity' jibe, Tiong also accused Sanusi of requesting additional rice during a meeting, which further fuelled the conflict between two prominent leaders.