Organized Panel Session
The 14th General Election in Malaysia was often described as a three-cornered fight for the Malay electorate United Malay National Organization (UMNO), Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Pakatan Harapan (PH). While undeniably critical, this paper claims that another three-cornered fight was equally important, yet undeservingly received far less attention. The paper argues that the interaction between incumbent Prime Minister, Mohamed Mahathir, the de facto leader of PH, Anwar Ibrahim, and former Prime Minister, Najib Razak, played a crucial role in swaying not only the Malay electorate, but Malaysians overall. Conceptually, the paper resorts to critical gender studies, employing the notions of normative masculinity and femininity to explore how the contest of masculinities between Mahathir, Anwar and Najib succeeded in re-imagining the election as an emergency situation. Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years, re-entered the political scene as a testimony of sacrifice for his nation, forgave his long-term political foe, Anwar Ibrahim, and was filmed weeping with regret to have supported Najib’s political ascension. Anwar, ousted from his Deputy Prime Minister position and imprisoned based on charges of sodomy by Dr Mahathir, also forgave the latter claiming that saving Malaysians from Najib’s corrupt hand was more important. More specifically, this paper argues that by adopting markedly feminine traits during the campaign, such as forgiveness, kindness, sacrifice and tearing, Mahathir and Anwar have, in fact, projected such transgressions of their masculinities as the crisis of the nation.