I have seen some commentators adopt the “left-wing is PR” and “right-wing is BN”. This is not the correct way to look at Malaysian politics. The “right-wing” BN does not champion conservative policies such as the free market – they believe in a tightly controlled market for their cronies. Meanwhile, the “left-wing” PR has a significant PAS advocating an ultra conservative islamic state.
So, I prepared a more helpful demographic to better explain the situation:
- UMNO : The strongest and ruling party in Malaysia, UMNO advocates pro-Malay policies, which also means pro-Islam (due to the interchangeable nature of Islam and Malayness). Economically, they strive for development and strong economic growth, with the majority of gains going to the Malay race, of course. Nonetheless, UMNO is not pure capitalist, but believe in state and crony capitalism.
- DAP: Second in power, and in opposition, DAP advocates a fully equal Malaysia which distributes based on need instead of race / religion. Economically, it strives for meritocracy as well as elimination of corruption. They are mainly going for a good service record in their constituencies – financials, crime rate, hygiene, environment. A common mistake is to confuse DAP with the left. But DAP is silent on most social issues, pro-regulated capitalism, and agnostic to labor. DAP would reduce the political position of Islam, and vehemently oppose both UMNO and PAS islamism.
- PKR: Third in strength, and in opposition, PKR wants political freedom for Malaysia (in realpolitik, means overthrowing BN and installing themselves). They are mainly concerned with eliminating BN’s monopoly of rule, which they contend has bred corruption, increased inequality, and purposefully under-developed rural areas to keep them ignorant. Economically, PKR wants meritocracy and is pro-regulated capitalism. They are moderate on social issues, and prefer the status quo on Islam (continuing to let Islam dominate politics).
- PAS: Fourth in might, and in opposition, PAS wants an Islamic state although they sometimes keep quiet about it. They are not homogenous, but are divided into “moderates” and “conservatives”. Their moderate faction is like PKR, whereas the conservative faction is even more islamic than UMNO. Economically, PAS has no stand whatsoever – Allah will bless the nation.
- BN Sabah/Sarawak: Due to the hodgepodge of races in Sabah/Sarawak, BN in these places is less racist than the norm, although they are still somewhat racist (Dayak, Kadazandusun, etc). They go for state and crony capitalism, in a form even more extreme than the peninsula. Economically, BN Sabah/Sarawak goes for resource exploitation + “no development policy”. The severe lack of development creates an ignorant loyal vote base.
- MCA/MIC/Gerakan: Nearly driven to extinction, these three parties were supposed to countercheck against UMNO, but failed miserably, and were thusly rejected by their component races. These days they don’t really do anything except placeholder for certain ministries.
- PSM: The smallest party in Malaysia with one seat, PSM advocates a socialist country with all the “bells and whistles” – reduced income inequality, high minimum wage, strong labor unions. They belong to the Bolivarian school of socialism invented by Hugo Chavez, and not so much the Nordic socialist model, or the Australian hybrid. As such, the main PSM demographic is the Indian poor.