The clear messages from Cameron Highlands
‘There are very clear messages from the Cameron Highlands by-election. Harapan must take heed of these and act accordingly, or face the prospect of dwindling support from the populace – and even a possible loss in GE15. That would be a major setback for reform”– P. Gunasegaram
QUESTION TIME | If the Pakatan Harapan coalition was in thinking and strategising mode instead of inter- and intra-party feuding, posturing and jostling for power and privilege, they may have been able to better see what was happening on the ground and prevented a bigger loss in the Cameron Highlands parliamentary by-election on January 26.
This seat was won by BN with a majority of just 547 votes in GE14, but this time around, BN’s majority widened considerably to 3,238 votes with Ramli Mohd Nor garnering 12,038 votes, while the closest contender, Harapan’s DAP candidate M Manogaran, got 8,800 votes.
There are three strong messages that come out from this Cameron Highlands result. It is imperative that Harapan take notice of these if they are to keep up their momentum and continue to fire the imagination of all sectors of the Malaysian public for change.
Even more importantly, coming up to nine months after achieving power, they need to start showing some results instead of bickering among themselves, and in the case of PKR, very tellingly within themselves, to show that they have the wherewithal to take this country decisively to a higher plane and keep going higher.
The first message is this – that an UMNO and PAS alliance can be a strong galvanising force to unite Malays, especially in the clear absence of any party within Harapan to stake a solid claim to represent Malay interests.
It was a matter of time before UMNO and PAS realised that and closed ranks. If Harapan had been in thinking mode, they would have long ago realised this and thought about it. But they needed this Cameron Highlands blast to jerk them out of their reverie, to sit up and take notice. They have lost valuable time.
The last general election results showed decisively that Bersatu, with its 13 parliamentary seats won, was nowhere near a replacement for UMNO. Likewise, PAS defectors’ party Amanah, with 11 seats, was a poor shadow of PAS, but it did much better relative to PAS than Bersatu relative to UMNOmno.
It turns out that the party in Harapan which has the greatest amount of Malay and bumiputera support is the multi-racial PKR, which won 48 seats, twice that of Bersatu and Amanah combined, many of that in Malay-dominant areas (see table below).
This indicates that many Malays are prepared to support a multi-racial party with Malay leadership at the very top with non-Malay leaders too at other levels, provided the party adheres to special privileges for Malays and the bumiputera and is prepared to walk the talk, while at the same time committing to stopping the abuse of such privileges.
It may be too early to dissolve all parties within Harapan to have one single multi-racial party. However, Harapan will do well to look at that, as well as other arrangements such as partial mergers between, say, Bersatu and Amanah or between PKR, Bersatu and Amanah, leaving out DAP if the time for that has not yet come.
Harapan needs to address urgently the vital issue of how to get Malay support. And they should not exclude a possible alliance with PAS for this, thus pulling the carpet from under UMNO.
This may require a leadership change within PAS and the dropping of DAP’s virulent opposition to the Islamic party. To bring PAS into the Harapan fold will help moderate its demands in terms of Islamisation and improve dialogue for a more constructive solution towards religious harmony, which will be acceptable to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Patience wearing thin
The second message is that the candidate does matter under some circumstances, and it certainly did in Cameron Highlands. Sometimes it is necessary to look for the right candidate instead of blindly getting the previous candidate to stand.
BN was willing to do exactly that to get MIC to give up its claim for the seat and pass it to a qualified Orang Asli candidate who was a former assistant commissioner in the police force and a direct member of BN. If Harapan had been thinking, they could have got him instead.
That move ensured strong Orang Asli support, who formed 22 percent of the constituency against an Indian population of just 15 percent, a Chinese population of 30 percent and 34 percent Malays (adds up to 101 percent due to a rounding error). Also, the candidate is Muslim which would have ensured more Malay support as well.
Harapan will do well to remember that an increasingly discerning public will demand better candidates to be their representatives, not UMNO has-beens. Bersatu, especially, should be looking out for capable candidates for GE15 who are not of the UMNO mould. It is some cause for celebration that an Orang Asli has finally entered Parliament in Malaysia.
The final message is that the public is starting to get disillusioned with Harapan. In the Port Dickson by-election of Oct 13, some three-and-a-half months ago, Anwar Ibrahim won by a 23,560-vote majority, higher than the previous majority of 17,710, despite a lower turnout when Harapan contested against a PAS candidate who got 7,456 votes.
Former UMNO strongman and Najib Abdul Razak ally Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, who contested as an independent, lost his deposit with 4,230 votes, while Anwar’s former aide who accused him of sodomy, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan garnered just 82 votes. According to an analysis by Malaysiakini, Anwar garnered more Malay support in Port Dickson than that obtained there in GE-14.
Yes, the dynamics were different in Cameron Highlands, but Harapan needs to note that the people’s patience is wearing thin. If it can show some tangible results in terms of fulfilling election manifesto promises and outline a definite plan of action, Harapan can do much better in future by-elections.
There are very clear messages from the Cameron Highlands by-election. Harapan must take heed of these and act accordingly, or face the prospect of dwindling support from the populace – and even a possible loss in GE15. That would be a major setback for reform.
P GUNASEGARAM says it is dangerous to ignore the writing on the wall as a new chill wind blows in. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.