Why Bersatu/Harapan lost Semenyih


March 6, 2019

Why Bersatu/Harapan lost Semenyih

Opinion  |  P Gunasegaram

 

QUESTION TIME | To examine the reasons for Bersatu/Harapan’s loss in Semenyih, let’s first look at by how much Bersatu lost the Semenyih state seat in the by-election – this is a clear loss because Bersatu held this seat previously. Then it would be easier to look at the reasons that could have contributed to the loss.

There is one vital change from GE14 last May 9 – PAS competed against UMNO as well then, but this time only UMNO stood against Bersatu. PAS instructed its supporters to vote for Umno. The table below compares like with like – by combining Umno and PAS votes in GE14.

As Harapan should have realised by now, UMNO and PAS together are a formidable pair which will, between them, easily obtain more than 50 percent of the Malay votes most of the time. For 2018 (GE14), when we include PAS together with UMNO, the margin of victory for Bersatu/Harapan was rather slim.

The majority in 2018 was 1,988 votes (4.3 percent of total votes cast) in favour of Bersatu. It would have only required a swing of around 2 percent of votes to UMNOo for there to be a change in the results.

That’s exactly what happened. UMNO won with a majority of 1,914 (4.1 percent) in the recent by-election. A vote wing of just 2 percent to UMNO was enough to win the election (50.4 percent of total votes this time, minus 46.4 percent previously divided by two, because what UMNO gains someone else loses).

 

That’s really tiny in the overall scheme of things, just two people out of a hundred switching to UMNO-PAS made a huge difference in this case. This reinforces what happened in Cameron Highlands recently, which shows that UMNO-PAS is a formidable new force to contend with for Harapan, one that has the potential to overthrow Harapan in GE15, unless Harapan takes corrective measures now.

Another factor that stands out starkly is the sharp drop in turnout from 88% at GE14 to just 73 percent this time, a difference of 15 percentage points. This throws out the calculations quite a lot. How these absentee voters would have voted will make a lot of difference during the general elections when they will turn out to vote.

Also, considering that non-Malays may be somewhat indifferent to the latest by-election given Bersatu’s increasingly unfriendly stance towards them and its habit of accepting UMNO defectors, many non-Malay voters may have stayed away from voting, not bothering to return to cast their votes in favour of Bersatu. Thus, Harapan this time did not have the same benefit as the tremendous support shown for the coalition in the last GE by Chinese and Indian votes.

It is no secret that Harapan’s strategy in the last elections in mixed constituencies was to rely on solid support from Chinese and Indian voters, generally estimated to be 90 percent and 80 percent of the races respectively, and then depend on about 30-35 percent Malay support to deliver a majority.

 

 

If we take Semenyih, for instance, it is 68 percent Malay, 17 percent Chinese and 14 percent Indian. Some 90 percent of Chinese support delivers 15.3 percent, while 80 percent of Indian support delivers 11.2 percent, to give 26.5 percent of votes. That means just over 23.5 percent from the Malay vote will be enough to deliver the seat. The figure of 25.3 percent is 34.5 percent of the 68 percent Malays. Thus, with about 35 percent Malay support, it is possible for Harapan to win, even though 65 percent of the Malay support goes to UMNO-PAS.

This was the underlying factor for Harapan’s success in the last elections. It is a reflection of advocating policies which help all Malaysians and not just the Malays. If Bersatu chooses to be more pro-Malay than UMNO-PAS, then it faces the real danger of alienating non-Malays, and hence Harapan’s election chances in future.

In the Malay heartland states of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu, Bersatu did really badly in GE14. Those who abandoned UMNO turned to PAS, PKR and Amanah instead, but seemed to consider Bersatu an UMNO offshoot.

In the west coast, and in Johor Bersatu won some seats due to solid non-Malay support. Even so, they only won 13 seats out of 52 contested in Peninsular Malaysia for a win rate of just 25 percent vs 50 percent for Amanah, over 80 percent for PKR and over 90 percent for DAP in peninsular Malaysia.

The problem is Bersatu’s current stance has deviated considerably from the pre-election promise of justice and equity for all, help for all impoverished groups, and continuing Malay/bumiputera privileges to gain social equity. Instead, they are now engaging in rah-rah politics much like UMNO-PAS and taking an extreme position over both race and religion in accordance with the old Ketuanan Melayu or Malay dominance concept.

That does not cut it with the Harapan promise and therefore poses a major problem to the Harapan coalition, which may be split asunder if some form of sensible compromise is not forthcoming. It is difficult, if not impossible, for one party to be so far out of alignment with Harapan’s original aims.

As it stands, GE-15 promises to be a very close fight if UMNO and PAS remain aligned. The only way Harapan can increase its odds for a more clear-cut victory is to show that it can perform before the elections arrive, especially in terms of tangible benefits such as legal and electoral reforms, new ideas to revitalise the economy, raising incomes, improving education, reducing corruption and facilitating competitiveness.

Under the current circumstances, that’s a tall order. We will have to live with uncertainty for now. Out of entropy, we may eventually get a steady state and stability. But who knows?


 

P GUNASEGARAM likes this quote from Joshua Edward Smith in Entropy -“Keeping things stable takes energy”. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The Semenyih Rebuke


March 5, 2019

The Semenyih Rebuke

Opinion
By Dr.Bridget Welsh

 COMMENT | Explanations abound regarding Pakatan Harapan’s loss. They range from simplistic explanations of ‘identity politics’ and the candidate(s), to failures in messaging/machinery and government performance. In fact, as with all elections, the explanations of voting behaviour usually reflect a combination of factors.

Image result for dr.mahathir mohamad

Ultimately, they all point to one thing: a growing public deficit in the performance of the Harapan government. Harapan has received a serious rebuke – one it needs to take seriously as it moves forward in public engagement and governance.

It is worth remembering that by-elections are opportunities to send signals of dissatisfaction; the message was sent loud and clear. The government has been perceived to inadequately improve the quality of life for ordinary Malaysians, nor offer a substantive integrative programme on how it will do so.

Harapan has been so focused on its own positions and politicking that it lost track of the reasons it was put into office. Jockeying and infighting continued to be on display in the by-election and served to erode public confidence. Reform measures have slowed. In fact, increasingly the trend has been to replicate the practices of UMNO with patronage and racial politics, rather than adopt a programme for all Malaysians.

Much of the damage has been self-inflicted. Harapan continues to think of itself as the opposition, using opposition mode attacks in unnecessary multiple battlefronts (including itself), rather than differentiate itself from BN”.– Dr. Bridget Welsh

Harapan, ironically, has become the target of voter anger and increasing expectations in governance that they, as the previous opposition, had stoked for over a decade. Given growing dissatisfaction, it is no wonder it lost the by-election.

The challenge now is not to adopt a siege mentality, engage in further damaging internal self-recriminations or to continue a divisive, defensive response. A by-election result should not be equated with a potential loss of national government in the future, nor should it be seen as an endorsement of the alternative.

BN won the seat as the opposition. Voters did not vote to return UMNO to power. To view the result as support for the return of Najib to power, or a rejection by the electorate of concerns with kleptocracy of the previous administration, or even an embrace of a pan-Malay agenda, is a deeply flawed over-stretch.

Growing voter disengagement

To understand the Semenyih election and lessons it suggests, this article looks at voting over time in this constituency, drawing from an analysis of polling stations results from the 2008 election onwards, and ties the discussion to the trends developing over the last six post-GE14 contests.

The first finding is that voter turnout has dropped across races (and notably among younger people). This is normal is most by-elections, as these contests are not seen as important.

Yet, what is interesting is that voter turnout has dropped across all the communities. From an ethnic perspective (as shown in Figure 1), there was a 22 percent drop among the Chinese electorate in Semenyih, followed by a 16 percent drop among Indians, and nine percent among Malays.

 

https://i.ncdn.xyz/publisher-c1a3f893382d2b2f8a9aa22a654d9c97/2019/03/817a74fa40a9e880501b98ceec0e68ce.gifAll the parties are not mobilising like they used to, but Harapan in particular, which used issue-based mobilization in the past, has not been able to develop a message to attract voters to come to the polls compared to the past.

Not only has Harapan not been able to move its campaigning into a different mode, it is losing its own base. This is especially true among non-Malays. Many Chinese and Indians, in particular, are unhappy with Harapan and opted to stay home. Lower voter turnout suggests a more worrying trend overall, disappointment in parties and growing cynicism in the electorate.

Disaggregating identity politics

The second finding is that support did swing to BN, especially among Malays (shown in Figure 2) and among younger voters. There was a large estimated gain of 27 percent among Malay voters.

 

https://i.ncdn.xyz/publisher-c1a3f893382d2b2f8a9aa22a654d9c97/2019/03/1d93a634ff28ea329c0640bcbcf8b53f.gifA closer look at this pattern (shown in Figure 3), examining Malay support for Harapan, is a loss of eight percent of Malays who voted for it in GE14. Most of the gain in support for BN in the by-election, thus apparently, has come from previous PAS voters in GE14.

Harapan attacks and outreach efforts to PAS failed, and the beneficiary has been Umno, which incidentally has won the most electorally with the PAS-Umno alliance. BN support has apparently returned to the levels of the past when there was no three-cornered fight. It would seem that PAS was decisive in the election.

This analysis, crediting the Islamist party, is premature. PAS, as part of Pakatan Rakyat in the 2013 election, only yielded essentially the same level of support among Malays as occurred in the by-election, 28-29 percent. The Islamist party has much less leverage among voters than it thinks.

What is primarily going on is not about a religious agenda – it is about a protest against poor governance and, to a lesser extent, about racial identity, which was a factor in GE13 and in the recent polls.

Further study will be needed to access the extent governance and/or race was important as opposed to religion, but the results suggest a need to disaggregate these factors and not equate support for Malay rights and representation with that of a conservative religious agenda. Identity politics needs to be carefully assessed, especially given that the priority of voters is the economy, not identity.

Harapan core base remains (for now)

Finally, the data (Figure 3) shows Chinese and Indian support for Harapan among voters who do go to the polls remained the same at GE14. Harapan still has an important core base. These voters have not (yet) changed their political loyalties, opting to stay home rather than change camps.

 

https://i.ncdn.xyz/publisher-c1a3f893382d2b2f8a9aa22a654d9c97/2019/03/b899b0dfe2a8376bd0e2daf1e7cf74ac.gifThe savvy MCA campaigns, which dominated Chinese social media, have not translated to more support for BN at the voting booth. BN remains a non-functioning multi-ethnic coalition and, in fact, its increasingly ethnically narrow campaigning has alienated non-Malays, with a marginal loss of support for BN among Chinese. The BN, as a coalition, will continue to face difficulty winning multi-ethnic seats.

Harapan has significant support despite the loss, including among Malays. Its support in Semenyih from Malays is still higher than the national average in GE14 of 23.5 percent. To say that Harapan does not have Malay support is not correct. It does have a critical core – many of whom voted for change.

The challenge ahead for Harapan is to keep its promises of what got it into office – better governance, reform and truly national leadership. Semenyih offers an opportunity to make changes, to learn that Harapan can only be successful working together as a coalition, prioritizing government performance and putting its focus on Malaysians. The Semenyih rebuke is an opportunity to get back on track toward a better Malaysia.


 

Dr.BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Centre for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Centre, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book is the post-election edition of ‘The end of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s former dominant party.’ She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malay uber alles, above everybody else


December 27, 2019

Malay uber alles, above everybody else

Opinion
by  S. Thayaparan

 

COMMENT | After Harapan won the last election, I assumed we had some breathing space.

“So I urge young Malays to plan their lives properly. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Malaysia is a sick Muslim country that teaches you the wrong things.”

– Zaid Ibrahim

The recent comments by BN secretary-general Nazri Abdul Aziz on the Semenyih campaign trail about the racist inclination of the UMNO grassroots on their fear of non-Malays leading certain ministerial portfolios is neither shocking nor unexpected.

All this is part of the Malay über alles strategy of the far right and the foundation of mainstream Malay politics. Non-Malay political operatives in Pakatan Harapan, now that the coalition has achieved federal power, have to be careful about how they define their power because everyone has been told not to spook the Malays.

Furthermore, because Bersatu was not the powerhouse Malay bloc that Harapan had hoped for, the old maverick has had to resort to all sorts of stratagems to entice UMNOmno political operatives to step into his tent.

All this, of course, plays into the hands of UMNO and PAS who can now freely explore their racial and supremacist ideologies without fear of losing their non-Malay base because the MCA and MIC are out of play.

Two years ago, former minister Zaid Ibrahim, encouraged young Malays to leave this country because of the policies of BN. This, of course, caused a stir. As always, whenever Zaid says something, he does so without political consideration. He spits it out because he knows that outlier Malay voices think this way.

There were the usual calls to stay and fight by those in the intelligentsia who supported the then opposition Harapan. I was sceptical. In a piece exploring what Zaid actually said – there is always confusion because some pundits do not bother to refer to what he said, instead relying on what others claim he said – I wrote:

“If you want people to stay and fight for their rights, you must be able to demonstrate that staying and fighting is something that is worthwhile. We are not yet at the stage where you can point to incremental changes (elsewhere) and say that this is progress. We are a developed country with narratives that are evidence that religious and racial plurality is something we had, but lost like many Islamic state narratives in countries all over the Middle East.”

After Harapan won the last election, I assumed we had some breathing space. To my thinking and I suppose some people who voted for Harapan, we believed that if we begin the process – however incrementally – of dismantling the Malay uber alles ideology, we could at least set the foundation for a brighter tomorrow for future generations. This kind of thinking is not based on any idealist impulses. This is pure self-preservation. People sometimes confuse capitulation with pragmatism.

But as the days drag on, I see very little hope or evidence that things are going to change. While I received the usual hate mail for my last piece from the usual suspects, I received many emails from Malays overseas, who claimed that what Zaid two years ago was the right thing to do.

Many young Malays ask me how they can overcome a system which is against them, but which people think provides privileges for them? Zaid said it best: “They will continue to make you intellectually poor by stifling you, giving you no freedom to grow and develop your minds.”

As one young Malay activist told me, there is this bubble we exist in. There is some freedom in the political/activist circles, but it slowly evaporates depending on where you go. Non-Malays, although they face discrimination, do not have to look over their shoulder all the time in case they are targeted by the religious bureaucracy or they are sanctioned for making racially provocative statements which are in reality egalitarian statements.

Assimilation

Umno political operatives make an argument about how “immigrants” assimilate in the West “Western” culture and norms, so why can’t the non-Malays do it here too? This is a silly argument because assimilation of Western culture generally means assimilating democratic and egalitarian norms and not sublimating culture to Islam and racial hegemony which is what is expected of the non-Malays here.

Please note, I am not saying that the “West” is perfect, only that assimilation in the West means submitting to a whole different set of values which are more aligned to democratic first principles, rather than being pak turuts (yes-men) which is how someone like PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang and the rest of the Malay political elite sees the non-Malays. Are there extremists in the West pushing a right-wing Judeo/Christian agenda? Yes, but we should note the blow-back this agenda receives.

Say what you like about Nazri, but he is saying exactly what the Malay grassroots believe, and keep in mind this is the base that Bersatu and other Malay power structures in Harapan want.

How can you change this sort of thinking? How long will it take? A generation? Two generations? The non-Malays are losing the numbers game and in a couple of decades, will there be any young Malays who would even think of migrating because of a totalitarian government?

People often ask what can they do. I have no idea. I cannot point to alternatives in mainstream political parties. Young people who have left the country and who correspond with me, tell me the same thing. There are no mainstream alternatives in the Malaysian political landscape. One Malay power structure is the same as the next.

Lawyer Latheefa Koya correctly points out that Nazri’s comments are an insult to Malays, but so is claiming Malays need a party to defend them, that Islam needs to be protected, the Malays are under siege and the DAP is working to destroy Malay rule in Malaysia.

If Nazri is being investigated for sedition, then perhaps, the mainstream political system in Malaysia is seditious.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of the National Patriots Association.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Weaker political parties in Semenyih by-election


February 26, 2019

Weaker political parties in Semenyih by-election

Opinion  | by Dr. Bridget Welsh

 

COMMENT | The French statesman Charles de Gaulle once said: ‘Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.’

This could also be said of the Semenyih by-election – where 54,000 largely urban voters face the serious decision of whether to endorse Pakatan Harapan, return BN to the seat it has never lost before GE14 or choose another path, including not to vote at all.

Despite growing cynicism about politicians in Malaysia (and sadly there is a good reason for some of this cynicism), the choice of the Semenyih voters will matter.

This by-election will not affect the balance of power in Selangor state. However, the campaign and outcome will serve to further consolidate new Malaysia’s political battle lines and potentially constrain the prospects for reform.

A Harapan loss in Semenyih will have a derailing effect on the governing coalition, already weakened by its loss in Cameron Highlands, and embolden the BN coalition that is in desperate search of an afterlife.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) and the independent candidate will have an uphill battle breaking the mould of the competition between the two larger coalitions, but they will serve to raise important social welfare issues and mobilise anger against Harapan, which goes into this contest in weakness rather than strength.

Drawing from polling station analysis of GE14, this article addresses some of the issues facing the political parties in this by-election and argues that there is a growing disconnect with the electorate.

Testing UMMNO Myths

Now, six by-elections since May 2018, the post-GE14 political terrain has increasingly featured practices of the past. Stoking Malay chauvinism has topped the list, with BN capitalising on insecurity and fear. Voters are being called to ‘protect your race and religion’.

This call rests on the myth that UMNO was indeed their ‘protector.’ Given the shambles that UMN0 left the country’s finances in, the damage to Malaysia’s reputation and the hardships and inequalities experienced by many Malays across the country, this message hopes to build on the adage that ‘Malays forget easily’ – the predatory behaviour of the Najib (Abdul Razak) government.

It also ignores that conditions within UMNO are dire; Strained by lack of access to funds, with its leaders facing multiple criminal charges and its legal future in the balance, Umno, as a party, is not in a position to deliver to its base. Its current focus is on saving its leaders. The use of “Bossku” as a campaign message is illustrative, as winning the by-election is about Najib’s search for protection, rather than the Malay community at large.

The other myth that is being projected is that Malays are united; they are one group. Semenyih in GE14 showcased what seems to be have been forgotten, that the Malay vote is sharply divided. My analysis of Semenyih’s polling station results found that the estimated support along Malay votes was split three ways, with Umno and Bersatu essentially capturing the same share, 41 percent and 37 percent respectively.

Bersatu’s share of the Malay voters in Semenyih was 15 percent more than the national average for Harapan, in keeping with patterns in urban areas, where more Malays from educated and middle-class backgrounds reside.

To push Malays into one group, to characterise their differences, is not only wrong, but it disregards the political diversity of the community as a whole – a lesson that UMNO ignored to its own peril.

PAS’ political polygamy

This racialised prioritisation of the Malay vote has contributed to the wheeling and dealing for the estimated 22 percent of Malay support that PAS won in Semenyih. Bersatu and Umno both want this support. Few recognise that much of this vote was never for PAS in the first place, as it represented ‘protest’ against Umno, rather than a vote for the Islamist party.

This hasn’t stopped the deal-making. Bersatu is especially focused on winning ‘Malay votes’ with the aim to address the ‘deficit’ of support for it from the Malay community. PAS, on its part, is claiming that is will work with all Malay political parties, apparently willing to engage in political polygamy irrespective of the party involved for the marriage of its interests. This accounts for the improved relations and ratcheting down of criticism between Bersatu/Mahathir and PAS.

PAS is trying to have its cake and eat it too – namely to work with Umno when expedient (as was the case in Cameron Highlands) and to work with Bersatu/Mahathir (to curry favour for national support as appears to be the case in Semenyih). PAS is playing a political game, working to make itself relevant in the national landscape.

PAS’ polygamous engagement is compromising the party, as it is becoming more like UMNO. Not only is PAS collaborating with Umno, but it is also increasingly adopting many of its practices as well – money politics, denial, racialised rhetoric, and of late, the active promotion of division within Harapan through deflective storytelling.

They justify these actions with the mantra that the ends (Syariah law) justify the means. Yet, this outcome is that PAS is being damaged along the way and a broader cynicism with political parties as a whole, is setting in. Political deals are eroding trust between the party leadership and the grassroots.

This is exacerbating other trends of weakening political parties. The machinery of the member-based parties of Umno and PAS are not functioning as well as the past – not least of which is the product of being out of power and lacking resources.

Rather than address the underlying problems the parties face, race-based rhetoric and deals have become the easy options. These options do little to win long-term party loyalty from voters.

Pakatan’s own conflicted national engagement

Harapan political parties are also facing their own tensions. Bersatu’s obsession with the Malay vote reinforces the sense that Harapan is focused on race rather than Malaysia as a whole.

This can have political consequences in Semenyih. Given the multi-ethnic configuration of the state seat and political divisions within the Malay community, the by-election will be shaped as much about Malays as is it about other communities. A decisive third of the electorate is non-Malay.

Semenyih is perhaps the biggest test to date on whether Harapan can maintain non-Malay support in the urban areas, which was critical for putting the new government into office. It tests whether Harapan can project itself across the racial communities, rather than pandering to individual groups. An indication of this will be whether voters go to the polls at all. It will be difficult to maintain the high levels of turnout, which were pivotal for Harapan’s 2018 general election victory.

Semenyih also brings to the fore, assumptions about how parties should function in ‘new Malaysia’. Many in Harapan assume that voters will support the party in power for patronage advantage. This is especially true of Bersatu. This ‘contract’- supporting party is caught in a difficult bind. It does not have the patronage machinery on par with that of Umno.

 

Bersatu has not fully recognised that it (and its coalition partners) will never have the same scope of patronage infrastructure. Further, it does not fully appreciate that this tactic tied to distributing goodies and use of state power for political aims is what got UMNO into trouble in the first place. The tie between politics and greed runs deep. The reality is that patronage has long eroded in urbanised Selangor, especially among younger voters. Umno lost Semenyih in GE14 because it failed to appreciate the realities of non-patronage based urban politics.

Urban voters care predominantly about good governance. Corruption is of concern, but not as important as having a decent paid job, quality service provision and maintaining a good standard of living for families. Among urban voters, Najib lost power for rising inflation and contractions in opportunities in the face of the ostentatious spending tied to the 1MDB scandal.

Harapan has the challenge of convincing voters that it can offer a better government. Key in this regard will be its record in Selangor since 2008 and what the advantages of having national power are for improving governance at the state level. Harapan has been so focused on building a new federal patronage machine that it has forgotten it already has a record at the state level to strengthen.

A particularly important group in the Semenyih electorate concerned with governance is youth. The youth were Harapan’s support base in Semenyih. Bersatu captured the votes of 57 percent of those under 30, and the majority of voters under 50. Umno did not even win a third of the younger voters.

These voters want results, especially on the economy, as bread and butter issues are much more important to these voters than religion. The more impatient young voters want to see what Harapan will do for their future. Nearly half of the registered electorate, 43 percent, is under 40.

Since BN won the Cameron Highlands by-election, Harapan has been attempting to somewhat change its public engagement. There are differences in the coalition itself on what to emphasise – patronage or policies. Nevertheless, the Semenyih campaign has seen more substantive engagement with policy issues than those in earlier by-elections.

There has been a flurry of announcements of new programmes, health insurance, for example, and a new framework for highway tolls. It is not clear whether these measures are tied to the election or part of a broader set of programmes. The new Harapan measures are controversial, untested and have yet to be properly implemented.

However, Harapan’s initiatives are buried under the political noise of political infighting and its mixed performance record to date. It remains to be seen whether the steps toward improving governance will get a fair hearing.

The fact is that all of the political parties are facing an erosion of political trust. Much of this weakening is of their own making. Semenyih voters will ultimately have to decide which of these weaker political parties offer the strongest alternative, in spite of their weaknesses.


DR. BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book is the post-election edition of ‘The end of Umno? Essays on Malaysia’s former dominant party’. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Old Malaysia’ in Cameron Highlands


January  31, 2019

‘Old Malaysia’ in Cameron Highlands

OPINION  |  Dr.Bridget Welsh
Published: 30 Jan 2019, 8:50 pm
www ,malaysiakini.com

 

COMMENT | Although not to the degree touted by the BN as a ‘referendum,’ the Cameron Highlands by-election does offer important lessons.

So far, in valuable analyses, the focus has been on ‘ethnic voting’ patterns (in which the Malay community showed the most swing away from the new federal government), the choice of candidates and the need to shift campaigning practices in rural/semi-rural areas.

While these issues were important in shaping the final vote, they miss the larger point: Pakatan Harapan’s biggest mistake in Cameron Highlands was that it adopted the practices and assumptions of BN in the election. In Cameron Highlands, Harapan locked itself into a ‘campaign as usual’ mode that did not effectively embrace the reform momentum that put it into office or move its campaign out of the ‘old Malaysia’ mode.

Analysis of results

A number of studies have examined the results. Below, using a statistical method of ecological inference, is my analysis of estimates of voting behaviour in Cameron Highlands. There are three important findings.

First, turnout dropped across the different ethnic communities, especially among Chinese and Indian voters. This is not a surprise given the timing of the by-election before Chinese New Year, but speaks to fatigue and disinterest among voters across communities and within Harapan’s political base.

Second, the swing in support along ethnic lines is biggest among the Malays – a large swing of over 31.5% to BN. This was followed by an estimated swing in Indian support for Harapan, by 5.1%, and estimated swing in favour of BN by Orang Asli voters of 5%. The BN’s victory was tied to the candidate and race-based mobilisation.

Finally, Harapan witnessed an erosion in its political base, losing support in terms of both turnout and among Chinese voters, although not to the extent as losses in other communities. Harapan’s Cameron Highlands defeat should be seen as their own weaknesses in the campaign.

Persistent racial mindset

I argue that a crucial part of the erosion of support comes from Harapan’s adoption of ‘old Malaysia’ practices. Perhaps the most rigid of these practices is the continued insistence of seeing Malaysians race first. No one denies the importance of ethnic identity in Malaysia, which is tied to rich cultural practices embedded in social and political life for decades. Yet, at the same time, the myopic and shallow focus on race constrains much-needed reform in political engagement.

BN survived 60-plus years by using ethnic politics to legitimise and maintain its hold on power. They are continuing to rely on this old model for political survival today.

In Cameron Highlands, their victory was tied to two racialised factors: the strategic upfront choice of a candidate for his race – Ramli Mohd Noor representing Orang Asli – and the insidious behind-the-scenes anti-Indian/pro-Malay racism that was emotionally used as a tool to bring back the support of the Malay community and secure a BN victory. The BN fed on sentiments of ethnic displacement and insecurity, especially among the Malay community, as they have done for years.

The mode has changed somewhat, however. Victimisation has taken on even greater traction for those displaced by Harapan’s control of government. There is a deepening of insecurity.

Also, the current political environment has fostered alliances among opposition parties, with UMNO taking a backseat behind the BN label. PAS and Umno’s adoption of a ‘Pan-Malay’ sentiment is not new (as it featured in GE14), but it has gained ground. At its core, the alliance is a political strategy for the return to power of elite who have been displaced rather than genuine representation of the Malay community at large.

It builds primarily on the same negative sentiments that got UMNO kicked out of office – anger and resentment, and, as such, does little to actually empower the Malay community, or any other for that matter. The BN, however, cannot be faulted for relying on what it has done for decades. It won them a seat in parliament.

BN’s dominant narrative

Harapan, on the other hand, allowed the BN to dominate the campaign using race. Not only did Harapan not project a viable alternative narrative, it adopted racial politics full on.

By concentrating on the Orang Asli, a community who has seen decades of exploitation and neglect (even effectively ignored by Pakatan when it was in opposition), Harapan reinforced the focus on specific communities rather than voters at large.

This fed into the sense that Harapan is representing minorities rather than majorities, playing into the sentiments being stirred on the ground. The voting analysis shows it did not yield them results, as their share of the Orang Asli voted decreased.

Perhaps the worst example of Harapan’s old Malaysia campaigning style was the BN-like promise of minority ethnic representation in cabinet, sounding so similar to BN songs sung in the Teluk Intan by-election and elsewhere. It is no wonder that BN won; the campaign was their race-based song.

Najib, Najib, Najib

Harapan opted to play the Najib card in his home state. Harapan continues to believe that it can get mileage out of attacking the former prime minister, the same man on whom they have imposed multiple charges for alleged serious crimes. This strategy failed, and has been decreasing in effectiveness since GE14. The more Harapan focused on Najib, the more sympathy was stirred among his traditional support base.

 

Despite the evidence, many in UMNO’s political base continue to believe in Najib and do not see wrongdoing, in part because it would mean they were also responsible for facilitating the wrongdoing themselves. For others, especially in Umno’s political base, the focus on Najib further reminded them of their political displacement.

It is important to remember that the 1MDB scandal had less impact in rural and semi-rural areas in GE14 as well. This refrain also had less impact on Harapan’s political base. Urban voters understand that Najib faces a court process, and they were angry, but this sentiment is no longer as strong as it once was given the fact that Najib is no longer in office.

The focus on the past, however, was a common BN practice, another one that Harapan has adopted in its hustings. Rather than focus on what it is doing in government, they continued their opposition mode of attacks on a man no longer in government. Ironically, this served to empower Najib as his name was headlining the campaign rather than those in Harapan, or Harapan’s candidate in Cameron Highlands for that matter.

Harapan seems not to fully appreciate that it needs to focus on what it is doing now and will do in the future if it is to maintain support, and show how it is working to deliver for the rakyat. They need to embrace their role as government, not the opposition. Instead, they played an old record that did not jive.

Clean election

Of all the old practices that Harapan seems to be adopting, the most ironic of those in Cameron Highlands was the violations of good electoral practices.

The by-election was called because of vote buying in the first place. Less than one day into the campaign, these issues were raised on the part of Harapan, along with questions about the use of government resources and ‘promises’ from government. The campaign finished with the Harapan candidate infringing election procedures by wearing the coalition logo in a polling station.

 

The irony is striking. One of the main reasons voters in Harapan’s political base voted for the coalition was electoral reform. This election could have served as an opportunity to embrace a fairer and cleaner electoral process. Despite denials and explanations, Harapan came off as not differentiating themselves adequately from BN in its ‘irregular’ campaign practices. In fact, they seemed to be replicating them.

The trend appears to be for the Harapan to use patronage and promises as a means to garner suppMort. Harapan has yet to realise that given the differences in the coalition and the reality of less resources at hand, they are unable to replicate UMNO on the ground, or PAS for that matter. Continue reading

The clear messages from Cameron Highlands


The clear messages from Cameron Highlands

By P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

‘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

Image result for Defeat in Cameron Highlands

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: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.