GE-14: Rafidah Aziz is elated and why not

May 11, 2018

GE-14: Rafidah Aziz is elated and why not

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To the young, please remember that we, of the older generation, are doing all these for you, and the generations after you. Please look after our beloved and blessed nation as best as you can. Please help to make this new chapter in our history, a truly glorious one, InsyaAllah.–Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Former MITI Minister


COMMENT | Syukur Alhamdulillah. Praise be to the Almighty for having answered our collective prayers and for having prevailed, to enable us to realise what we wanted to achieve. What seemed almost impossible has happened.

A new day has begun for our beloved Malaysia and Malaysians. A new chapter in our history has started to be written.It is exactly 4.15 am on this historic day, May 10, 2018.

I am too excited to sleep.I never imagined that I would live to see this day. The day the rakyat showed their wisdom in choosing a new government for the next five years, and registering so strongly, their disdain and rejection of corruption, poor governance and abuse of authority.

Power is with the rakyat, not the government. The government only serves the rakyat, and the stakeholders of the nation. Not to serve those managing the nation.

The multiracial rakyat of Malaysia has rejected the politics of divisiveness, parochialism, and xenophobia. They have placed a premium on unity and togetherness. They have given the contract to manage Malaysia for the next five years to a new party Pakatan Harapan.

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Helmed by our remarkable Dr Mahathir Mohamad, I am confident that there will begin the process of righting the wrongs, and putting the nation back on the right track in the context of development, social cohesion, focus on the young generation and all that is needed to bring back Malaysia to its glory days, and more, including to rebuild our tarnished image and dignity, and proudly take our rightful place in the world’s fraternity of nations.

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Najib Razak paid a heavy  price for taking us Malaysians for granted. His legacy is in tatters. The new government must talk less and act more. Focus on Deliverables. For that to happen, Pakatan Harapan must have a cohesive, honest, technocratic and competent Cabinet Ministers backed by new team of civil servants in all key ministries.–Din Merican


The world will be watching every step being taken, by the new government, and by us the rakyat. Let us continue to remain united, be proud to be Malaysians and be assets to Malaysia.

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To the young, please remember that we, of the older generation, are doing all these for you, and the generations after you. Please look after our beloved and blessed nation as best as you can. Please help to make this new chapter in our history, a truly glorious one, InsyaAllah.

Sejathera Malaysia, Tanah Air Kita, Rumah Kita Bersama.

Syukur to the Almighty for the success of Pakatan Harapan.

RAFIDAH AZIZ is the former International Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister.

GE-14: A look at the rural Malay voter

May 3, 2018

GE-14: A look at the rural Malay voter

With GE14 rapidly approaching, both sides of the political divide are trying to woo a vastly underestimated, non-homogenous rural Malay public.

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is respected by the Malays. His impact on rural Malays cannot be discounted

 In the coming Malaysian general election, the grand prize seems to be the rural vote. With redelineation passed by parliament, the power of the rural voter in deciding the fate of an elected representative can be more than 10 times that of an urban voter. Both sides of the divide are trying to woo a rural Malay public that is often vastly underestimated. Based on a series of focus group discussions and informant interviews in both Johor and Kedah, as well as extensive immersion in rural, coastal and island areas over the past decade, here I examine Peninsular Malaysia’s rural voters to discern how they might vote and the issues that matter to them.

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Most rural folk live off the land and sea as farmers and fishermen, while others supplement family incomes with menial jobs as cleaners, security guards and factory workers. Earnings are not high and are perennially stagnant. All focus group discussants and informants that I spoke to cited rising costs of living as the issue that mattered the most. The end of petrol subsidies, implementation of goods and services tax (GST), inflation and difficulties in buying land and property means that there is a constant struggle to stretch pay cheques. Any handout is gratefully received. Benefits such as BR1M, while often cited as too little to offset increasing expenses, help to alleviate financial pressures—even if only momentarily.

Rural voters are too preoccupied with making ends meet to contemplate macro issues such as allegations of corruption. Some that I spoke to said that political scandals are beyond them; what the politicians did at their level bear no consequence on rural lives and makes no difference to their survival. In fact, many said that no matter who is in power, they hardly get any benefits or assistance—except for when elections roll around.

Rural voters are not unintelligent. They are aware that corruption is rife, but there is a fatalism to their mindset. They have a tendency to accept their position on the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy and do not expect to get more than what that rank entitles them to. Many raised the issue of “cronyism” as a form of corruption that plagues the middle levels of society—where political branch heads, village and local committee leaders block their access to financial benefits, job opportunities and other forms of assistance. All focus groups mentioned that while government leaders had rural communities in mind, it was this middle level that held the purse strings and disbursed allocated aid to only friends and family.  Those in real need were often literally left stranded (such as during recent floods affecting both south and north Malaysia).

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Hierarchy is an important component of rural Malay life. Historically feudal societies, today’s rural communities remain deeply traditional in many ways. At the top of the ladder is the king, and in place of those who would have been lords and noblemen in the past, are politicians and government heads. Respect for royalty is enshrined in the nation’s Rukun Negara (National Principles) which every child recites at morning assembly in school. The king is second only to God. Religion is a national concern and Islam is etched into the constitution as the main religion of the federation. Malay rights are inscribed into economic policy. It is to this mix of history, principle and policy that the rural Malay psyche responds, albeit in varying degrees.

Loyalty and indebtedness are characteristics that emerge from a history of feudalism. In election terms, this means that voters remain loyal to those that helped them get to where they are. A common local phrase is “kami kenangkan jasa dia” (we remember his good deeds). Older interviewees related how difficult life was before the ruling party gave them the comfort they enjoy now. This generation is quick to remind their offspring that voting for those that helped them is a family tradition and to break that practice is akin to breaking the norms of filial piety. Younger voters confessed that while they wondered about the value of their vote, they often toed the family line just to prevent tension at home.

Malay rights and Islam are undoubtedly hot button topics. Distrust of the other (usually personified by the Chinese majority Democratic Action Party [DAP]) is widespread. DAP is often demonised on religious terms as a threat to Islam as the nation’s primary faith. Anyone who engages with them (voters or other opposition parties alike) are deemed to have crossed to the dark side and are tainted with similar distrust. There is a great fear that Malays will lose everything that they believe they are entitled to, and there is also a great need to demonstrate the strength of their faith by voting for the party with the best religious credentials.

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While all of the above are common threads that surfaced from the research, there were also differences. The lack of homogeneity among rural voters cannot be overemphasized

As its birthplace, Johor has always been the bastion of UMNO. Even as he declares his political neutrality, Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has reminded his people that the party was born on palace grounds, funded by his grandfather. A 2017 study commissioned by ISEAS—Yusof Ishak showed that the Sultan is greatly respected by Johor citizens of all ethnicities and incomes, but even more so by the rural Malay. It is likely that the Johorean rural voter will take any opinion expressed by the Sultan into consideration when deciding how to vote.

This is very different from the situation in Kedah, where rural communities seem much more detached from their king. Loyalty is instead redirected to elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad who is fondly remembered for his contribution to both nation and state. His son, Mukhriz Mahathir, was chief minister between 2013 and 2016 until he was forcibly removed after internal party disputes. Kedahans were quick to offer unsolicited examples of projects and better times under their leadership. They also expressed their exasperation at the injustice meted out to Mukhriz and the disrespect that the remaining UMNO cadres had for Mahathir. Malay mores of respect for elders and good manners are cited as principles that politicians should never cross.

Differences between north and south also surface in the attribution of blame for daily difficulties. In Johor, rising prices are attributed to either Chinese businessmen or the federal leadership. The 2017 Johor Survey revealed that the average Johorean is satisfied with UMNO state governance. Interviewees have told me explicitly that there is nothing wrong with Barisan Nasional (BN)—as long as its federal leadership is removed. At BN rallies in Johor, successes are attributed to Johor Chief Minister Khaled Nordin. No mention is made of Prime Minister Najib Razak. The poster boy for Johor BN Khaled Nordin’s tagline is “Muafakat Johor” (Johor United); he and “Team Johor” have successfully captured the state’s support.

In Kedah, however, voters sing a different tune. Younger voters were impatient to vote for Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). They were vocal and adamant in wanting to give the opposition a chance to govern, especially since experienced hands such as Mahathir and Mukhriz were part of the line-up. They were less distrustful of DAP. Older voters seemed a little torn between the party that they had always voted for and the man that they knew and loved but is now standing on the other side. Adding to the confusion is the presence of PAS who was once Kedah’s most credible opposition party and who holds the most visible religious credentials. One informant mentioned that if PAS was part of the opposition team, UMNO would be done for. Many others maintained that it was hard to decide. At times they would whisper their support for the opposition, or state that you just can’t say that you disagree with UMNO (meaning that they lean towards the other side).

A lack of homogeneity also exists within states. In east Johor, FELDA voters expressed unfailing support for BN. To them, those who have left the party are ungrateful disgruntled individuals; that corruption allegations are fake news; and that they were willing to vote across ethnic lines as long as BN wins. In west Johor, voters were more doubtful; some were apathetic as they felt that they suffered no matter who is in power. Some mentioned that if there is good fishing or bad weather on polling day, they would have better things to do than vote.

In Kedah too, there are differences. While the majority seemed to be in support of Mahathir no matter the party he stood for, many are recipients of BN’s recent generosity. Gifts of land grants, new homes, double the BR1M amount and myriad other goodies go a long way in solving financial problems. The question is whether these voters can look past election bounties when they vote.

The rural voter is not a single homogenous block. While survival is their priority, overarching Malay principles of hierarchy, loyalty and the need to preserve Malay rights and religion will have an impact on their decision at the ballot box. It is the person that has always been there for them in times of need (not a parachuting politician) and the one who can alleviate immediate difficulties that will win the vote.

All photos by the author. This article is an excerpt from her recent publication, Malaysia’s General Elections 2018: Understanding the Rural Vote, published by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.


GE-14: Pakatan Harapan go the whole hog and aim for two-thirds majority

May 1, 2018

Here is my chosen May Day Letter by Rusman Hussain. The Future of our beloved Malaysia is in our hands. Make your choice prudently. Happy May Day.  It is our Freedom Day –Din Merican

GE-14: Why simple majority? Pakatan Harapan go the whole hog and aim for two-thirds majority

by Rusman

LETTER | A two-thirds majority in the current Parliament means 148 seats, a mythical figure that may, on surface, seem beyond the reach of all opposition coalitions, especially if it is an alliance that has barely been formed a year ago, as is the case with Pakatan Harapan.

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Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn’t set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to make a choice. You know that. You’ve made a choice, and you know how much it cost you. There is always a price.” – Robert Penn Warren (All the King’s Men). So Pakatan Harapan, just go the whole hog and win big, says Rusman Hussain

This is where the story gets interesting, and where political science clashes with the dreams of all sharp analysts, who from time to time, are willing to rethink the laws by which the politicians themselves have violated.

Let’s face it. In politics, the golden law is so simple almost to the point of being crude: you break it, you own it. In the case of Malaysia, Najib has ruined Malaysia completely, to which all redemption now rests on the people’s revolt on May 9. And, the odds of the latter happening are getting stronger by the day.

This law is further reinforced by all three principles of Newtonian mechanics: The first law states that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. This is normally taken as the definition of inertia.

The second law explains how the velocity of an object changes when it is subjected to an external force.

The third law states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, if object A exerts a force on object B, then object B also exerts an equal force on object A.


BN and UMNO, according to the first law, are not inert. In fact, they have been over zealous in creating wealth (for themselves), invariably through schemes like 1MDB, Felda, Bandar Malaysia, and TRX land swaps, that each failure has resulted in the distortion of BN and UMNO’s own trajectory. Bersatu was formed to pursue the Malay struggle, instead of leaving it all to Umno alone.

The more BN and UMNO try to swivel and pivot in the international and corporate arena, the more they are known as a corrupt political regime; with even more corruptive influence on the political economy of Malaysia. If a well-managed economy is the proverbial China shop, UMNO under Najib Razak’s leadership is the bull that left every piece of fine porcelain shattered to bits on the floor.

The results are plain as day if we take an objective measure like the 2008 and 2013 elections (with the caveat that we know elections are neither free nor fair). The loss of popular votes every time UMNO tried to win back voters on account of its poor record of managing the nation has been an abysmal failure.

They lost the two-thirds majority in Parliament in 2008 – unprecedented. And they lost the popular vote in 2013 – again, unprecedented.

Not much has changed since 2013. In fact, things have only gotten worse with the losses at 1MDB. Once again UMNO has tried to paper over the failures with an absurd claim that but for a faulty business model everything would have been just fine at 1MDB. This is the trajectory Umno cannot waver from not matter what schemes it tries.

The second law of Newton, while more complicated, is simple: the faster your fall, when new speed is added to an object. The proliferation of social media has made BN and Umno oblivious to the fact that they now operate in realms where a hyper demanding society is demanding more from the government, than what the latter alone can offer.

BN and UMNO cannot match Harapan precisely because the latter is able to keep up with social media, invariably, the netizens, while BN and UMNO are always wallowing in smut.

The third law of Newton is equally applicable to UMNO and BN in the 14th general election, if not since 1999 too. For every action, there is equal reaction.

By bullying, indeed, bulldozing its way through Malaysia – as if it alone owns Malaysia not others – BN and UMNO are now looking at total revolt from Kangar in Perlis to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.

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Freedom at last in early June, 2018 for Malaysia’s political icon, Anwar Ibrahim

The jailing of Anwar led to the formation of Parti Keadlian Malaysia in 1998, which later became PKR.

The offering of indelible ink as a means to control illicit voting followed by the revelation that the ink was defective lead to voter outrage and increased turnout.

Setting elections on a Wednesday sparked an outrage online forcing the caretaker Prime Minister to offer up Wednesday as a National holiday and giving Pakatan Harapan the opportunity to offer May 10 and 11 as a holiday.

There is virtually no end to the examples one can cite. Of course, we can add other laws of politics. And, they always apply without fail. It was former US peaker of the House, ‘Tip’ O’ Neill, who famously said that “all politics are local.” By raising GST, passing the Anti- Fake News Act 2018 unilaterally, BN and UMNO have not only made “politics local,” but extremely personal.

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The last law is that coined by US Senator William Fulbright: “That truth is the first casualty of war.” BN and UMNO know they have walked into a war-like situation, where four opposition coalition parties, together with various strategic partners in civil society, have teamed up, to dislodge the ruling regime.

Thus, the latter has resorted to cooking the books on 1MDB just to redeem itself as a worthy second sovereign fund, this despite the fact that 1MDB has failed completely, even by the admission of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak on April 26 in Bloomberg.

Regardless of which laws, be they Newtonian, or sheer folkloric observations from Western political traditions, UMNO and BN have run afoul of, Najib is trapped, and together with him, is PAS. Both parties have formed alliances to be the king and kingmaker. Yet divine and natural laws, too, do not respect a total lunge for power.


To be sure, 99 percent of Malaysians have some form of theological beliefs that constitute a basic respect for the spiritual realm. By gorging themselves with debts which the people must repay, and seeking power solely for the sake of power and not the greater good, which usurps citizen’s rights, Malaysians will trigger one of the biggest electoral tsunamis in the world on May 9.

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What purpose can a Fake News law serve if the majority of the country’s mainstream media is in the business of producing fake news day in and day out for the last two decades.

Those who are not in the clear will be completely overwhelmed. They will soon be at the outside looking in, or, perhaps, the inside looking out, if the relevant laws on massive criminal breach of trust are brought to bear on all the key stakeholders in UMNO and BN.

Thus, a two-thirds majority in favour of Pakatan Harapan cannot – and must not – be ruled out in Malaysia. Like proverbial New Yorkers, who don’t get mad, but get even, Malaysia is now at the tipping point, to get even; potentially even exceeding all the expectations of the polling firms.

After miscuing on Trump’s surprise victory and Brexit, one would have assumed that the polling firms should know that their methods are not flawless.

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Yet, there are many in and out of Malaysia who are not looking at the raw emotions of the people per se. These are people who have felt the full effect of being used and abused by their own elected government.

Malaysia: GE14 takes this electoral unfairness to new lows

April 30, 2018

Malaysia: GE14 takes this electoral unfairness to new lows

by Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | It is a given that elections in Malaysia are unfair, but GE14 takes this unfairness to new lows. Malapportionment, gerrymandering, back-door movements of voters, alleged phantom voters, manipulation of regulations, and apparent bias of government officials are seriously discrediting this election like no other.

This article looks at the potential impact of these manoeuvres and argues that given the competitiveness of the contests, these factors have the potential to seriously influence the result.

The analysis below is based on an assessment of changes at the polling station level on parliamentary seats using 2017 fourth quarter electoral roll (the one to be used for the May polls), drawing from a study of voting behavior across the past four elections, and aims to take account of a broad range of factors shaping electoral integrity.

The embedded advantages the BN government have are significant and should not be underestimated.

There has been extensive analysis of the March 2018 delineation exercise, what I am calling the “front door” delineation as it is open to the public and easier assessment.

Analysts have pointed out that the malapportionment means that the BN can win a majority of seats with as low as 16.5% of the vote and that the delineation imbalances representation away from urban areas, Chinese communities and was inconsistently applied in rural areas along partisan lines especially in favour of Umno.

They have also note the partisan “packing” and “cracking” of seats in the gerrymandering, which has resulted in many close seats favouring BN. Most of the discussion has centred on close races or marginal seats such as Lembah Pantai and Hang Tuah Jaya (formerly Bukit Katil).

There have been four dimensions of the analysis to date that have not been properly raised. First of all, there is greater sophistication in the movement of voters this time around, tied to the advantage that the BN has with information and technology (GIS mapping). Much of the movement is subtler, less obvious but equally as calculating.

Second, it is not only race that is being used to move voters, but class and histories of voting patterns in areas. Lower class areas are being moved, for example, as they are seen to be more susceptible to vote-buying and electoral promises.

Traditional areas that vote in established patterns have been also moved to shore up seats, such as the movement of a PAS-leaning village and its polling station into a competitive seat, with the hope that this movement, for example, will allow the three-corner fight to allow BN to win.

Third, with the movement, there are winners and losers. Much of the analysis centres on the BN and particularly UMNO’s advantages, but not all the BN component parties have benefited to the same degree and some individuals within parties have benefited more than others.

The delineation exercise has a personal dimension, with winners such as Hishammuddin Hussein and his new ‘military’ camp in his area of Sembrong, discussed below.

Equally important in the analysis is the need to acknowledge that the movement has come from somewhere, so that other seats have become “safer” (in the case of packing votes in these seats, e.g. Beruas and Damansara (formerly PJ Utara)) or more competitive as a result of the movements (Johor Bharu).

Finally, the delineation exercise is based on assumptions about voting behaviour. The history of 2018 Malaysia’s delineation exercise has been that while UMNO has disproportionately benefited, especially in the election right after the exercise, that many of the assumptions do not hold over time as voting patterns change. The decision to create mixed seats backfired in 2008, as did the creation of more Malay majority seats in 1999.

The important assumptions in this exercise on the peninsula are the:

  • persistence of ethnic voting patterns (Chinese in favour of the opposition, Malays split but in favour of BN, and Indians favouring the opposition) and;
  • that three-corner fights would split the vote advantaging the BN and vote-buying would continue to be decisive in shaping outcomes, especially in rural and lower class areas as well as in key states such as Sarawak (which has had its own delineation exercise in 2016).

In the 2018 exercise, it was also assumed that UMNO’s base – the civil service and large sections of the Malay rural heartland – would stay with the BN. How much these assumptions play out in the election will shape the effectiveness of the BN in using the delineation to its advantage.

I raise this, as voting that contradicts these assumptions – such as less impact of money or defections within the military as occurred in 1999 – weaken the expected delineation effects.

‘Backdoor’ voter movements

It is important not to just look at the “front door” exercise alone, as much of what has happened has not been in public purview. The polling station analysis is perhaps the best viable way to assess systematic changes that are more hidden, as they allow us to drill down to effects in communities.

The analysis below looks at changes in voter levels and composition at the polling station level. Here we find changes in areas that were not part of the 2018 delineation exercise, such as in Sabah. We also get a better sense of the breadth of changes happening to the electoral terrain as a whole.

The “backdoor” manoeuvres focus primarily on voter movements and additions. Under the “backdoor” measures, there has been the introduction of new voters to areas in the form of military “camps” in areas such as Sembrong, Segamat, Bera, and Bagan Datuk (where BN ministers Hishamuddin Hussein, Subramaniam, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, and Zahid Hamidi are incumbents and contesting again), concerns about the surprising movement of voters from one polling station to another (including families in the same house), re-emergence of voters who have passed away and the ‘immaculate’ registration of voters who appear on the roll but did not register.

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These developments raise a different set of issues. First is the systematic voter suppression that has occurred since 2013. The changes to the voting registration process, namely taking away the ability for political parties to register voters and making the post office the focal point of registration rather than through an automatic system, have depressed voting.

BN has had the advantage in registration as many of their appointees in local communities have still been able to register voters. There have been complaints that even those who have registered through the post office have not necessarily seen their vote on the electoral roll.

There are 3.8 million voters who have not been registered, a record amount compared to earlier elections. This decline in voter registration is more impactful in some places rather than others. While most of the lack of registration has occurred in urban areas and among young voters, states such as Sabah and Selangor have been most affected by this lack of voter registration.

A second factor is the number, placement and composition of new voters. The national average increase in voters since 2013 in a seat is 16%. Some seats are above the average as a result of the “front door” delineation changes, e.g. Kapar or Hang Tuah Jaya.

Other seats have been affected by either significant registration in the seat by parties (BN or opposition, e.g. Tebrau) or unexplained placement of voters in seats, e.g. remote Pensiangan and Kinabatangan. Where these new voters are placed, and in line with how those areas have voted, suggest potential inclinations for voting.

Questions are raised in some of these areas about the origin of these voters as well, e.g. the alleged Rohingya voters in Langkawi for example.

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UMNO Supporters–UMNO Dulu, Sekarang Dan Selama Selamanya( UMNO Past, Present and Forever)

Third, is the issue of advance (military and police personnel with their spouses) and postal votes (traditionally overseas voters but now expanded). In 2013, 23 seats or 10.3% of the overall Parliament was determined by advance/postal votes, e.g. Segamat. These votes are equally important this time around, as advance votes comprise around 300,000 voters.

What distinguishes GE14 is the expansion of categories of postal voters. In October and December of last year new categories of voters have been added, civil service in the Prisons Department, Fire and Rescue Department, Police Volunteer Reserve, Immigration Department, and National Registration Department.

We have yet to have a full assessment of the number and placement of these ‘new’ postal votes, but they may reach another estimated 300,000 voters, potentially doubling the count and the electoral impact on outcomes.

Importantly, there is less transparency in postal voting compared to both advance and polling day casting of ballots, as candidates are not able to know who they are, where the votes will go until days before the election and whether they are in fact, legitimate voters.

These changes have taken place in an environment where access to the voting roll has been more restricted, with soft copies not readily accessible and addresses of voters (crucial for assessing reliability) have not been listed in the final version.

These changes have also taken place in a process where it has become harder to challenge the voting roll, as charges of RM10 have been imposed for questioning one individual voter and if the objection is rejected a penalty up to RM200 is imposed.

At the same time, there have been systematic “objections” against younger and Chinese voters on the part of partisan actors that appear dubious and orchestrated, and have had the effect of removing some genuine voters from the roll, notably perceived opposition voters. These measures have only served to raise further questions about the integrity of the electoral roll and undermine the credibility of the electoral process.

‘Estimated’ potential electoral effects

Given these dimensions/assumptions and looking at the history of voting in different areas, what then does the analysis at the polling station level tell us? A word of caution as you read ahead.

This analysis is an estimate, based on past voting rather than what might happen next week. It includes an assessment of a combination of the “front and back door” delineation changes that are accessible, including changes due to the boundary and seat changes, registration of new voters and changes to advance voters.

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It does not include the potential effect of postal votes as this information is not yet available. The findings show that a substantive level of calculation and broad scope changes have taken place in the electoral terrain.

Of the 222 parliamentary seats, the changes are estimated to affect 119 of the seats or 54% of the overall seats. Of these affected, disproportionately 73 or 33% of the overall Parliament changes to seats favour the BN, while 46 seats or 21% favour the opposition. This is a significant advantage for the BN, as the changes have largely occurred in competitive (marginal) seats.

Many changes have not occurred in “safe” BN seats, such as those in Perlis. Also, changes in favour of the opposition in seats are their “safe” seats, such as Damansara (previously PJ Utara).

The opposition has also had some areas not affected at all, e.g. Penang. However, two of the most competitive states – Selangor and Sabah – have the largest number of seats affected, making these states much more competitive than before, and disproportionately these advantages are in BN’s favour.

Among the more competitive seats delineated that are estimated to favour BN are Alor Setar, Bandar Tun Razak, Bangi, Baram, Batu Sapi, Bukit Gantang, Dungun, Gombak, Hulu Langat, Hulu Rajang, Jerantut, Kalabakan, Keningau, Kota Kinabalu, Kota Raja, Kuala Nerus, Kuala Selangor, Kuala Trengganu, Kuantan, Kubang Kerian, Kubang Pasu, Kulai, Lanang, Lumut, Lembah Pantai, Merbok, Muar, Pandan, Penampang, Pensiangan, Pokok Sena, Pulai, Sarikei, Segamat, Semporna, Sepanggar, Stampin, Tawau, Tenom, Temerloh and Wangsa Maju.

Among the seats delineated that are estimated to work against BN and thus remain competitive or have become safer for the opposition, are Ayer Hitam, Bakri, Bentong, Besut, Kota Melaka, Johor Bahru, Kuala Kedah, Marang, Pengkalan Chepa, Pasir Mas, Rompin, Rasah, Setiu, Taiping, Tambun and Tapah.

Let me pull out a few from above that have not received much attention in analyses to date. Consider Johor Bharu – long held by Umno veteran Sharir Samad, who is contesting again. Not only does he have the taint of being Felda chairperson amidst its scandals, he now has a less favourable seat to contest in as a result of movement of voters outside of the new boundaries. JB has moved from “safe” to “competitive” seat due to changes.

Consider Stampin in Sarawak. This seat has become more competitive for BN this election as a result of the removal of around 18,000 voters during the 2016 delineation exercise. These voters have been placed into the DAP “safe” seat of Bandar Kuching. Stampin is now more competitive for BN’s Dr Sim Kui Hian. The delineation factor was also critical in the BN win for Sim in the 2016 state elections.

Let’s examine Sabah, where the effects are a product of voter movement. The placement of new voters in many of the Kadazan/Dusun/Murut seats, such as Pensiangan and Keningau, are estimated to advantage the BN. These seats remain highly competitive.

On the East Coast of Sabah, the highly competitive seat of Batu Sapi also sees new voters coming in traditional polling areas that have favoured the BN. This seat, for example, has long been accused of having illegal voters registered. The list is long, as the changes are comprehensive and deep.

Najib’s (un)safety net

How then should we assess these potential effects? On the one hand, it would seem that the BN has done whatever it can to put itself in the most advantageous position. It is has done so openly and with more additional opaque measures, arguably the most comprehensive attempt to skew the electoral terrain to its advantage.

The full extent of the electoral impact of the changes is not yet fully clear. It is also important to recognise that all the changes are not to BN’s advantage, as some of the seats have strengthened the opposition, notably DAP e.g. Bandar Kuching.

BN’s Achilles heel is that it is dependent on the accuracy of the assumptions that went into the delineation exercise. If these assumptions prove not to pan out as expected, BN is vulnerable. BN is also dependent on people carrying out the measures to make these changes effective, e.g. money will need to go down to voters as opposed to staying in the hands of elites.

Given the fluidity in GE14, and the anger at Najib himself within the system, these cannot be guaranteed for his government, although the incentive of money inside the system is strong.

The fact that the Najib government has introduced the breadth of changes it has, undermining the electoral integrity and skewing the electoral field to such an extent, is not a sign of strength but weakness. It remains to be seen whether the imbalances in the system will reach a tipping point that has the potential to backfire on Najib himself.

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GE-14: Losing a legacy, finding a nation in Sarawak

April 29, 2018

GE-14: Losing a legacy, finding a nation in Sarawak

A new generation’s contest over Sarawak’s lost autonomy may force voters to reconsider how today’s leaders are trapped by the past.

by James Chin

Something is simmering in Kuching, and it’s not just the fragrant laksa soup of Sarawak’s capital.

Long seen as the barometer of Chinese politics in Sarawak, the Stampin constituency at the 14th general elections (GE14) will see a contest between the leaders of two political parties that claim to speak for the Sarawak Chinese community. The two parties are the Sarawak Democratic Party (DAP) and the Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP), fondly known by the locals as “soup”.

Representing the governing SUPP party is Dr Sim Kui Hian, the party president who’s had a meteoric rise. Sim only became active in SUPP a decade ago, stood as a candidate for the first time in 2011, and became party president in 2014. On the opposition side is Chong Chieng Jen, the chairman of Pakatan Harapan Sarawak (PHS) and chairman the Sarawak DAP since 2013.

Image result for Dr Sim Kui Hian vs Chong Chieng Jen

SUPP-BN’s Dr. Dr Sim Kui Hian

While the Sarawak and national media try to portray the contest as the “battle of the titans” or “clash of the kings”—and focus on the fact they are the most senior Sarawak Chinese leaders on opposing sides—in reality the real meaning of the contest goes deeper than just this symbolic clash.

TO UNDERSTAND WHAT the Stampin contest means, you need to understand the personal history behind these two leaders and the historical context. First, the historical context, and then the personal history.

Under Sim, SUPP has made Sarawak nationalism and parochialism the cornerstone of the GE14 campaign. Using the tagline “I’m In for a Stronger Sarawak”, SUPP is telling ethnic Chinese voters that the Sarawak Chinese must vote SUPP in order to help SUPP and the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) “take back” political autonomy as promised under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

The irony of course lies in the fact that SUPP, together with its partners in the Sarawak BN, willingly surrendered Sarawak’s autonomy to the federal government in 1970. Most Sarawakians (or for that matter Malaysians) do not realise that Sarawak lost its MA63 autonomy in 1970 when SUPP deliberately chose Parti Bumiputera to form the coalition state government in Sarawak. SUPP then was in a unique position—it could go with either the Sarawak National Party (SNAP), an Iban-led party, or Parti Bumiputera, led by Melanau-Muslims. The SUPP-Bumiputera coalition government became the founding members of BN in 1974 with UMNO and other parties of the peninsula.

Parti Bumiputera in 1970 was a proxy for UMNO and UMNO sent a Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) minister to come to Kuching to pressure the then-opposition SUPP into a coalition government with Parti Bumiputera. From the first day of the Bumiputera-SUPP government, it was clear the while Sarawak had some powers, ultimate power was held by UMNO and the federal government.

In 1973, when the MA63 explicitly gave all the three remaining partners (Sabah, Malaya, Sarawak) a period to formally review the MA63 agreement, the meeting was abandoned and was never held. In 1974, Sarawak (and Sabah) gave up their oil and gas to Petronas. I can detail other events where Sarawak (and Sabah) lost their autonomy but suffice to say that in Sarawak, it all happened under Sarawak BN rule and all Sarawak BN MPs (including SUPP) voted in favour of many constitutional amendments which centralised powers in the federal government.

Despite this history, voters in Sarawak have short memories and get highly emotional when it comes to Sarawak nationalism. Thus SUPP and the Sarawak BN can suddenly appear as Sarawak nationalists today despite this contrary history.

Who can forget the infamous Mahathir mantra “Melayu mudah lupa” (Malays forget easily)? Well, to that I can add “Sarawakians mudah lupa”.

This context of this electoral battle is therefore rooted in this idea that it is “us” (Sarawakians) versus “them” (Malayans). Sarawak DAP and Pakatan Harapan (PH) are painted as “them” as their roots are in Malaya. Ditto for the other opposition parties PKR and Amanah.

In the 2016 Sarawak state election, former Sarawak Chief inister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem was very successful in rebranding the Sarawak BN as the true defenders of the MA63 autonomy. What was remarkable was his campaign speeches in which he promised to “keep UMNO out” of Sarawak. Sarawak voters swallowed the message despite it being crystal clear that Sarawak BN was keeping UMNO in federal power. Without the Sarawak MPs from Sarawak, UMNO would have fallen from power!

The same is likely to happen this time. The SUPP’s Sarawak nationalism mantra, backed by a sophisticated social media campaign, has dented the opposition claim to be the true defenders of MA63. Prior to 2016, SUPP’s social media has been dismal, allowing the DAP to dominate cyberspace. Unlike earlier SUPP presidents, Sim has taken to social media like ducks to water. He brought in a professional team from Malaya to handle the social media, selling SUPP’s Sarawak nationalism like a slick advertisement campaign. So far, it’s working and I would argue that the SUPP’s social media presence in this GE14 is superior to the DAP’s.

THE PERSONAL HISTORY lies in the background of the two candidates:  Sim Kui Hian is the son of Tan Sri Datuk Amar Sim Kheng Hong, one of the original strongmen of Kuching SUPP. Sim Kheng Hong was Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister for 17 years (1974–1991) and was known to be particularly close to Tun Rahman Yakub, Sarawak’s Chief Minister from 1970 to 1981. The standard joke among insiders is that SUPP’s Pending branch is actually the Sim family branch, since the family has exerted control over the Pending branch since its founding. In a nutshell, Sim Kui Hian was born into SUPP royalty and his rapid rise to the Presidency was aided by his family tree.

Image result for Dr Sim Kui Hian vs Chong Chieng Jen

DAP’s Chong Chieng Jen

Chong Chieng Jen’s pedigree is almost similar to that of Sim Kui Hian. Chong Siew Chiang, Chieng Jen’s father, was a founding member of Sarawak DAP in the late 1970s. Prior to that, he was a SUPP state assemblyman for the Repok constituency (Sarikei town). The twist in the story of how DAP came to Sarawak occurred when Chong Siew Chang consulted Rahman Yakub, then Sarawak’s chief minister, about bringing DAP to Sarawak. Prior to that, Rahman Yakub had used Sarawak’s immigration autonomy to deny Lim Kit Siang, DAP’s national leader, entry into Sarawak. According to Siew Chang, Rahman told him he would not ban Kit Siang from Sarawak if there were DAP branches in Sarawak. The real reason, of course, was to weaken SUPP’s hold over the Chinese community by giving the Chinese an alternative to SUPP.

So the current two contestants have history going back to the early years of SUPP and Sarawak DAP. They are both the children of the most senior party members and heirs to their fathers’ political legacy. The upcoming contest is thus a clash between the second generation. Sim became SUPP president in 2014 while Chong became chairman of Sarawak DAP a year earlier.

Image result for Beauty of Sarawak

Kuching–The Capital of Sarawak, Malaysia

The choice for the Chinese voter in Stampin is not simply “Dacing vs Rocket”—rather, it’s informed by historical context and personal history. Without understanding this, you will not be able to really understand the significance of Stampin at GE14.

GE-14: Dr Bridget Welsh takes an incisive look at Sarawak Politics

April 29, 2018

GE-14: Dr Bridget Welsh takes an incisive look at Sarawak Politics

by Dr. Bridget Welsh


Sarawak is largely being overlooked in GE14, but when the final tally of seats is counted, Sarawak and Sarawakians will be in there. BN is guarding its safety deposit carefully, and for now, has Sarawak locked up. If the campaign moves from defensive to offensive mode and momentum starts to build, then the situation will change.–Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | The mood in Sarawak is relatively quiet. Sarawakians have serious election fatigue. But it is not only the voters who are tired, the messages and campaign are as well. The challenge for both sides will be to get Sarawakians to be vested in GE14 and come out to vote.

Make no bones about it, the contests in Sarawak will be important. This is BN’s safest deposit, and the BN is relying on it. With 31 parliamentary seats, Sarawak makes up 14% of national seats, with 1.2 million voters. Seats from Sarawak comprise 19% of the BN win in 2013. More Sarawakians are registered in the population of 2.6 million than in most states, reflecting long-standing engagement with political issues.

The state election two years ago has been a national bell weather, with BN’s whopping victory in the 2016 polls overshadowing dynamics locally. Voter turnout drops, delineation, and a changed narrative led by the late Chief Minister, Adenan Satem (2014-2017), brought home the BN victory one year after the 1MDB allegations emerged.

On the defensive

As such, the opposition goes into the Sarawak contest on the defensive. With the DAP’s loss of five state seats in 2016 (from 12 to seven) and PKR winning its three seats narrowly, the opposition parties are hoping to stem the BN tide.

Four of the six parliamentary seats – Sarekei, Miri, Sibu and Stampin, all in urban/semi-urban areas with Chinese majorities – are in the BN’s sights, along with their projection of retaining all its 27 rural and semi-rural seats, including Julau which will likely be contested by Larry Sng as an independent. (Sng has a fighting chance of winning Julau due to his resource advantage.)

The BN is fielding heavyweights in all these targeted urban seats and appealing to the Chinese in these areas to return to the BN fold.

The defensiveness is not just about electoral contests; it is also about the fact that the BN in Sarawak has been able to take on the ‘Sarawak for Sarawakians’ narrative and neutralise many of the criticisms toward BN with more state activism against the federal government.

Pakatan Harapan in Sarawak does not yet have a clear message in this campaign. The opposition’s manifesto – “New Deal” – does not have all that much new in it. Pakatan is relying on old anti-federal resentments to maintain its support, and capitalising on the concerns with economic issues, especially a slow economy, GST and high cost of living.

They are also trying to convince Sarawak voters that their votes and the results will matter in shaping a potential new federal government, as many Sarawakians (along with many Malaysians) do not believe that change in power can happen. With local issues largely neutralised, the opposition in Sarawak is banking on national issues to change local voting behaviour – hard ground in a state where parochial issues have predominated.

Adenan’s Legacy

The ground, however, has shifted since 2016. Adenan Satem, the powerful leader who changed Sarawak, is no longer leading the state. He passed on in 2017 after three years at the helm. His legacy is being contested.


For Adenan’s successor, Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg, GE-14 is about proving his mettle. He is seen as ‘Najib’s man,’ appointed to lead the state and in need of his own mandate. He is seen to be more of a follower compared to Adenan. He is trying to fill Adenan’s large shoes and, given the constraints on further gains for state power, he has yet to deliver much for the state on his own. He is thus relying on continued support for Adenan to boost his own support.

Sim Kui Hian, SUPP’s President, is also using the Adenan name, couching the contest for the Stampin seat as a continuation of Adenan’s legacy. Sim was Adenan’s personal cardiologist and was seen to be close to Adenan. He is facing DAP leader Chong Chieng Jen, who is moving to this competitive seat from his safe Bandar Kuching base in a bid to inject some excitement into the campaign and showcase the importance of the 2018 elections locally.

Stampin (along with Miri where SUPP Ssecretary-General Sebastian Ting is facing PKR’s Dr. Michael Teo) have been significantly reconfigured in the 2018 delineation exercise, making these seats more challenging for the opposition to win.

The absence of Adenan, however, offers the opposition an opportunity. Abang Johari is not as popular, and unlike 2016, the BN cannot dismiss national issues in this campaign. The Sarawak BN’s message of “a stronger Sarawak” with its slick “marching on” video does not have the same resonance without Adenan to lead this effort.

Image result for abang johari abang openg


Discussion centres on the comparison of Najib with Mahathir, with views differing according to generation and ethnicity. Perceptions of Mahathir in Sarawak are not as negative as those in Sabah, while support for Najib is soft. Along with Adenan’s legacy, there is a debate about the legacies of the two different national leaders, both of whom want to return to the premiership.

Ethnic swings

For Sarawak, attention centres on the Chinese vote. The Chinese community in Sarawak is divided.  As shown in the table, in 2016 only 65% supported the opposition, with BN gaining 8.9% in support from Chinese Sarawakians from the 2013 election. Chinese estimated turnout dropped 7.6% as well across the two elections, leading to further erosion of Pakatan support in urban areas.

The economy is the main concern for Chinese Sarawakian voters. In the 2016 state election, Adenan promised to give them more opportunities and he made multiple direct appeals to the community. The national election is different given that Najib has not made as systematic an outreach. Some Chinese blame Najib for the slow growth in Sarawak over the last decade and are critical that the BN pledges of 2016 have not had the level of economic trickle-down promised, with large shares of government investment in Sarawak going to Peninsular Malaysians rather than into the hands of local businessmen.

There are also discussions about whether it is better to vote for BN or for the opposition for Chinese to be better represented, with views differing between those who feel it is necessary to strengthen SUPP within BN to those who argue continued support for DAP will best protect Chinese Sarawakians.

Pragmatism is shaping the debate, as opposed to anger evident in earlier elections. The DAP (and PKR in Miri) need to win back more Chinese support to hold onto its seats. In some races, such as Sarikei, it faces an onslaught of money being poured into the constituency to secure a BN victory, which puts the DAP at a clear disadvantage.

The contests in rural and semi-rural areas are less competitive, and arguably even more of an uphill battle for the opposition. There are two important issues – divisions within the ranks of the BN itself as a result of the sacking of traditional leaders as has happened in Lubok Antu and Selangau (where PKR leader Baru Bian is contesting), infighting due to the choice of BN candidate as is the case in Sarikei, and continued resentment over land and development issues as is occurring, for example, in Baram.

The opposition faces a financial challenge as BN’s resource advantage shapes the outcome, with vote-buying a critical part of this support. Many rural Sarawakians continue to depend on state largess, as this is where the BN strategy of preying on precarity, on using poverty to its advantage, is strongest.

In 2016, the BN won an estimated 68% of the rural and semi-rural vote, and won 64% of lower-income voters and seems poised to replicate these results in 2018.

Younger voters

One area to watch is a shift among Malay/Melanau voters, 80% of whom voted for BN in 2016. The “Malay tsunami” dynamic on the peninsula may send some ripples eastward. Mahathir has some loyalties among the older generation of Malays/Melanau. Among the other major ethnic communities – the Bidayuh, Iban and Orang Ulu – no major changes in their voting pattern is expected.

Image result for Bidayuh, Iban and Orang UluAdenan’s Legacy–Sarawak for Sarawakians


The shifts that can happen (if they happen at all) will be among younger voters across all ethnic communities. Younger voters continue to be more opposition-friendly in Sarawak – an estimated 67% supported the opposition in 2016.

This group, however, is also most impacted by turnout constraints, as disproportionately younger voters are the most likely to be working away from home and will have to travel back to vote. With the campaign starting out very slowly in Sarawak, it has yet to engender the investment to go home to vote for many.

Voter turnout, in fact, is an overall issue for Sarawak, as traditionally there is lower turnout in national contests compared to state elections. Voter turnout dropped to 66.1% in 2016, from 77.5% in the 2013 election. It will be a difficult task to get turnout levels beyond 2016 levels, given the lack of momentum going into the Sarawak campaign. Lower voter turnout traditionally hurts the opposition.

Sarawak is largely being overlooked in GE14, but when the final tally of seats is counted, Sarawak and Sarawakians will be in there. BN is guarding its safety deposit carefully, and for now, has Sarawak locked up. If the campaign moves from defensive to offensive mode and momentum starts to build, then the situation will change.

Sarawak campaigns in the past have moved rapidly, as occurred in 2011. Given the fatigue and well-established voting patterns, however, convincing Sarawakians to speak loudly and differently will not be easy.

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 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 (with Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She is following the 2018 campaign on the ground and providing her analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini readers. She can be reached at

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

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