Malaysian General Elections: Can This Man Overthrow a Tyrant?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

"At the twilight of his political career, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is aiming to make a comeback at age 92 by trying to demolish the party that helped him transform Malaysia into one of Southeast Asia’s most-prosperous nations.

During his 22-year-rule that began in 1981 – the longest in Malaysia’s history – Mahathir delivered prosperity with solid backing from the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, the anchor party in a ruling bloc that has dominated Malaysian politics since independence from Britain in 1957.

But Mahathir, a former medical doctor popularly known as “Dr M,” quit UMNO and came out of political retirement two years ago, in protest over allegations of financial malfeasance directed against Prime Minister Najib Razak, his former protégé. He said UMNO needed to be vanquished.

“It is not easy for me to destroy the party that I loved for 60 years,” Mahathir said, referring to UMNO. “But now, today, I am fighting to take it down.”

The longtime leader made the statement during a convention speech in January, in which he accepted to lead the main opposition bloc in a battle against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition, led by Najib, in the May 9 general election.

Mahathir stunned the nation when he bolted to the opposition and joined forces with his arch nemesis, former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, whom he once sent to jail on a sodomy charge. Mahathir is leading Pakatan Harapan (PH), an amalgam that includes the Malay-led multiracial People’s Justice Party (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) and the faith-based National Trust Party (Amanah)."

In the last General Elections (GE) in 2013, the Opposition managed to put up an unified front known as Pakatan Rakyat (PR) or People's Alliance, increasing the Index of Opposition Unity (IOU).  While PR won the popular vote with 50.87% against BN's 47.48, the ruling coalition romp home with 133 seats to PR 89 seats. The Opposition won mainland or peninsular Malaysia while BN swept East Malaysia viz. Sabah & Sarawak in Borneo to storm back to power. 

There are two primary reasons for this highly skewed vote-seat conversion rates viz.

1. The constituencies historically had been delimited with very wide variation in population size. At the time of formation of Malaysia, East Malaysia viz Sabah & Sarawak were offered more seats despite both states have significantly lower population densities than in the mainland. Over the years by further delimitation exercises the ruling coalition tried to skew vote-seat conversion in their favor. Urban opposition supporters are corralled into ‘ghetto constituencies’ of 150,000 voters or more to dilute their voting power. 

2. Muslims, the majority of whom are ethnic Malays, make up about 60 percent of Malaysia’s population of 32 million. Ethnic Chinese and Indians, who are Buddhist, Christian or Hindu, account for most of the rest. The elections are fought and won in the rural Malay heartlands (and in the ‘amenable’ rural constituencies of Sarawak and Sabah that helped secure UMNO’s last victory) where constituencies often consist of a quarter of that number.

What has changed in 2018?

1. If in India, we vote mostly by caste, in Malaysia they do by ethnicity. Both the ruling coalition and the opposition front are ethnicity based. PR contained ex Dy PM's Anwar’s Malay-dominated PKR (People’s Justice Party), the leftist Chinese DAP (Democratic Action Party) and the Islamist PAS besides one or two minor parties. They each had their own appeals but all had very different and contradictory visions for Malaysia. What has basically changed is that the Islamist PAS has now left the alliance to contest as a third alternative and its's splinter group Amanah joined the alliance now known as Pakatan Harapan (PH, or Alliance of Hope). 


2. The ruling coalition BN has tinkered with delimitation even further, skewing the vote-seat conversion rates even further, making it even more difficult for the opposition to win Malay or Muslim dominated constituencies. 

3. A new Fake News Act makes it difficult for the opposition to level charges against the government. Mahathir himself faces charges of Fake News for simply expressing concerns of his personal safety.

What the polls indicate?

Malaysia's premier pollster Merdeka Center for Opinion Research predicts the ruling coalition would scrape through though experiencing a whopping 7%+ swing away from their 2013 performance, while the opposition front PH would again lead the popular vote. BN seat tally could however see a massive erosion in their seat tally by 33 seats. 

Though BN is ahead, Muslim votes, their backbone is threatening to move away. Though polls however show that this churning has not reached a level that could threatened their come back, it is fast moving towards one.

The general perception is that of the  Index of Opposition Unity (IOU) being lower than 2013, should able BN to scrape through with  much lower vote share this year. The flip side is that much depends on the performance of the Islamic Party PAS. Though on one hand as a third alternative, PAS lowers the IOU, by targeting Muslims, PAS is in fact splintering the backbone of BN's vote base. The higher splintering of Muslim votes, the higher chances of PH winning a constituency in Muslim dominated areas.

While most commenters and pollsters do not give any chance for a BN defeat, but in the opinion of this blog, a small window of opportunity exists for PH to carve out a spectacular win. 16-20% of respondents are playing their cards close to their chest and not revealing their vote intentions and who knows, they may opt for change?

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  1. As per current trend of Malaysian election Pakatan Harapan is lead age but its not confirm that they will won this election
    The Happy Deals


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