The two Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-election results on Saturday have given rise to ecstasy and euphoria on the one hand and gloom and doom on the other.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib was so elated by the twin by-election results that he even proudly embraced Tun Mahathir’s description of him in Jerlun two days earlier and proclaimed that “Idi Amin of Malaysia is more popular” than Malaysia’s former longest-serving Prime Minister.
UMNO/Barisan Nasional leaders celebrated the “return” of the Chinese voters to Barisan Nasional and there is talk of an earlier 14th General Elections next year although it was scheduled for 2018.
UMNO/BN virtually proclaimed a new political dawn with the mythical “skyrocketing” majorities in two by-elections – 9,191 votes in Kuala Kangsar and 6,969 votes in Sungai Besar.
But as the former Batu Kawan Umno vice chief Khairuddin Abu Hassan has rightly pointed out, BN’s majority was not that big once all the votes for the opposition were taken into account.
If the Amanah and PAS votes are combined, BN’s majority is reduced to 2,086 in Kuala Kangsar or 8.73% of the total votes cast and 2,289 in Sungai Besi or 7.31 per cent.
Is it possible to turn the by-election tide for Barisan Nasional in these two constituencies in the 14th General election whether next year or 2018?
The Ijok by-election in Selangor on 28th April 2007, less than year before the 12th General Elections in March 2008, would answer in the positive.
In the Ijok by-election, the BN candidate, K. Parthiban, won with a majority of 1,850 votes – more than the 1,649-vote Barisan Nasioanal majority in 2004 General Election. Parthiban secured 5,884 votes while Keadilan’s Abdul Khalid Ibrahim got 4,034 votes.
In the March 8, 2008 General Election some ten months later, Khalid converted his by-election defeat by 1,850-vote majority into victory with a majority of 1,920 votes, polling 7,196 votes against the Barisan Nasional’s candidate, Mohd Sayuti Said who polled 5,276 votes.
The challenge for Pakatan Harapan is how to do an “Ijok” in the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar parliamentary constituencies in the 14th General Election.
With the Ijok example, there should be no need for any hand-wringing or prognosis of gloom and doom for the Pakatan Harapan in the next general election.
While local development issues are influential in affecting voting trends during by-elections, national issues of good governance, democracy, justice and nation-building are not irrelevant or topics like Najib’s RM55 billion 1MDB and RM4.2 billion twin global scandals, GST, abuses of power and human rights violations like the National Security Council (NSC) Act would have reached their “saturation point” and have no more “value-added” role in influencing voters, particularly in by-elections.
I had said on the by-election Polling Day on Saturday that UMNO/BN victories in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar would cause no surprises as these had been UMNO/BN strongholds for six decades – with Malaysian politics and governance seeing “more of the same”.
But an AMANAH/Pakatan Harapan victory in Kuala Kangsar and/or Sungai Besar will be of such historic and miraculous magnitude that it will usher great political changes culminating in the 14th General Elections by 2018.
This was not to be. The twin Barisan Nasional by-election victories were not unexpected but the majorities were a surprise – although not as “sky-rocketing” as the Barisan Nasional leaders and propagandists would want to make them out to be.
Nevertheless, let Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections be the last battles for the politics of race and be the opening salvoes for the battle for the new politics of good governance, democracy and nation-building, leading to two new developments:
Firstly, for Malaysia to become a normal democratic country where voters can change the government peacefully and democratically through the ballot box like other mature democracies without inviting national catastrophes.
In the past 60 years, there has been six democratic and peaceful changes of government in the Untied Kingdom, but not a single time in Malaysia. Even Philippine and Indonesia have more democratic traditions and practices than Malaysia, as Filipinos and Indonesians can use the ballot box to change the party or political coalition in power without any national disaster or calamities.
Secondly, for Malaysians to rise above race, religion, region and even political affiliation to save Malaysia from careening towards a fractured and failed state, acquiring a new global notoriety as a kleptocracy.