21 Jun 2016
COMMENT Bombastic assertions abound since the conclusion of the by-elections in Sungai Besar, Selangor and Kuala Kangsar, Perak. Chief among these are Malaysians’ resounding endorsement of PM Najib Abdul Razak’s otherwise precarious leadership and the allegedly corrupt rule of the Barisan Nasional government, as well as a huge shift of Chinese support to BN.
These claims are in reality more fallacy than fact.
Let me pen down some of my thoughts on these issues and on the scenario that follows these by-elections.
Surge of support for Najib and BN illusory
First, BN did gain in popular votes, increasing from 50 to 54 percent. But such a margin of gain – in a by-election as against in a general election – certainly cannot be interpreted as a surge of popular support, for the simple reason that the special conditions that favour BN in a by-election cannot be duplicated in a general election.
Unlike in a by-election, BN cannot possibly have the resources to shower goodies (read bribery) and issue threats as profusely as it does now in the many constituencies in a general election.
Further, in a general election, there will be the presence of much more mostly ant-BN outstation voters, who are generally young, urbanised, better informed, with disproportionately high ratio of Chinese who are invariably pro-opposition. Under such circumstances, BN’s 4 percent gain in popular votes in a by-election can easily be evaporated in a general election.
The most Najib can claim from the current election results is that BN has maintained the status quo.
Shift of Chinese support to BN deceptive
Second, the appearance of extensive return of Chinese support to BN is more illusory than factual, as the statistical evidence of reduction of votes cast in favour of the opposition Amanah’s candidate in Chinese-dominated polling stations cannot be wholly interpreted as reduction of Chinese electoral support.
This is mainly due to the statistical distortion created by the massive absence of the anti-BN outstation Chinese voters, as in Jalan Dato and Kampong Pajak Potong, K Kangsar where the reduction is a whopping 37 percent. Despite such reduction, Chinese votes remain heavily and decisively pro-opposition.
The other factor of unusual increase in support to BN as in some polling stations in Sekinchan, Selangor, is the special favours specific to the local residents dished out by BN, like instant approval of long deprived citizenship, handing out permits to fishermen to import long-deprived foreign workers, freeing of fishermen imprisoned in Sumatra, etc
Minus the temporal and localised effects of such instant election goodies and the factor of absent voters, it will be seen that the widespread and deep-running Chinese discontent against BN over long-standing racial discrimination and runaway corruption as exemplified lately by the horrible 1MDB/Najib corruption scandals will take its usual toll on BN come general election, as it did in GE13 and GE14.
PAS in limbo
Third, PAS has completely lost its overwhelming Chinese support it received in the last general election, and such loss is irreversible unless PAS mends its stance on the hudud issue the way it did in GE13 and GE12 as a partner in the now dissolved Pakatan Rakyat.
If PAS continues to go solo as it does now, it will lose all its seats in the West Coast come next election, and only cling on to some seats in its Kelantan enclave, and perhaps a few more in Terengganu and Kedah.
The party is hence facing a dilemma – to continue to go solo which will revert itself to its former status as a local party in Kelantan; or team up with one of the two existing political blocs (BN and Pakatan Harapan) to continue its role as key player with nation-wide representation.
Should it choose the latter, the party will be torn between two irreconcilable political objectives – whether to uphold the late spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s high standard of Islamic social justice which vows to stamp out corruption and racial discrimination or to allow racist ideology and narrow religious pursuit to take precedence as apparently pursued by party president Hadi Awang and his faction in their friendly overture to Umno.
In other words, will PAS resume its interrupted agenda of social justice a la Nik Aziz by re-joining Pakatan, or embrace Najib’s Umno which thrives on racism and corruption?
We expect a political tussle along these lines will soon take shape within PAS.
The fledgling Amanah
Fourth, Parti Amanah Negara has not gained sufficient traction among Malay electorate, either from PAS or from Malay society at large. It is hence in urgent need of spreading its wings at the grassroots level.
Its latest friendly gesture to PAS, with the obvious intention to establish working relation with the latter, is a worthy attempt to fast track its political agenda by harnessing PAS’s existing political machinery which has been shown in the recent by-elections to be largely intact, but the way forward is strewn with obstacles while Hadi is in control.
Such re-joining of forces is distinctly possible and in fact desirable once Hadi leaves the stage, as the progressive leaders in Amanah will certainly restore PAS’ former glory as a major political force with multi-racial appeal and thus will make significant contribution to the opposition front.
Rural Malays’ apparent apathy to corruption scandals
Fifth, opposition trump cards of the highly publicised 1MDB/Najib mega corruption scandals did not seem to have made a serious impact on the electorate.
This is of course rather unexpected, but having considered the electorate being largely rural Malays, whose mind set has long been shaped by Umno’s political propaganda via Umno-controlled TV and newspapers which are also their main source of news which are heavily censored, coupled with their limited capacity to fully comprehend critical information, their apathy should not come as a complete surprise.
In fact, few truly understand the numerical meaning of RM2.6 billion and RM50 billion, let alone appreciate fully the devastating implications when their leader has stolen RM2.6 billion and the nation suffered the loss of RM50 billion of public funds through frauds.
Needless to say, such public apathy will not be completely replicated in more urbanised constituencies, though the long inculcated Malay sense of insecurity over Umno’s possible loss of power will continue to sway Malay votes despite comprehending the nature of these scandals.
As a start, to win over the Malay heartland in the less urbanised area, the opposition must break through this info barricade and start campaigning with leaflets and ceramah on these scandals by using simple graphics and illustrate these gigantic losses in terms of easily related objects such as the number of houses and the number of people that would otherwise be provided with public housing, or how many public universities and hospitals that would otherwise be built, if there had been no such gigantic losses through corruption.
In conclusion, I would say that the outcome of the two by-elections is no indication of a change in the balance of political power between BN and Pakatan, and certainly cannot be interpreted as Malaysians’ endorsement of Najib’s leadership or approval of Umno/BN’s corrupt and morally bankrupt rule.
It has, however, thrown up a new light – that PAS with its formidable core supporters will play a significant role in the shape of politics to come either as a partner in an alliance or a spoiler to the opponent or both – so long as Amanah has not made pivotal inroads into PAS’ support base to significantly reduce its electoral influence.
KIM QUEK is the author of the banned book ‘The March to Putrajaya’.