How Pakatan can beat BN at its own game

By Greg Lopez

In academic circles, Malaysia is categorised as a dysfunctional democracy. In this context, the electoral process is used to legitimate the BN’s authoritarian rule and not as a means to elect a representative government.

Government strictures limit the ability of Malaysians to make an informed decision and opposition parties to compete on equal footing. Despite these limitations, electoral competitions throw surprises as reflected in the third, eighth, tenth and twelfth general elections.

In preparing for the thirteenth general election, it is important to identify the key factors that create these surprising electoral results. The analysis of Malaysia’s history of electoral competition raises several key focal points that Malaysians should be aware.

BN’s 53 year rule has destroyed the concept of “separation of powers”, the hallmark of a health democracy. Hence, Malaysians cannot appeal to an impartial judiciary to interpret the constitution; a police force to impartially enforce the rule of law; a professional civil service that acts in the interest of the nation; or the media to provide a balanced view of the issues.

Any action outside the electoral competition is easily neutralised by the heavy hand of the government. Sporadic actions, such as demonstrations; handing over of petitions/memorandum; initiating legal action or appealing to other legal means; using the alternative media – while important to inform voters – has limited effect in ensuring immediate democratic outcomes.

However a strong result for the opposition sees the ruling party scrambling to win back lost ground by delivering – at least on some of – the demands of the rakyat. Hence, Malaysians must realise the importance of electoral competition in achieving democratic outcomes and participate fully in it.

At the 12th general election, there were approximately 11 million voters on the electoral role but the number of eligible voters (based on age) was approximately 15 million. Hence, any coalition that can register these 4 million Malaysians (approximately 27 percent of total eligible voters) and convince them to support their cause increases their chances at the ballot box significantly.

Secondly, in a typical general election, the average voter turnout is between 70 to 75 percent.

Any coalition that can increase this percentage in voter turnout also improves its chances of winning especially in marginal seats. As example, the Human Rights Party notes that close to 0.5 million Malaysians of Indian heritage are not registered voters. Malaysians of Indian heritage are critical in several marginal seats and can sway the outcome as demonstrated in the 12th general election.

Initiatives such as Voter Get Voter, registration exercise by the Election Commission, political parties and civil society movements are all crucial in ensuring the most number of eligible voters participate in the electoral competition.

BN always formidable

Fifty-three years of chicanery has made BN an expert at manipulating the electoral competition. Such is the sophistication that the international community while voicing concerns over several electoral practises, still endorses Malaysia’s electoral results.

Therefore, the BN should not be taken lightly at all even when it seems that it is weak. Its use of the ‘3M’ (machinery – party and government; money and the media) ensures that it goes into any election with tremendous advantages.

These include granting salary increments for civil servants, generous donations to ethnic, religious and special interest groups, announcement of development projects, government contracts to political warlords and BN friendly captains of industries, assurance and/or concessions to key stakeholders especially the chambers of commerce and cultural rights group.

This process essentially coopts representatives of the various communities and special interests groups -who then deliver the votes to BN.

The mainstream media has traditionally been crucial in spreading misinformation and destroying the credibility of the opposition.

How can this can be stopped as Malaysians aspire to higher principles and not limit themselves to only ‘bread and butter issues’ and reject blatant ‘corrupt’ practises mentioned above and reject the mainstream media outright.

Malapportionment, gerrymandering

A method that the BN has ‘almost’ perfected in ensuring electoral victory is malapportionment and gerrymandering. The table below indicates that although the disparity in popular votes between BN and the opposition is often narrow, it is magnified when it comes to actual number of seats in Parliament – a result of malapportionment and gerrymandering.

On a positive note, the opposition, despite its limitations, have on four different occasions collected more than 45 percent in popular vote suggesting that BN is not invincible. On the negative side, it suggests that the opposition will have to win by at least 60 percent to secure a majority in Parliament.

The opposition can turn the tables on BN if it can make inroads into Sabah and Sarawak and the south of Peninsular Malaysia. Since the 1999 election, BN has increasingly relied on Johor, Sabah and Sarawak to deliver them.

Therefore, two actions are needed. Firstly, it is important to level the playing field before the elections. Here, the works of civil society movements such as Bersih and Mafrel have been crucial. More importantly, forward planning by the opposition parties to limit BN’s abuse of the electoral process is crucial.

Ensuring that Najib does not have the super-majority in Parliament is critical to stop further re-delineating of electoral boundaries to suit BN. Furthermore, highlighting the blatant abuse of power by the Election Commission and rectifying it is also important.

Secondly, Peninsular Malaysians and Sabah and Sarawakians should reach out to each other. The common enemy is not each other but the BN-led Federal government.

Here the excellent work of Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia and the historical pact between marginalised minorities in Malaysia represented by Hindraf and several indigenous communities of Sabah and Sarawak is critical in fostering a common understanding on the issues affecting Malaysians.

Opposition coalition quality

On four occasions, the opposition parties worked together – either by having a gentlemen’s agreement not to contest each other as in 1969 or more formal alliance as in 1990, 1999 and 2008.

While the stellar performance of the opposition parties in these elections cannot be attributed solely to the electoral pact, it is by no means an important strategy. The Malaysian political terrain is such that no party on its own can expect to do well.

Pakatan Rakyat will have to move beyond a common manifesto and electoral pacts to demonstrate to the electorate that it is indeed a ‘government-in-waiting.’

Secondly, the quality of the members of the opposition coalition will need to be improved. It cannot rely on social activists alone and must be able to attract prominent members of society from different age groups and professions.

This will signal its broad appeal to the general public. Malaysians of high standing should at the same time take a stand and put their names in support of the opposition coalition to break the monopoly that only BN has the support of Malaysia’s elite.

It is therefore critical that Pakatan Rakyat demonstrate to the general public that it is not only capable of administrating the nation but also resolving the key issues facing the nation by having a competent line-up.

If the four focal issues stated above can be addressed, then time specific issues such as economic performance, race and religious issues, quality of life issues, governance etc can be presented within a better framework and reach a wider audience.

Then, it is likely that the BN would be His Majesty’s loyal opposition after the 13th general election.

GREG LOPEZ is a postgraduate scholar at the Crawford School of Economics and Government, Australian National University (ANU).

  1. #1 by k1980 on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 9:46 am

    PAS Sec-General Mustafa Ali claims that with the exception of Pak Dol, all malaysian pms are/were “kaki botol”

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 9:54 am

    Honestly, this kind of intellectual contribution is very marginal.

    If anything Hulu Selangor prove one thing – Talent can overcome anything BN throw at it. That is PR main core strength. Get rid of mediocrity and bring in talent but take care of those who fail. The current cathartic change or ridding the mediocre in PKR IS working. All the defection and Zaid just walked over all the problems with ease. DAP problems are so little because its loaded with talent.

    Keep bringing in and encouraging talent and things will work out.

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 11:19 am

    Yes, d big fat mother of BN’s authoritarian rule is MMK
    He has no rule of decency n truth in election
    He used lies n extreme racist n terror slogans 2 create fear in voters 2 vote 4 BN
    Divide d ppl n rule – no unity under BN
    As he shamelessly admitted: “In English they say all is fair in love and war and in election.”
    Umno n BN r still using this sort of tactic n strategy in all elections

  4. #4 by frankyapp on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 11:36 am

    I think PKR/PR needn’t worry at all about all those frogs which were pararded infront of all the Umno/Bn control MSM especially the TV channels. What Umno has displayed is the worst of the worst residues of PKR. It does not matter as the creams remain intact. Just wait and see all these very people (frogs) would dump UMNO when it loses Putra Jaya.All Zaid and PR need to do is visit and speak to all the people to remind them to ” tukar baju ” on polling day.The wind of change will blow Umno/BN away for good.

  5. #5 by k1980 on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 1:23 pm

    Kamlan: “O my lord and master, your hairy hand smells so sweet. May I kiss it again? Zaid is so ungrateful, he never kisses Anwar’s hand. Not like me, I am so forever grateful to Tuan.”

  6. #6 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 2:21 pm

    How come no one taught him d proper BN culture: how 2 kneel, lick n suck properly
    Slurp, slurp

  7. #7 by johnnypok on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 3:12 pm

    Anifah said DPM post is a lucrative business.

    Jumping frogs is even more lucrative.

    Perak female frogs can fetch up to 25 million, and after jumping can even get a title for FREE.

  8. #8 by ablastine on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 7:30 pm

    Another way to get Pakatan more votes is to allow Malaysian overseas to register and vote through our Embassies in various countries. The millions who are away know what is good for the country and her people and that definately is not another 5 more years of national plundering and racist policies by BN.

  9. #9 by tanjong8 on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 8:30 pm

    The time to act is now.

    Please get rid of the UmnoUtusans as early as possible !

  10. #10 by chengho on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 - 9:16 pm

    support BN , Malaysia is a great democratic country
    i heard someone already registered the name PKR officially?

  11. #11 by DCLXVI on Thursday, 22 April 2010 - 12:29 am

    chengho :
    support BN , Malaysia is a great democratic country

    Malaysia can be a great democracy when Umno-BN realises that elections are not just some way to legitimize its unyielding grip on power, and when it doesn’t behave like a sore loser when Pakatan Rakyat wins.

    chengho :
    i heard someone already registered the name PKR officially?

    Wasn’t Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) already registered long ago?

  12. #12 by monsterball on Thursday, 22 April 2010 - 1:35 am

    hahahahahaha…..I wish Chengho is appointed as BN cheerleader in by-elections and rallies..and talk like how he is talking now.
    He will help young voters…to faark BN faster.

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