BN to win with 700-vote boost in majority

Ong Kian Ming | Jan 29, 11


Tomorrow, Jan 30, and just four days before Chinese New Year, voters in Tenang will decide on the 14th by-election since the 2008 general election.

The outcome is not in doubt. BN will win this seat. Even the opposition has conceded as much. The only question that remains is BN’s winning majority and why the margin may (or may not) be important in the larger electoral picture.

Like most analysts and observers, I anticipate a higher vote margin for the BN than in 2008 as a reflection of the larger national trend of voters moving back to the BN in 2010, especially the Malay and Indian voters.

But the winning majority will fall far short of the 5,000-vote majority Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been predicting. Instead, I anticipate a majority of roughly 3,200 votes, or a 700-vote increase from 2008.

The increase in the BN majority will be from a five percent increase in the Malay vote, from 80 percent to 85 percent, and in the Indian vote from approximately 70 percent to 80 percent.

I expect the Chinese vote for the BN to remain at approximately 35 percent. I base these calculations on a 71 percent turnout rate, two percent less than the 2008 general election because of the proximity to Chinese New Year, and turnout rates of 77 percent, 71 percent and 58 percent among the Malay, Chinese and Indian voters.

The battle for the Chinese vote

Right from the start of the campaign, the battle for the 38 percent of the Chinese voters, who mostly live in the three polling stations that comprise the Labis town centre and the Tenang town polling station in this semi-rural constituency, grabbed most of the headlines.

This was not all that surprising. The Tenang seat is one of the two state seats situated in the parliamentary constituency of Labis, once held by former MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik as well as current MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek (right). Chua made way for his son, Tee Yong, who is currently the deputy agriculture minister, in the 2008 general election.

On the back of a relatively successful campaign in Galas, where the BN was successful in increasing its Chinese vote share by three percent, the elder and younger Chuas definitely have something to prove in their own backyard.

A successful campaign for the MCA among the Chinese voters will mean splitting the Chinese vote evenly between BN and Pakatan Rakyat, which requires a swing of approximately 15 percent in the Chinese vote, and certainly push the BN majority to more than 4,000 votes.

Pakatan, on the other hand, needs to make a good account of itself in this seat as part of a larger push into the only safe deposit state for the BN left in Peninsular Malaysia.

The ability to defend the Chinese and Indian votes, and perhaps make inroads into the Malay votes, would mean that a number of parliamentary seats that were won by the BN by with relatively close margins in the 2008 general election – Segamat, Labis, Ledang, Muar, Simpang Renggam, Kluang and Gelang Patah – could possibly be up for grabs in the next general election.

Status quo between MCA and DAP

If my prediction is right and if the DAP battles MCA to more or less an even standstill among the Chinese voters by maintaining the status quo of the 2008 general election, the opposition will score a moral victory, despite an anticipated increase in the overall BN majority.

Maintaining this high level of support among the Chinese voters in Tenang for a PAS candidate is no mean feat. In 2004, vote splitting patterns in the Chinese majority polling stations in Tenang went in favour of the DAP at the parliamentary level by an average of 10 percent, which meant that 10 percent more Chinese voters were willing to vote for the DAP at the parliamentary level than for PAS at the state level.

By 2008, split votes among the Chinese had decreased to slightly less than five percent. Maintaining this high level of Chinese support for the PAS candidate meant that Pakatan, specifically DAP, had to stave off MCA attacks against Pakatan based on the Islamic state issue.

There are many issues in this by-election, both at the local as well as national level, which can swing the Chinese votes either way. Issues that help the BN include rising approval ratings for Prime Minister Najib Razak nationally, even among Chinese voters, probably because of the rollout of his various transformation programmes such as the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and the Economic Transformation Programme (GTP).

The rise in global commodity prices, especially crude palm oil (CPO) prices, is benefitting the local Chinese community directly involved in palm oil production and also indirectly to those who provide services in the local community and those involved in the agricultural

Issues that harm the BN include rising prices due to the gradual withdrawal of government subsidies on goods such as sugar and fuel, the increase in water tariffs in Johor as well as global inflationary pressures that act to increase the cost of living.

Another issue with possibly negative repercussions for the BN would be the non-verdict from the Teoh Beng Hock inquest. Furthermore, Pakatan, and especially DAP, could bring to the voters, their record of managing the Penang, and to a lesser extent the Selangor state governments, as a means of shoring up the credentials of the opposition coalition.

But at the end of the day, the Chua Soi Lek campaign focusing on the dangers of a PAS-led Islamic state, largely pushing the example of the PAS candidate’s unwillingness to shake hands with men, will be used to judge the success or failure of the MCA campaign among the Chinese voters in Tenang.

Chua playing a dangerous game

Chua’s strategy to focus on the Islamic state issue seems to be a strategy not just for Tenang but for the rest of the country as well.

This is not a new strategy. Other MCA and Gerakan leaders have used it before to some effect, especially in the 1999 general election. But this particular campaign issue seems to have lost much of its bite, though it may have a little more impact among some of the older Chinese voters.

More significantly, Chua’s use of this strategy in a manner in which the opposition could use to label him, and by extension the MCA, as anti-Islam could come back to haunt the ruling coalition at the national level.

This is not the first time that Chua has exposed his ignorance about Islam. Last year, he famously used a book titled ‘Malaysians and the Club of Doom’ to criticise both Umno and PAS for trying to out-Islamise each other and to later take the leap of logic to equate being a Muslim-majority country with having bad public policies.

In this campaign, he once again demonstrated his ignorance about Islam by making a statement that many Malay Muslims would interpret as being disrespectful of Muslim practices by his criticism of Normala Sudirman’s unwillingness to shake men’s hands, a practice many Malay women in Malaysia adopt, regardless of their political affiliation.

While his statements may not have much effect on the Malay voters in this BN stronghold, they could well come back to haunt MCA in some of its more vulnerable seats, especially those with a significant number of Malay voters that are held by MCA candidates.

Inability to penetrate the Felda settlers

While Pakatan is expected to hold on to the majority of the Chinese voters in Tenang, it would have much less luck in trying to penetrate the Malay-majority Felda areas, which comprise a large majority of the 48 percent of Malay voters in this constituency.

We saw that Pakatan failed to stem the swing in the Malay voters in Felda estates in Hulu Selangor, despite using the issue of a significant fall in the Felda reserves as a result of its expansion plans. Such corporate decisions rarely filter down to the average Felda planter.

More importantly, as long as CPO prices remain high, the planters themselves would have the feel-good factor associated with having more money in their wallets. The seemingly tepid response to Pakatan leaders during their ceramah sessions in the Felda polling station areas seems to be an indication of the reality that these areas are very much BN strongholds, where the opposition has a major difficulty penetrating.

With the national trends and recent by-elections showing a shift of the Malay vote back to the BN, Tenang will be no different. The Malay vote swing back in Tenang is relatively small, only five percent, compared with the 11 percent experienced in Hulu Selangor. This is because of the already high base of BN support in Tenang, even in the 2008 general election.

The forgotten Indians

Indian voters comprise 12 percent of the voting population – 10 percent of the effective voting population once we take into account turnout differentials by race – and they have been largely ignored in the campaigns as well as in the news.

Many of the Indian voters have moved out of the various estates and live elsewhere in the constituency, and probably in other parts of the state. Neither side seemed to make any headway on the ‘Interlok’ issue.

The question here is whether the replacement of S Samy Vellu as the president of MIC will significantly swing the Indian vote back to BN, over and above what national
trends have indicated.

Without the mobilising influence of the Hindraf movement, the Indian vote will probably drift back to BN, by 10 percent, and possibly even more.

If my prediction about the Indian votes swinging back to the BN in Tenang is correct, then Pakatan will have a tough job for it in terms of holding on to the parliamentary as well as state seats that were won partly on the huge Indian swing against the BN in 2008.

The resignation of N Gobalakrishnan from PKR on the eve of polling day will probably not be a significant factor for the BN winning more Indian votes, given his lack of influence and political stature in Johor.

I believe the BN can, and should, be relatively satisfied with its increased majority since it confirms the return of some Malay and Indian voters back to the ruling coalition. However, it can take less comfort in the fact that Chinese support for the BN in certain areas in Johor will continue to remain weak.

However, the significance of the Tenang by-election may not lie so much in the final majority but perhaps in the form of Chua’s campaign strategy coming back to haunt him somewhere down the road.

ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University. He is a lecturer at UCSI University. The views expressed here are his own.

  1. #2 by yhsiew on Sunday, 30 January 2011 - 5:38 pm

    Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

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