Pakatan’s Chances of Winning the 13th General Election

By Kenny Gan

The 13th general election will be the most watched and anxiously awaited event in the annals of Malaysian political history. Previous general elections have been tame affairs where the result was never in doubt; it was only a matter of how many seats the opposition could wrest away from BN. But the next election will be different as BN faces a real threat of losing power to a united opposition.

To be sure, this is not the first time that the opposition parties have grouped together to challenge BN. In the 1990 general election, Tengku Razaleigh’s Semangat 46 forged a coalition with other opposition parties and in 1999 DAP, PAS and Keadilan formed Barisan Alternatif to take advantage of public revulsion over Mahathir’s cruel treatment of Anwar.

But these opposition pacts did not even manage to deny BN its customary two-thirds majority. They failed because the social forces at that time were just not in their favour. The minorities were controlled by racial and religious fears and the mindset of the people then could not accept being governed by any coalition other than BN.

Things are certainly different now. Never before has there been such a nexus of events to influence the political destiny of the country. The coming together of the opposition, the dissipation of racial and religious fears, the sea change in mindset, the political awakening of Sabah and Sarawak and yet another sodomy outrage on Anwar have coalesced into the perfect storm to threaten BN.

The Tyranny of Numbers

Although chances to unseat BN have never been better one should not be mistaken into thinking that ousting the behemoth is easy or inevitable. In Malaysia there is no such thing as free and fair elections. The playing field is wholly tilted to BN which has almost unlimited funds and controls the mass media and all the levers of power which it shamelessly uses to its advantage.

There are 222 parliament seats so a party winning 112 seats gains a simple majority to form the government with the other side ending up with 110 seats. Of course such a slim majority is not workable in practice as a single defection will lose the majority. If PR wins a majority which is too thin BN will waste no time in scuttling their majority by inducing defections.

However the aim is to gain an idea of whether PR has any chance of winning, never mind the practicality of governance. After the 2008 general election, PR held 83 parliament seats to BN’s 139. This means PR must retain all the seats it won in 2008 plus an additional 29 seats to obtain the bare minimum majority. On the surface this looks rather optimistic.

But numbers can be deceptive. Our election system is based on “first past the post” which means that a win by 1 vote is still a win. Hence a small swing in vote share can result in a large number of seats changing hands. An alternative system is proportional representation where seat allocation is based on the proportion of votes secured but the disadvantage of such a system is that it tends to result in weak governments.

After the 2008 election there were many marginal seats won by both sides which could change hands with just a small swing in voter support. Based on data on marginal seats sourced from malaysiakini, a 6% swing to PR will result in PR capturing an additional 29 seats, i.e. winning 112 seats to BN’s 110.

An overall 6% swing in voter support is a large swing and this must come on the back of the 2008 swing against BN. To put this in perspective the overall swing to and against BN in past general elections are as follows: (sourced from The Star)

1995 – 11.8% swing to BN due to Dr. M’s liberalization policies
1999 – 8.7% swing to opposition due to Anwar factor
2004 – 7.4% swing to BN due to new PM Badawi
2008 – 10.7% swing to opposition due to tsunami.

So a 6% swing is within the range of possibility but the crux is that swings have alternated between BN and opposition from election to election. Since the last election saw a swing of 10.7% to the opposition an additional 6% swing in the same direction seems optimistic. Even more ominous, a mere 1.2% swing to BN will see BN regaining its two-thirds majority. Is BN safe in Putrajaya after all?

The Keys to Putrajaya

The key to break this tyranny of numbers is Sabah and Sarawak. To put it another way, Sabah and Sarawak hold the keys to Putrajaya.

In the above analysis we have assumed that the voting pattern in the two East Malaysian states will not differ greatly from 2008 subject to a moderate percentage swing. In 2008 the opposition only managed to capture only a single seat each in Sabah and Sarawak.

But Sabah and Sarawak are experiencing a political awakening in the wake of the 2008 tsunami. The notion of the two states being “fixed deposits” for BN is no longer true after the 2011 Sarawak state election. The mood in Sabah towards the federal government is anger at the hordes of illegal immigrants and Sabah is ripe for political change.

Hence we should treat Sabah and Sarawak differently on the basis that their normal voting pattern is going to be upset from the usual trend and moderate swings do not apply. Sabah has 26 parliament seats and Sarawak 31, numbers which are disproportionate to their population.

Results from the recently concluded Sarawak state election indicate that PR’s success can be translated into 6 to 8 parliamentary seats. As for Sabah it is certainly set to lose more than one seat.

If we assume that PR can capture 8 seats in Sarawak and 8 seats in Sabah and adding these to PR’s 81 Peninsula seats in 2008, this brings the total to 97. To achieve 112 seats PR will need to capture an additional 15 seats in the Peninsula, assuming that it is able to keep all the seats captured in 2008.

From the table of BN’s marginal seats and excluding those seats in Sabah and Sarawak, we find that a 4% swing will yield PR an additional 14 seats while a 5% swing will yield another 19 seats in the Peninsula.

So 4% swing in the Peninsula is just falls short while a 5% swing will yield a total of 116 seats for PR and 106 seats for BN with a majority of 10, not great but workable giving PR time consolidate its position by making much needed changes to the police, judiciary MACC and other enforcement divisions.

A 5% swing is still significant and we must remember that this must come on the back of a 10.7% swing in 2008 in the same direction. The next question is, “Will there be enough fence sitters to execute the swing given that a large number have already swung away from BN in 2008?”

The Racial Battleground

What sort of swing in each of the three major ethnic groups is needed to obtain this 5% swing in the Peninsula? Based on past by-elections the support level of the Chinese and Indians can be predicted with some reliability but the Malay ground is very hard to read.

The Chinese community can be considered to be won by PR with up to 80% support in by-elections which has increased from 2008 where 65% of Chinese voters supported PR. It is generally believed that the Indian community voted overwhelmingly against BN in 2008 but the numbers show that Indian support for BN was split down the middle at 48%. This was of course a huge swing from their normal 80% support level. Right now the Indian vote is still roughly split down the middle although by-elections have detected a slight drift back to BN. We should not read too much into these “buy-elections” where the poor and marginalized are most susceptible to handouts which cannot be repeated on a national scale.

Among the Malays there appear to be few fence sitters. This is why PR finds it hard to increase its Malay vote share. On the other hand even overt racism and ultra nationalism do little to enlarge Umno’s Malay base. The Malay ground is very hard to shift either way but a little means a lot due to their demography.

Analysis of BN’s Malay vote share in past general elections show 49% in 1999 due to the Anwar crisis, 59.1% in 2004 due to the new PM factor (or because Mahathir was gone) and 55% in 2008. Umno’s baseline Malay support appears to be about 55% and it can shift up or down by about 5%. This means that in 2008 it may have come down to its base support level and it possible to shift either way by a maximum of 5%.

The Critical Malay Vote

If we assume a 75% support level for PR from the Chinese and 48% support level from the Indians what sort of support level is required from Malays for an overall 5% swing to PR? The results are summarized in the table below.

Ethnic Group PR support 2008 PR support 13th GE (assumed) & swing within group Demography % overall swing
Chinese 65% 75% 10% 26% 2.6%
Indian 48% 48% 0% 8% 0%
Malay 55% 58.6% 3.6% 66% 2.4%
Total 5.0%

Hence it can be seen that a Malay swing to PR of 3.6% from the 2008 baseline is required to push PR into Putrajaya with a thin majority of 10 seats.

It is clear that the 13th general election will be a battle for the Malay vote. Only the Malays themselves can determine who governs them. There are no races acting as kingmakers.

The Road to Putrajaya

So the essential conditions for a PR victory are the capture of 8 seats each in Sabah and Sarawak, a 10% Chinese swing, no change in Indian support and critically, a 3.6% Malay swing to PR. Note that this analysis is based on national averages; it does not consider seat results due to local conditions, local demography or the popularity of a candidate.

As these conditions are within the range of possibility optimists may see this as a good chance to unseat BN. Pessimists may see it as unlikely to happen especially with the Malays reportedly drifting back to Umno.

Is there any likelihood of a cataclysmic event which will swing the Malay vote away from BN as what happened in 1999? Yes, there is – Anwar’s sodomy II which will probably end with his imprisonment and may yet yield the required Malay swing provided Umno is reckless enough to put him in jail.

Importance of a Pakatan Victory

What Malaysia badly needs is a two party system where democratic competition forces the ruling party to be more people centric and accountable. A party which has no fear of losing power invariably becomes corrupt and abusive.

Can PR function as a component of the two party system to put pressure on BN without gaining power? What if PR does not gain power but wins enough seats in the next general election to put real fear in BN and force it to reform?

But this is not likely to happen. Instead of reforming BN will take desperate measures to whip up racial sentiment, oppress the opposition and manipulate the electoral process to cement its power. A two party system will only exist in Malaysia if BN loses power at least once.

The road to Putrajaya is long and arduous so PR must stay focused and cohesive. There is no room for petty squabbling or in-fighting. Unseating BN with their absolute control of money, media and machinery is hard even with the opposition coalition at its optimum. Anything less and BN may even gain back their two-thirds majority instead of being ousted.

  1. #1 by hiro on Thursday, 28 April 2011 - 10:48 pm

    Great work, Kenny. Perhaps it is also optimistic to consider that between 2008 and now, there are new registered voters, who by virtue of being exposed to a more balanced news having worked at urban centres or semi-urban/semi-rural areas, and who has the ability to bring the news back to places without access to the internet (no doubt thanks to the government for keeping rural people ignorant), there is a real possibility of a swing of 3.6-5% of bumi votes towards Pakatan.

    Whatever it is, anyone reading this article/blog should make an effort within the year to influence at least 5% of your colleagues, friends and family members into developing an awareness of what’s going on in the country. I believe there is no need to tell them how to vote, because once they have that awareness, they will answer to the call of duty to register themselves to become a voter, and then on that fateful day, vote for a more promising tomorrow for Malaysia.

  2. #2 by drngsc on Thursday, 28 April 2011 - 11:20 pm

    Dear Kit / pakatan, please guard against complacency and overconfidence. Please continue to work hard. The Tiger is wounded but not dead.
    To all who love Malaysia, who are overseas, I would like to appeal to you to register to vote. When CE 13 is announced, please take 2 days leave, fly back to vote, take your family for a nice dinner, and then fly back to work. We need every vote.
    To all Malaysians back home, please register to vote, and please vote. Anyone except BN please.

    We need to change the tenant at Putrajaya.

  3. #3 by hallo on Thursday, 28 April 2011 - 11:59 pm

    Hope the best

    If there is any way avoid religion would be better

  4. #4 by hallo on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 12:06 am

    Wrong sms can blind human beings like an animal

    Avoid would be better

  5. #5 by raven77 on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 12:07 am

    One difference from before……..Internet.

  6. #6 by pulau_sibu on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 2:37 am

    no need to have general election. looking at the sex video (putting thai lady and said is chinese prostitute) and we can be certain that boleh police are losing control of the country. some one else is taking charge of the police and not the IGP.

  7. #7 by burn on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 3:27 am

    lately, news on one race have started to come out frequently! most news were created by 2 party group that have been going around to look for excuses or creating one. some of their demands for the peoples are genuine, and some are totally ridiculous. this 2 party are looking for support, and have been poisoning the peoples mind or can say brainwash, to win their support and heart. this mostly happened in “pr” states. something to ponder on before election come.


  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 3:51 am

    Regarding that so called “cataclysmic event” which is necessary to swing the decisive Malay vote away from BN, it is unlikely going to be outrage from DSAI being sent to jail from Sodomy II. First of all, learning from experience of Sodomy I, BN is not likely to be reckless to take that risk. Sodomy II trial is meant to tarnish and demolish DSAI’s moral capital – just like purpose of latest sex video caper. Anyway the legal process (appeals etc) will take longer than next GE to conclude. The decisive factor is mdia spectacle on the sex video. If it succeeds to convince DSAI the actor, PR’s cause is lost; if it doesn’t and people think its a conspiracy to ply foul by gutter politics, then swing may go the other way in favour of PR against BN in nxt GE. The decisive battle over perception depends how this sex video eventually plays out.

  9. #9 by Jeffrey on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 4:07 am

    Wht Anwar said (reported in TheMalaysianInsider) – that BN was using sex scandals against him to neutralise PR’s challenge, and stay in power – is correct. BN’s has no particular merits in governance issue (except vacillate the 1 Malaysia – 1 Mlay/Bumi to & fro) to buttress its legitimacy, so the other recourse left is to destroy moral legitimacy of the Opposition’s leader.

    There’s a risk in this calculated move. It is whether in sublimal thoughts and feelings of many Malay voters, such a political ploy is deemed Ok to expose on the Opposition leader or otherwise felt to be “unMalay” or unIslamic (as expressed by some quarters) or humiliating. If the latter scenario, many may get angry and vote against.

  10. #10 by Bigjoe on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 7:08 am

    The analysis is short on swing back to BN of the Malay vote. It really should delve deeper. Like it or not the damage to Anwar and PKR is real. Sarawak election result is no indicator of the damage.

    Traditionally there is only two way to get back the Malay vote – poor economics or scandal. Economics is going to slow down and at least dent Najib’s Broadway economics(its more show than real). But it won’t be bad enough.

    The leaves scandal. The most likely place to find scandal is the electioning or crime. Its clear UMNO/BN has been manoevering to cheat on a massive scale in election. If PR can find enough proof, then the election will swing easily for PR. The other is simply crime, – people are just very sick and tired. Enough crime to shock the Malay vote will also vote out UMNO.

  11. #11 by k1980 on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 7:54 am

    Had Ku Li joined PR, he would suddenly himself doing the big naughty in sex clips posted in the internet. So would Ong Tiket, Koh Ah Koon, and so on……

  12. #12 by boh-liao on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 9:14 am

    Don’t count d chickens – whatever ppl think here or like 2 think here, d realiti is UmnoB/BN very strong here, propped up by race, religion, Malay royalty, corruption, gravy train, cronyism
    D last few factors apply 2 nonMalays who die die must support racist UmnoB (otherwise how can 1 explain Y seemingly intelligent n educated nonMalays so willingly support UmnoB 2 bully n suppress them n their descendants)
    Smart UmnoB had ensured their eternal victory by playing d system: carving out small areas of rural constituencies as their fixed deposits, controlling postal votes n d EC, ISA, OSA, etc
    They don’t bother about losing votes in d cities, so what, as long as they win fr rural folks
    D stark truth is 1M’sia is done in by racial polarities – n UmnoB must disintegrate/atomise any Malay politicians who can unite n mobilise Malays n nonMalays against 1Melayu UmnoB

  13. #13 by Sallang on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 5:09 pm

    Do you think loan sharks will support BN? Those illegal gambling center operators. These people employed many youngsters to work for them.

    My question above may sound silly, but think again.

    I told one owner recently to encourage the youngsters to go and register themselves for the coming election. Their reply was, ‘ai yah! vote for which party also the same because money talks.

    You should be amazed at the rate these people spread their influence all over the country.
    Handbills, mini posters, small cards on car windscreen wipers advertising their activities.
    If only they care for the future of this country.
    MCA have failed to look into their needs.

  14. #14 by Not spoon fed on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 7:51 pm

    Information is power. Urban people are well informed of their coruption.

    Knowledge brings forth understanding about Pakatan’s policies on Malay, Bumi and Indians.

    Chinese are heavily subcribing to Internet and well received of BN’s corruption.

    Please continue to work hard to publish and distribute to rural people of Sarawakians about Taib’s billion Ringgit property in other countries.

    Please have more ceramah (talk) in Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia without delay.

  15. #15 by vsp on Friday, 29 April 2011 - 10:43 pm

    I don’t have any hope that PK will dislodge BN from power. The weakest link in the PK is a dysfunction PKR which is more of an UMNO twin.

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