After the 11th Sarawak state general election on May 7, the country is poised for the two Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar parliamentary by-elections next month.
Everybody’s first option is to have a one-to-one contest with UMNO/BN in the two by-elections, but this may not be a feasible or even the best political choice.
I have said that although the inability of Pakatan Harapan to campaign as one united team was a cause of great disappointment not only in Sarawak but also in Malaysia, the results of the Sarawak state general election showed that the multi-cornered contests involving Pakatan Harapan parties had not materially affected the outcome of the state election results.
Regardless of whether Pakatan Harapan had been able to present an united front, the results of the 11th Sarawak state general election results would have remained largely the same – Adenan Satam as Chief Minister of Sarawak, Barisan Nasional Sarawak forming the Sarawak state government with continuing two-thirds State Assembly majority and the question to be decided on the May 7 polling day was whether there could be a strong, effective and principled Opposition grouping in the Sarawak State Assembly.
In the last Sarawak State General election in 2011, Barisan Nasional Sarawak lost 16 out of total of 71 state assembly seats.
From the results of the 2016 Sarawak state general elections, out of the expanded 82 state assembly seats in the Sarawak State Assembly, Pakatan Harapan would have difficulty to win a total of 16 seats even if Pakatan Harapan parties had been able to present an united front.
There are two state assembly seats which the Barisan Nasional won by split Opposition votes winning by a minority vote – Meluan where the BN candidate won with 37.4 of the total votes polled and Ngemah where the BN candidate won with 46.1 per cent of the total votes cast. But the beneficiaries would not be DAP or PKR but the independent candidates of both constituencies.
There were four constituencies where Pakatan Harapan were within striking distance of victory – two for DAP, viz Tasik Biru and Mambong for DAP; Teluk Usan and Marudi for PKR. But even if Pakatan Harapan had been able to win these four seats, Pakatan Harapan total in the Sarawak State Assembly would not have reached 16.
The Opposition has taken the “one to one” route before, and the best result the Opposition achieved in Malaysian electoral history was by Pakatan Rakyat in the 13th General Election in May 2013, where Datuk Najib Razak became the first minority Prime Minister winning only 47% of the popular votes cast but with 60 per cent of the parliamentary seats. Pakatan Rakyat’s score was winning 89 out of the 222 parliamentary seats.
It was in the 13th General Election that PAS candidate secured 18,296 votes (or 48.6% of the votes cast) as against 18,695 votes for the UMNO candidate, losing by a water-thin majority of 399 votes; and in Kuala Kangsar, the PAS candidate also came very close to victory, polling 13,136 votes against UMNO’s 14,218 votes (or 46.6% of the votes cast in a three-cornered contest), losing by a majority of 1,082.
However the votes won by the PAS candidates in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar in the 13th General Elections on May 5, 2013 were the highest ever achieved by PAS candidates, because they were standing as Pakatan Rakyat and not just PAS candidates.
In the forthcoming by-elections for both Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, in a one-to-one contest with UMNO/BN, the PAS candidates in both constituencies cannot win higher votes but only lower votes as not only non-Malay voters but a sizable number of Malay voters will not vote for PAS because PAS had caused the disintegration of Pakatan Rakyat.
The election results for the PAS candidates in the 2004 General Election would be a more accurate reflection of PAS’ actual strength in these two constituencies – in Sungai Besar, securing 7,988 votes against UMNO’s 15,337 – losing by a huge majority of 7,349 votes or PAS securing 33.1% per cent of the votes cast; in Kuala Kangsar, lost by 5,557 votes by securing 5,748 votes as against the UMNO candidate who won 11,305 votes (or PAS securing 32,9% of the total votes cast).
As the “one to one” route had been maximised in the 2013 General Election, UMNO/BN can only be defeated in the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar parliamentary by-elections if there is a “game changer” giving the two by-elections unprecedented national significance and importance.
Is such a “game changer” available?
I think this is to be found in Najib’s twin mega scandals, the RM50-55 billion 1MDB scandal and his RM4.2 billion “donation” scandal.
Najib’s twin mega scandals had no traction in the recent Sarawak state general election because the “Adenan effect” was more potent – just like the “Pak Lah effect” in the 2004 General Election – apart from the difficulty in understanding the maze and complexities of the 1MDB and “donation” scandals, which seem to be quite distant and remote issues to the daily concerns of the Sarawakian voters.
Will the voters of Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar also find Najib’s twin mega scandals complex and remote subjects of little concern to them or is it possible for Najib’s twin mega scandals to have traction with the voters in the two by-elections, in view of their national and even international significance?
This answer will decide whether there is a “game changer” for the two parliamentary by-elections which have the makings of defeating UMNO/BN – in which case, whether the by-election is a “one to one” or a multi-cornered contest becomes a secondary issue.
(Speech at the Johor Jaya DAP anniversary dinner in Johor Baru on Friday, 20th May 2016 at 8.30 pm)