Galas: The old story of development politics

The Nut Graph

BARISAN Nasional (BN) won big in both the Batu Sapi and Galas by-elections on 4 Nov 2010. In Galas, BN beat PAS with a 1,190-vote majority and won 12 out of the 13 polling districts. PAS only managed to retain its stronghold in Sungai Terah with a reduced majority of 258 compared to 510 in 2008. The Islamist party admitted shock at its own defeat as it had expected a margin of 600 to 700 votes if it were to lose.

PAS’s original strategy was to retain Orang Asli votes at 33%, while increasing Chinese Malaysian votes to 60-70%. It was expecting a 6% drop in Malay Malaysian support similar to the Manik Urai by-election in July 2009.

As it turned out, PAS suffered a drop in all communities, with an estimated 8% among Malay Malaysians, 2-3% among Chinese Malaysians, and a whopping 13% among Orang Asli voters compared to 2008.

But beyond the numerical results, the battle for Galas, as with some of the other by-elections in rural or semi-rural areas since 2008, is the problem of disempowered voters whose decisions are still largely defined by development and economic issues. This poses Pakatan Rakyat (PR) its biggest challenge ahead of the 13th general election.

Wrong bet on Orang Asli votes

Workers setting up a BN feel-good billboard in Kampung Tiong, Sungai Terah

Workers setting up a BN feel-good billboard in Kampung Tiong, Sungai Terah

Political analyst Dr Ong Kian Ming attributes BN’s larger-than-expected victory to Orang Asli voters, who comprise 17% of constituents. BN strengthened its hold on the Orang Asli by winning all their six polling districts with increased majorities.

Ong notes that of BN’s victory margin of 1,190 votes, 1,001 came from Orang Asli while another 121 came from postal votes.

“In Malay and Chinese-dominated areas BN won with only a slim majority,” the UCSI lecturer tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.

Indeed, PAS only received 20% of the Orang Asli votes compared to 33% in 2008. It suffered its worst defeat in Bihai and Belatim where the party only received 2% of the total vote and 7%, respectively.