Malays still the kingmakers

The Tenang by-election result and the results of those by-elections before this have proven this point. Umno can’t depend on the non-Malays. Umno needs the Malays and they need Malays who are nationalistic to the point of being racists to remain in power.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Chinese votes alone not enough for Pakatan

Pakatan takes another hard knock in Tenang, making its goal of capturing Putrajaya looks all the more harder.

Syed Jaymal Zahiid, Free Malaysia Today

Yes, the Chinese votes for Pakatan Rakyat have increased significantly at the Tenang by-election but the fixation on this often masks one crucial fact – its inability to capture the Malay votes.

Too often the swing in Chinese support towards the opposition hogs the limelight, but the fact remains clear that without the Malay votes, Pakatan’s Putrajaya quest is impossible.

Barisan Nasional (BN) saw its candidate Azahar Ibrahim garner 6,999 votes against the 2,992 gained by PAS’ Normala Sudirman, with a majority votes of 3,707.

This is about 1,200 more than the victory margin attained by the late Sulaiman Taha of Umno in the 2008 general election, whose death triggered this 14th by-election since the last general election.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the discourse turned on the Chinese votes as seen in the debate between BN and Pakatan politicians on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The discussion on the return of Malay votes to BN was given little, if no attention at all, despite the clear fact that it signals Pakatan’s inability to capture the support from the country’s majority electorate.

The rise in BN’s majority could only mean one thing: if the Chinese votes had strayed away from the ruling coalition, the votes of other races must have made up for the increase in BN’s majority.

The turnout for the Indian voters, who make up about 12% of the 14,753 eligible voters here, was said to be a meagre 25%. Their votes had little impact on the outcome.

This means that Malay support made up most of the majority gained by BN.

Malay power

Pakatan chief and PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim had admitted in the past that the bloc must widen its Malay power base if it ever hopes to capture Putrajaya.

The continuous decline in Malay support in almost all of the 14 by-elections, including Tenang, clearly indicates that Pakatan has failed miserably in its campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Malays.

And BN’s Malay lynchpin, Umno, is well aware that it is not heavily dependent on Chinese support to maintain power. Without the help of its non-Malay component allies, Umno parliamentarians alone hold enough seats to form and maintain the government of the day.

Of course, the continuous swing in Chinese votes towards Pakatan is a wake-up call for MCA, especially its president Dr Chua Soi Lek.

Tenang falls under the Labis parliamentary constituency, a supposed stronghold of the MCA supremo. It is now helmed by his son Chua Tee Yong.

Soi Lek, in his first term as MCA chief, is under great pressure to regain Chinese support. The failure to do so in his own fortress reflects badly on his presidency, but this is a separate discourse altogether.

So for now, Pakatan’s credibility as a potent opposition force is questionable as the Malays continue to abandon the pact. And capturing Putrajaya is nothing less than mere wishful thinking.


That was Syed Jaymal Zahiid’s analysis of the Tenang by-election, which was published in Free Malaysia Today. And one thing you must note is the reference to Malay votes being the deciding factor in any election. In short, Malays are undeniably the kingmakers in Malaysian politics.

Whether it is Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat, or any man and his dog, when they talk about Malaysian politics or Malaysian elections it must be on the basis of Malay votes, Chinese votes, Indian votes, Dayak votes, Iban votes, Kadazan votes, and so on.

In Thailand it is simpler. It is either red shirts or yellow shirts. In Indonesia it is either pro-Reformasi or pro-Golkar. In the US it is Democrats and Republicans while in the UK it is Labour or Conservative (now made a bit more complicated with the LibDems as the new kingmakers).

But in Malaysia the division is very complicated indeed because we have to further compartmentalise the voters according to race. And if that is not complicated enough, the Malays need to be further compartmentalised into pro-Islam Malays and pro-Nationalist Malays.

More than two years ago I attended a MCKK Old Boys dinner and was seated next to Nazri Aziz. We had a most interesting discussion and he told me that in the March 2008 general election 51% of the Malays voted for Barisan Nasional, meaning Umno. This also means 49% of the Malays voted for the opposition.

Nazri admitted that Barisan Nasional did not do too well with the Chinese and Indian voters where 70% and 90% respectively voted for the opposition.

Now, in spite of three-quarters of the non-Malays voting for the opposition and only half the Malays voting for the government, Barisan Nasional still managed to form the government, although with not enough seats to control two-thirds of Parliament.

So, how many percent of the Malay votes would the opposition need to win to kick out Barisan Nasional and to form the next federal government, assuming it can still garner 70% of the Chinese and Indian votes (it looks like getting 90% of the Indian votes like in 2008 is now impossible)?

It appears the opposition would need to win at least 65%-70% of the Malay votes, which is impossible to achieve.

This is because of the gerrymandering where Barisan Nasional has very cleverly drawn up the constituencies so that they need win only 40%-45% of the popular votes to continue holding on to power, although it may just be with a simple majority. And we must not forget Barisan Nasional’s ‘fixed deposit’, the 57 seats from East Malaysia, which almost all went to Barisan Nasional in 2008.

I sometimes wonder whether it is an uphill battle and that the opposition will never get to march into Putrajaya. Instead of talking about forming the next federal government or marching into Putrajaya maybe we should instead be talking about trying to ensure that we have a strong opposition, thereby acknowledging that Pakatan Rakyat will always remain the opposition, albeit a strong opposition?

The fact that the opposition appears to be at each other’s throats more than focused on attacking Barisan Nasional and that the pro-Pakatan Rakyat Bloggers and activists are more concerned with trying to outdo each other and to bring down one another does not build confidence at all. It is not enough we have this very powerful Barisan Nasional to deal with, but we also have internal feuds and civil wars to contend with.

Malaysian politics and Malaysian elections are still very much about race and religion. Only a minority of Malaysians are concerned about ideology, performance, delivery, good governance, transparency, fundamental liberties, and so on. The majority are still focused on making sure that those of their own race and religion get to become the leaders and get to form the government.

How does Pakatan Rakyat get around this? It is not easy. As long as Malaysians are compartmentalised according to race and religion and they make decisions, such as voting, based on this criteria, then it is going to take a long time before Pakatan Rakyat can gain acceptance from the majority of Malaysians.

Officially we have such a thing called 1Malaysia. But if 1Malaysia really succeeds and Malaysians start thinking along the lines that we are all Malaysians and it does not matter what race and religion you are, then Barisan Nasional, in particular Umno is in deep shit.

No, it is not in the interest of Umno that all Malaysians think along the lines of 1Malaysia. Umno needs PERKASA and PEKIDA and all those ultra-Malay groups and paramilitary movements. Like it or not, Barisan Nasional’s and Umno’s future is in the hands of ultra-nationalist Malays. The day the Malays stop thinking as Malays and start thinking as Malaysians would be the day Umno is given a funeral.

The Tenang by-election result and the results of those by-elections before this have proven this point. Umno can’t depend on the non-Malays. Umno needs the Malays and they need Malays who are nationalistic to the point of being racists to remain in power. And they need to retain almost 100% of their East Malaysian ‘fixed deposit’ to make sure that Pakatan Rakyat will never march into Putrajaya or even become a strong opposition in Parliament.