GE13: Political awakening in Sabah?

The electorate has become more politically aware of their democratic rights — to choose political parties that can best fight for their interests, says Arnold Puyok.

The election results in Sabah indicate that the state continues to play its role as kingmaker in forming the ruling government at the federal level. Sabah’s fixed deposit status remains but it is set to be challenged in the next election due to the saliency of issues in the Kadazandusun and Chinese areas. 

The dust from the 13th Malaysian General Election has finally settled.

As expected, BN (Barisan Nasional) returned to power winning 133 (60 per cent) out of 222 federal seats as opposed to PR (Pakatan Rakyat) 89 (40 per cent). In terms of popular votes, BN polled 46% compared to PR 54 per cent. However, as Malaysia practices first-past-the-post system, the election results gave BN the mandate to rule the country for another term. PR refused to accept the results due to what it termed “widespread abuses” in the electoral system. The alleged use of foreigners to vote, vote-buying, unprofessional conduct of the Election Commission (EC) officials, and so on, are among the examples of fraudulent practices PR accused BN of condoning.

Once again, Sabah and Sarawak helped BN win with a simple majority. In Peninsula Malaysia, BN only managed to win 86 or 39 per cent of the federal seats compared to PR 80 or 36 per cent. Sabah and Sarawak contributed 47 or 21 per cent of the federal seats to BN. The results showed that Sabah and Sarawak continued to play their kingmaker role to ensure BN’s electoral victory.

Upon announcing BN’s return to power, Najib Razak blamed BN’s poor performance on the “Chinese tsunami”. The next day, the BN-controlled newspaper Utusan Malaysia carried a front-paged news entitled “Apa Lagi Cina Mahu?” (What More Do the Chinese Want?). The Chinese factor is indeed decisive. Most of the Chinese seats – either at the state or federal level – were won by DAP (Democratic Action Party). Lim Kit Siang, the DAP supremo, who contested in Gelang Patah, managed to defeat Abdul Ghani Othman, the Johor Menteri Besar. The dramatic swing of the Chinese voters to the Opposition was also evident in most of the Chinese-majority seats in Sabah and Sarawak.


Apart from the Chinese factor, analysts also cited “urban uprising” as a major cause for BN’s dismal performance. BN continued its dominance in the rural areas while the Opposition dominated in semi-urban and urban areas.

In Sabah, the Opposition managed to increase its share of the state seats from one in 2008 to 12 in 2013. At the federal level, the opposition managed to get an additional two seats (Table 1). What accounts for the Sabah Opposition’s electoral gains in 2013? Can the Chinese tsunami and urban uprising hypotheses be used to explain the opposition’s electoral performance in Sabah? What issues shaped the electoral outcomes in Sabah. What do the election results tell us about Sabah politics in the next five years?

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