In this Cafe Latte chat, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Penampang MP Darrell Leiking, The Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE) CEO Fui K. Soong and Twitter celebrity ATMology discuss the urban and rural divide during the 13th General Election. Star Online editor Philip Golingai moderated the chat.
Philip: Did the urbanites abandon Barisan Nasional in the 13th General Election (GE13)?
Teresa: Well, if you look at the election results, the top 10 parliament seats with the highest majority are from urban areas, places like Seputeh, Petaling Jaya Utara, Petaling Jaya Selatan, Bagan, Kepong, Bukit Mertajam, Bukit Gelugor, Serdang, Batu Gajah, Cheras and Pekan. We didn’t win Pekan, though.
Darrell: I never looked at it as (an) urban and rural (divide). I look at it as a middle-income factor. People from (Penampang) are mostly middle-income. They are more aware of their current needs. Middle-income people (are) rising up to say something. People are changing their pattern of voting and they are aware of their needs in life.
Fui: I think it’s just one perspective and one plan. It’s too singular to see (it as) just (as an) urban and rural divide. It’s greater than that. If you look at it and just say it’s an urban and rural divide, you’ve actually submerged other issues.
ATM: We have to be very careful with the urban and rural definition because it is simplistic. There are many factors you have to consider. I’m a first-time voter and I’m 38. I came back from France in 2001 and I wasn’t politically inclined till I joined my new company. As I get along with the people in social media, I managed to get some political impetus. I would consider myself a keyboard warrior.
Saifuddin: This is how I look at GE13. I’ve always used two circles to illustrate what I think. Prior to 1999, the only circle is the Barisan circle or the developmental circle. Issues would be infrastructure, welfare and amenities from the circle. After 1999, there is the democratic circle. It talks about freedom, human rights, transparency, integrity and corruption. The young ones, middle class and first-time voters are part of the urban voters and the democratic circle is beginning to spread to other areas. The other circle is getting smaller while the latter is getting bigger. Hence, we lost the popular vote.
Philip: What’s your take on this term called “Chinese tsunami”?
Teresa: The 10 majority seats that I have just listed had quite a number of Chinese voters in that area. The easiest way to coin this (phenomenon) is “Chinese tsunami”. I think it is unfair to coin it in such a way. If that is a “Chinese tsunami”, we wouldn’t have received 53.9% popular votes in Selangor. The demographic of Selangor is 55% Malays, 28% Chinese and 16% Indians. If the Malay votes didn’t come in, we wouldn’t have enjoyed the popular votes and majority in Selangor.
Fui: There was a 22% swing away from Barisan among the Chinese electorate. That’s quite significant compared to 4% Malay votes and 3% Indian votes. I would say it’s a “Chinese tsunami” but (also) a “Malay Flash Flood”. The magnitude of that swing certainly came from the Chinese. It’s not just an urban and rural divide. It’s more than that. It’s either a resounding protest towards the ruling government or the support for the Opposition coalition.
Saifuddin: There are two things. You can look at the statistics and the numbers and state that majority of the Chinese didn’t vote for Barisan. I always say this – this time! This is not going to be permanent. The Chinese voted for Barisan in 1999, we had problems with Malay votes in 1999 and problem with Indian votes in 2008. Don’t blame the Chinese. We’ve got to understand the reason behind it and to the best of my knowledge, they are not voting for the Opposition because of the Chinese. It’s because the issues that they are thinking (of) are the same issues that the Malay folk in Temerloh are thinking (of). Issues of fairness, corruption and a free and fair (general) election, it transcends race and ethnic. For Barisan, the challenge is how to address the issues and reach out to the people.
Darrell: I agree with them. It’s not about Chinese (voters), it’s about people making informed decisions now. When they voted, they did not vote (based) on racial lines, they voted based on an informed line.
Fui: GE13 is going to be remembered for the amount of emotions. Social media had a large part to play. People didn’t vote with their heads but they voted with their hearts and they are very much moved by that.
Darrell: Emotion came into play but they had been informed. I think they did not vote with just their hearts but they voted with their minds. Both heart and mind played their roles for these people.
Saifuddin: The challenge for Barisan was that we did not manage to rebut some of the issues and core complaints meted out by the people. There is some kind of accumulated thought among the middle ground. Before 2008, without ICT or new media, 30% of the voters did not know who they voted for. This time around, many of them came in with some kind of accumulated thought. There was emotion but I would say I appreciate the reason behind it and thoughts played a key role.
ATM: My friends on Instagram and other social media platforms posted their fingers being inked blue. I do agree that people came (to vote) with an informed decision, particularly this general election. As they were queuing to vote, many of them would have checked their Twitter accounts and seen news of irregularities. This would have made them come to last-minute decisions.
Darrell: To say (it was a) “Chinese tsunami” – no because the Opposition won Kadazan seats in Sabah. (The term) “Chinese tsunami” was mentioned by the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) and we all know why. Because the party elections are coming up and he has to look more Malay(-centric).
Philip: Fui, you mentioned emotions. Can you share us some examples before and after the elections.
Fui: Generally, people do vote with their hearts. For example, I may love you, I might go inside your car and vote for you. If I really hate you, I will get into you car and still go against you. That is a very powerful emotion! It does not mean that the emotions concur with in the realities of their own life.
Middle-income seems to take this issue seriously. Those days, people with an income of RM3000 would probably live comfortably in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur but today with that same amount of money, it’s really difficult to survive in these places. Those things can be compounded when the toll goes up. Politicians say things that aren’t right and basically not resonating with your own suffering in the urban areas. Of course people would get angry.
Teresa: I think this time around, people can have the chance to compare both Pakatan and Barisan. A series of racist and religious issues being played up were not our doing. We nearly couldn’t contest with our rocket logo. This stirred up many emotions. All these issues made people feel that BN is fair and unjust. There is evidence stating that there were phantom voters. All these coming together, people voted with an informed decision.
Saifuddin: I would admit there are some elements of emotions. (However), you can say that everybody voted with their head. I think Malaysians are quite matured nowadays. If you look at the swing votes, there was emotion but they didn’t lose their heads. The second circle when it started emerging in 1999, it was becoming a protest and democratic circle but that circle became matured. It is a strong circle. It’s not good for Barisan. People are informed and have real reasons. When Pakatan had Buku Jingga, I told my colleague we have serious problems. This is not just a manifesto, this is beyond manifesto! When people voted for the opposition, they had real alternative in their mind.
ATM: Very important to know that first time voters, their emotions can be easily swayed. It’s good to take a break and try to digest the news whether it’s true or not. Good to be emotionally excited but you should maintain your composure
Darrell: During the hearing of RCI (on Sabah’s illegals), citizenship was given overnight to most of the immigrants. Since young, I've been told all this. Our future is no longer decided by us but also by these guys, I can say it loud because RCI has proved it. Many times they’ve said that they have voted two times and many times. Penampang voters wanted this to stop. They knew the only way is to change the government. The emotion is because we want to put things right.
Philip: What’s your thought on Gerrymandering?
Darrell: There are some talks on delineation of the boundaries. Some politicians have mentioned about creating new constituencies. Coming from a Borneo, I’m a proponent of having equal parliamentary representation all over Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. Formation of Malaysia was in the basis that we are equal. We should have one-third seats from Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia . Currently as it stands, there are about 165 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia alone, one in Labuan and 56 in Sabah and Sarawak. There are so many justifications for this. For example, Keningau parliamentary seat, it is a combination of Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor. In the spirit of the formation of Malaysia, you not only create constituency based on the population but also the size of the area. Maybe that’s the way forward. I hope Pakatan and Barisan can agree to this.
Saifuddin: This is a golden opportunity. You never had a parliament like this. You have Barisan governing but Pakatan gaining the popular vote and Datuk Seri Najib Razak has announced that Election Commission will report straight to the Parliament. This is probably the best time for all MPs. We would like to see a more bipartisan government. We should have more discussions on this.
Fui: Gerrymandering has to be addressed. However, it can cut both ways. Both sides of the political divide will have some problems to this. At the end of the day, it’s the parliament's decision. Lawmakers will have to decide.
Teresa: In Sabah and Sarawak, the population is small but size of the (parliament seat) is just too big. For example, Serian constituency is as huge as Malacca but there are only 33,000 voters there. My party thinks that the we should let Sabah and Sarawak be itself. For peninsular, we should re-look at the constituencies. Look at Selangor, many seats have more than 100,000 voters. Peninsular should re-look at the constituency boundaries.
ATM: This is one of the issues that BN has to address before the GE14. However like Fui said, it can cut both sides. It could be to the advantage of Barisan or Pakatan.
Philip: What’s your prediction for the rural seats in GE14?
Fui: Malaysian politics is really a three-legged stool. It’s hard to ignore Sabah and Sarawak. They will be key for the next general election. The young Malay voters and first-time voters are really critical. Everything else becomes secondary due to these factors.
Teresa: For us, this round we are beginning to find ways to make inroads into rural areas but unfortunately Barisan has already created a culture by giving money to these people. I think for us, we have to pass information to those people about what is happening outside of their areas.
Saifuddin: For GE14, it depends on the two circles I mentioned before. Which one will grow bigger? I’m of the opinion that the democratic circle is growing and the other circle is beginning to diminish. The challenge is for Barisan to handle the democratic circle.
Darrell: The current Barisan government, based on my experience, has completely ignored my area. The problems that our constituency had were five or six years ago. Simple local authorities issues were not resolved. We are going to oppose all their failures. I’m telling you, we’re going to win GE14 based on informed decision.
ATM: GE14 will be more interesting. The grandeur of social media will be played up to win the hearts of young voters. I can see how Barisan politicians and Opposition politicians interact with their voters via social media. If Barisan wants to win the hearts of the young voters, they have to play the social media game well.