ALMOST two-thirds of voters in the 14th General Election voted against Barisan Nasional, but what delivered the killer blow to the coalition was the split votes in the Malay heartland areas, say analysts.
A three-way split of the Malay electorate among Umno, PAS and Pakatan Harapan cost Barisan many seats in GE14, especially in marginal seats – at least 17 out of 27 seats that Barisan Nasional won with less than a 5% margin in GE13 had swung in favour of Pakatan Harapan in the recent election.
Most of these marginal seats were located in rural Malay majority areas, which Professor Dr Edmund Terence Gomez considers as part of the Malay heartland states.
“This is quite evident in the seats mentioned (above). It has been manifested most clearly in the general elections since 2008.
“The difference in the 2018 election is the split votes in the Malay heartland states, a key factor that favored the Opposition,” he says.
The swing happened in spite of a redelineation exercise earlier this year, in which many had claimed to be an attempt to rig the election in Barisan’s favour.
According to an earlier report by The Star, five out of the 27 marginal seats Barisan had won in 2013 were part of the redelineation exercise, of which four – Ketereh, Kuala Selangor, Setiawangsa, and Pulai – saw a decrease in the number of voters.
Dr Gomez, who is the Professor of Political Economic at Universiti Malaya, adds that multi-cornered fights did not favour Barisan in this election, which led to the split in Malay votes. Only one out of 27 marginal seats – Baram – was a straight fight.
Sharing similar sentiments, Ahmed Kamal Nava, the founder of non-partisan research firm Politweet, concludes that the results were neither due to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad nor a Malay tsunami, unlike what many would ascribe to Pakatan Harapan’s victory.
This is based on his analysis of social media trends, says Ahmed, who is conducting an in-depth study of the Malay vote along with urban-rural divide.
“Online trends indicated little interest in Tun Mahathir from young people and users in rural areas. Based on that and the actual results, there was no ‘Mahathir effect’ that caused a swing in rural seats,” he says.
Ahmad Kamal’s analysis shows that the Malays grew more interested in Dr Mahathir only after Pakatan had won the election.
According to the data extracted from Facebook’s Audience Insights, he adds, the number of active Facebook Bahasa Melayu users interested in Dr Mahathir rose steadily from 1.4 million users in December 2017 to 2.1 million users in May this year, before shooting up to 4.2 million in June.
In contrast, interest in former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak among Bahasa Melayu users was higher, rising from three million users in December 2017 to 5.5 million users in June this year.
“There was also no Malay tsunami – instead the Malay vote was divided mainly between Barisan and PAS, allowing Pakatan Harapan to win with minority support from the Malay electorate,” Ahmad Kamal says.
The split votes among the Malays and poor in the last election could have major implications in future elections, say the analysts.
In last week’s Sungai Kandis by-election, although Pakatan retained the seat, Barisan won a bigger share of the votes compared to GE14, as PAS – which decided not to contest – asked their supporters to vote for Barisan instead.
Singapore’s The Straits Times reported last month that pollster Merdeka Centre estimated only 25% to 30% of Malays voted for Pakatan, with the remaining Malay electorate almost equally split between Barisan and PAS.
About 95% of Chinese voters chose Pakatan, more than the 85% who supported the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in 2013, while 70-75% of Indian voters supported Pakatan.
The report also warned that the split in Malay votes would have major implications in future elections as Pakatan, Barisan and PAS fight it out for their support.
It quoted Merdeka Center’s research manager Tan Seng Keat as saying that while many traditional Barisan supporters were unhappy with former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his goods and services tax, they did not trust Pakatan either.
“Propaganda indoctrination over all these years cannot change in just a few days of campaigning, even with Dr Mahathir Mohamad there. For them, Umno is a Malay party, a Muslim party. They feel safe,” Tan told The Straits Times.
The report, quoting analysts, said the split Malay vote meant that Pakatan leaders must tread carefully in framing issues deemed sensitive to Malays if they wanted to gain their trust, as Umno and PAS would try even harder to woo the Malays by using the familiar baits of race and religion.
Political scientist Wong Chin Huat of think tank Penang Institute, had a different take, according to the Singaporean daily. He believes about 20% more Malays will always support the government of the day.
As he told The Straits Times, “I would therefore believe Pakatan will now have about, if not more than, 50% support among the Malays post-election.”