KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — Barisan Nasional’s (BN) landslide victory in the Melaka state election was due more to a transient change in voting patterns than an endorsement of the coalition’s politics, said analysts.
Despite BN winning 21 out of the 28 seats in Melaka, DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong pointed out its share of the popular vote grew by less than one per cent from the 2018 general election.
Liew argued that the Melaka was instead decided by the 97,185 fewer votes Pakatan Harapan (PH) received on Saturday compared to 2018.
“PH’s vote share was 51.11 per cent in 2018 but sharply declined to 35.65 per cent in 2021. PAS received only 10.78 per cent of votes in 2018. In 2021, Perikatan Nasional (PN) with PAS as one of its component parties, received 24.47 per cent of votes.
“It is not difficult to see that Umno gained its victory by utilising its machinery to mobilise hardcore voters but did not gain much new ground while PH lost ground to PN-Bersatu, not to Umno,” he said, referring to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun agreed that PN was spoiling the contest for PH, adding that the Opposition coalition lost votes due to infighting and for accepting defectors from Umno.
“PH apparently has very poor voter mobilisation machinery which hurt them tremendously when voter turnout is low, and they also could not come to a unified election message as PKR and DAP fought over the acceptance of the defectors as candidates,” Oh said.
University Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan agreed the Umno and BN victory was more down to the lack of unity in PH.
Azmi noted that the number of seats BN won belied the slim majorities it secured in several of these.
“We do not see a real shift of the Malay voters showing their support towards BN, or more importantly, a clear shift of the Chinese and Indian voters towards BN, there is no clear indication, so I think that’s the reason why a majority of the seats won by BN were by slim majorities.
“BN lost out on fewer votes as compared to PH, and that is the only reason why they had what seemed like a landslide victory. But the landslide is only in terms of the number of seats they gained, and not in terms of the number of votes they got,” he said.
Universiti Malaya associate professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi disagreed that the Melaka result was due to Opposition disunity, but was rather the outcome of BN’s gambling on using leaders such as Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to drive the campaign despite their court cases and scandals.
“If BN had lost in the Melaka elections, it would have become a major excuse to oust the president of Umno and his faction and would have given reason to work together with Bersatu and PAS in the coming general elections.
“However, when the Tok Mat, Bossku (Najib) and Zahid trifecta managed to pull off a major surprise in the Melaka polls, then only did other component parties start to show their supposed solidarity within BN,” he said.
He said the combination of Najib and Zahid playing the victims of being dragged to court over politically trumped-up charges managed to win over the sympathy of their hardcore supporters.
“There was also the perception of Umno ‘championing the people’ when they pressured the PN government especially on issues of the people’s welfare during Covid-19, including the issue of bank loan moratoriums,” Awang Azman added.
Bellwether for GE15?
After Melaka, Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan suggested that GE15 should be held soon and said he has suggested this to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
For the observers, however, the low 66 per cent turnout in Melaka meant it was not a reliable predictor of voting patterns in the next general election.
“I think Melaka does not truly portray what will happen or what will be going on during the 15th General Election, so when figures in Umno are calling for an early election, I think they have to be cautious in this matter as a voter turnout of just under 66 per cent does not truly represent the real political scenario at a national level,” said Azmi.
Liew said Mohamad’s remarks suggested that Umno and BN were confident at the moment, and claimed the Umno deputy president along with Zahid and Najib could start pressuring Ismail Sabri to call a general election soon.
“When Umno pushes Ismail, what would he do? What would other parties do? That’s the question.
“The Melaka election may have resolved the state political dilemma, for a while, but it opens the door to bigger problems at the national level, including the relationship between BN and PN, as well as the future of PH,” Liew said.
However, the analysts were all in agreement that Melaka showed that PH was in need of some soul searching and reinventing.
Oh said the coalition’s message has become unfocussed since signing the memorandum of understanding with the government while Azmi said PH chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim must work to consolidate all the Opposition parties.
Awang Azman said PH must quickly realise that BN’s goal will be to extinguish the coalition in GE15 and act accordingly.
“This (reevaluation) includes the issue of which logos they will use, taking in the two former Umno assemblymen, strengthening their grassroots movement to garner more support from youth voters, and to also listen more to their grassroots
“PH also needs to upgrade and improve their workflow at the grassroots level to ensure they are able to attract more support from the Malay electorate,” he told Malay Mail.
Where does this leave Bersatu and PAS?
On Bersatu and PAS, the analysts said Melaka has shown that there was no synergy in their relationship.
More than anything, they said the result has also shown that both Bersatu and PAS each need Umno more than one another.
Without bargaining power, however, they said Bersatu will also have to temper its expectations when negotiating seat allocations with Umno, they said.
Alternately, Oh said Bersatu could try and position itself as a third force to capture voters who did not want to back Umno yet were uneasy supporting PH.
However, he also predicted that this would not be by choice as PAS would most likely try and rekindle the Muafakat Nasional alliance with Umno now.
“I think BN’s win in Melaka would bring back PAS to their side, and with PAS’ help, BN’s huge win in the next GE is very likely,” said Oh.
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