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BN victory or disaster in Hulu Selangor?

ONE of the best ways to understand the Hulu Selangor by-election is to look at the split-voting phenomenon. That happens when the same voter casts votes for different parties in simultaneous parliamentary and state elections.

In 2008, due to the personality and ethnicity of the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate, MIC’s Datuk G Palanivel, BN suffered badly due to split voting. While it enjoyed a total margin of 6,374 votes when all the three state seats within Hulu Selangor were combined, this lead evaporated into a negative margin of 198 at the parliamentary level. There were also 195 more spoiled votes at the parliamentary level than at the state level.

Changes in Voting Pattern in Hulu Selangor 2008-2010

Elections  BN parties’ votes
PR parties’ votes
Spoiled votes
BN lead/ majority
Total Votes Cast 
Parliamentary contest 2008 (A) 22,979 23,177 1,466 -198 47,622
State contest total 2008 (B) 26,264 20,088 1,271 6,176 47,623
Split-voting (B-A) 3,285

-3,089 -195 6,374 1
Parliamentary contest 2010 (C)  24,997 23,272 731 1,725 49,000
Apparent change, 2008-2010 (C-A)  2,018 95 – 735 1,923 1,378
Actual change,  2008-2010  (C-B)  -1,267 3,184 – 540 – 4,451 1,377

(Source: Election Commission)

All in all, BN could have lost the support of between 6,374 votes (split votes) and 6,569 votes (including spoiled votes) because it fielded the wrong candidate in the 2008 general election.

The challenge for the BN in the 25 April 2010 Hulu Selangor by-election was whether it could reverse this trend by putting up the “right” candidate.

Minor disaster

There were two strong reasons to speculate that reversing the trend for the BN from the 2008 elections would not happen. First, if BN had lost the seat again, the Hulu Selangor Umno division would be in a strong position to demand for the seat in the next elections. Second, some MIC voters could have been angered in this round by Umno‘s high-handed manner of forcing a candidate change on the party. Hence, this would have partly offset whatever gains were made through the reduced split votes from Malay Malaysians.

These were among the main reasons for political scientist Ong Kian Ming to boldly predict a 1,000 to 1,500 winning margin in favour of Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s candidate Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

What would it have meant if Umno had succeeded in reversing the split-voting? Even without additional votes, it would have resulted in the BN winning the by-election with a comfortable 6,000-odd margin. Indeed, this was what Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin boldly predicted before polling day.

In 2008, ignoring the split-voting phenomenon and assessing the BN’s strength from its state level performance alone, Hulu Selangor was one of two things. It was either the coalition’s 42nd stronghold (in terms of the 6,176-vote winning margin) or the coalition’s 57th stranglehold (in terms of popular votes at 56.66%).

In this sense, BN’s 1,725 winning margin in the April 2010 by-election is too small for the RM100 million, or RM65,000 per voter, allegedly delivered or promised by the coalition to win.

Diagram showing depletion of votes for BN

Worse, even with an Umno-approved candidate, this self-labelled referendum of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has turned out to be a minor disaster. A former stronghold is now a marginal seat since the 6,176 margin won in the 2008 state elections has been depleted three quarters, or by 4,451 votes, to 1,725 votes.

More specifically, the PR did not only, in nett terms, take all the 1,377 newly- registered voters, it also grabbed away 1,267 votes which favoured the BN in 2008.

Who are these voters?

Who are these people who have now turned to the PR? Some are Orang Asli. A tiny minority are Malay Malaysians from Felda villages. And the bulk, inevitably, are Chinese Malaysians.

Elderly voters queue up to vote at a polling centre in Hulu Selangor

According to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) supreme council member Low Chee Chong in a communication with me, Chinese Malaysian support for the federal opposition of PR has risen from 67% in 2008’s parliamentary contest to 79% in the 2010 by-election. Some voting streams for elderly Chinese Malaysian voters, who are traditionally more pro-establishment, also showed about 80% support for Zaid.

That basically means the BN might even have lost the support of three-quarters of MCA’s 8,000 members in the constituency.

This is in sharp contrast with the voting patterns of other ethnic groups. According to Loh, the Malay Malaysian support for PR/PKR has dropped from 47% (benefiting from anti-MIC/Palanivel split voters) to 35%. Indian Malaysian support plummeted from 51% to 41%.

Beyond Hulu Selangor

So, did Najib’s “1Malaysia” slogan and RM100 million development pledges win him the national referendum?

Najib (right), celebrating Kamalanathan’s win in Hulu Selangor
Yes and no. He has surely won the constituency but has been soundly rejected by Chinese Malaysian voters.

And what can we read of this by-election beyond Hulu Selangor?

The good news for Malay ethno-nationalists is this. If, in constituencies where Chinese Malaysians constitute at least a quarter of all voters, Umno/BN can keep the non-Chinese Malaysian support for the PR below 40%, then even when 80% of Chinese Malaysians support the PR, Chinese Malaysians will not determine the election outcome. This is exactly what happened in Hulu Selangor in the April 2010 by-election.

The bad new for ethno-nationalists, however, is that there are simply too many constituencies where Chinese Malaysian voters make up more than a quarter of all voters. According to the 2008 ethnic composition data, which is admittedly outdated due to new registration, there are 90 such parliamentary seats in West Malaysia and 13 more in East Malaysia.

As long as the PR can ensure a minimum of 40% support from non-Chinese Malaysian voters in these 103 seats, 80% support from Chinese Malaysian voters would be sufficient to deny BN its two-third majority. This would then strengthen the two-party political competition emerging in Malaysia.

Now, here’s the question: is ethnic voting that results in obvious bloc voting according to communal lines acceptable?

At one level, like class voting, gender voting, or any other form of cleavage-informed divisions, ethnic voting is normal in a democracy. Voters of different interests will naturally support different parties that are more aligned to their interests. For example, the working class will more likely support a socialist party just as the middle-class will more likely support a capitalist party.

In this sense, attacking ethnic-based voting reflects an authoritarian mentality — that the majority in society must reach consensus. By this logic, Nazi Germany or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where the ruling party enjoyed nearly full citizen support, would be role model nations.

At a higher level, one may ask: is ethnic voting a good thing? For me, the main consideration is competitiveness.

Competitiveness does decrease if one’s choice is largely predetermined by one’s ethnicity, faith, language, culture or class rather than if one were open to persuasion and debates. Immediately after 8 March 2008, I warned that the non-Malay Malaysians’ political unity behind the opposition bloc would merely replace BN’s one-party predominance with another dominant bloc. This would be no good for democracy.

But given today’s circumstances, if 80% of Chinese Malaysian voters supporting PR can ensure the denial of BN’s two-third majority in the Parliament, then I say, long live ethnic voting. favicon

Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist by training and journalism lecturer by trade. He hopes that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Ibrahim Ali, Dr Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and Utusan Malaysia will do more to reinforce race-based voting and by derivation, democracy in Malaysia.

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10 Responses to “BN victory or disaster in Hulu Selangor?”

  1. Sean says:

    “attacking ethnic-based voting reflects an authoritarian mentality — that the majority in society must reach consensus”

    Oo…So an ‘ethnicity’ voting the same way – the definition of consensus – is democratic, and if they didn’t all vote the same way that would be authoritarian? It must be too early in the morning for me to understand your ‘logic’. You appear to me to be promoting and reinforcing attitudes which directly undermine democracy as I understand it – attitudes which inherently limit a voter’s ability to make an informed personal choice.

  2. Osama says:

    “But given today’s circumstances, if 80% of Chinese Malaysian voters supporting PR can ensure the denial of 2/3 majority in Parliament, then I say long live ethnic voting.”

    The Chinese Malaysians must continue voting PR at any cost to ensure the continued growth of a two-party system in the country. This is one development in Malaysian politics that those in Umno Baru fear most, especially Mahathir.

    The Chinese [Malaysians] must take the lead here as their votes count, and it will make a lot of difference. There is nothing wrong at all for voting PR, the Chinese [Malaysians] are not anti-Malay [Malaysian] if they cast their votes for PR, just that they do not want to be led by Umno Baru. They prefer to give the leadership to PR, under PAS, PKR and DAP. PAS and PKR are led by Malay [Malaysians]. Be respected, NEVER VOTE Umno Baru, MCA or MIC.

    There is just no reason for the Chinese [Malaysians] to vote Umno Baru anymore, never, considering the current political developments and the insults thrown at them at will by irresponsible Umno Baru leaders and now Perkasa. Chinese [Malaysians] are being labelled “pendatangs”, “prostitutes”, and should be thankful of their citizenship and whatnot, why must they support a group that disregards their contributions to the growth of the nation? Between the Umno leadership and PR leadership, you can see how shallow those BN leaders are, lacking of ideas compared to the PR leaders.

    Chinese [Malaysians], unite and send those racist parties like Umno Baru, MCA and MIC out of Malaysian politics for good. Umno Baru had ruled for too long and it is high time we send them to the opposition’s bench to have a taste of what life is like in the opposition to wake them up. Go tell your parents, your children the importance of their votes and it should never be split. Use the examples of how the townsfolk of Rasa town voted in the recently concluded HS election. Chinese [Malaysians], your votes can be decisive, say no to racial politics and let us together embrace multi-racialism! We are all Satu Anak Bangsa Malaysia, and say “Tak Nak” to Umno, MCA and MIC!

    PAS for all! Salam reformasi!

  3. chinhuatw says:


    Sociologically speaking, parties reflect the cleavage structure in a society as different social groups (ethnic, cultural, class) form/support different parties that best represent their interests.

    I am saying that there is nothing wrong that if different groups show different voting patterns. I have never said members of an ethnic group must – normatively – vote in the same direction.

    Expecting that people of different backgrounds must vote in a similar direction – the absence of ethnic, class, or any other cleavage-informed voting – is either naive or illiberal.

    You argue against ethnic voting as an attitude “which inherently limit a voter’s ability to make an informed personal choice”. For me, “[c]ompetitiveness does decrease if one’s choice is largely predetermined by one’s ethnicity, faith, language, culture or class rather than if one were open to persuasion and debates.”

    But I would not go that far to assume ethnic voting – defined objectively here as the consequences if the majority of the group members vote in the same way – must surely be uninform at personal level.

    In brief, all I am saying is that, if the majority of a group’s members vote very differently from other groups, it may mean these members simply have very different interests from the members of other groups. In other words, their choice can be perfectly rational and legitimate in democracy and should not be demonised.

    Thinking in a utilitarian manner, one may of course ask if such legitimate choice is good to the entire political system, but that is a question at another level. And as far as I am concerned, that depends on its effect to political competitiveness at a national level.

    I am not sure you should blame it on the morning hours. Unthinking political correctness is more often the culprit.

  4. kahseng says:

    I [recently] asked a store owner where his displayed packages of nasi lemak were made. He kept telling me, “It’s Chi] nese [Malaysian]-made, it’s Chinese-made!”

    I kept asking about the PLACE of make (which implies a “brand” as far as nasi lemak is concerned), and he kept answering RACE.

    I had scary food poisoning from nasi lemak in April 2009. But I don’t know if that problematic nasi lemak was from any certain race. My main concern was to find out the particular nasi lemak maker’s reputation, as identified by his or her street or place of business, not his or her race.

    And I do hope this snack store owner does not exclude any race from being his supplier, so that the nasi lemak I buy is more competitively priced.

    Although I can afford two packages of nasi lemak, my wish is that a more competitive market also means I get bigger fried fish for the same price.

  5. race says:

    We are coming back to square one… good for Malaysia… [heading for self-destruction].

  6. Mohamed IQBAL says:

    “He hopes that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Ibrahim Ali, Dr Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and Utusan Malaysia will do more to reinforce race-based voting and by derivation, democracy in Malaysia.”

    China, Japan , Singapore progressed due to the fact of having a one strong party system. They could carry out projects with long term basis without a equally strong opposition that disrupts like the case of US Senate. I remember listening to Lee Kuan Yew on Channel 5 [in a ] parliamentary report back in the 80s, stating that one of his biggest achievements in Singapore was the elimination of the Malay opposition party.

    Likewise, DAP and PAS which are race-based opposition parties should be eliminated. For better progress towards unity, elimination of vernacular schools like Singapore will be a big step. I guess the biggest stumbling blocks to 1Malaysia are the Chinese primary schools. Why are there no Chinese schools in Chinese-majority Singapore?

    Democracy without unity is asking for chaos! Long term unity comes from accepting, understanding each other from a young age, which means all children going to a common school. Currently, you have a Mandarin school product, Tamil school product, agama school product and national school product.

  7. R. Nadarajan says:

    For the Hulu-Selangor by-election on 25/04/10, BN was all out to capture the seat by putting all its effort and spending a lot of money.

    Can BN do so, during the next general election? It has to divide its effort and money amongst all the seats in Malaysia; and as such what will be the result as the indicative winning margin of votes was small? This means, no more effort and money equals no more vote.

    Voters are not suckers. They, especially Indian [Malaysian] voters, sucked this time because there were good benefits and BN enjoyed the sucking greatly.

  8. Merah Silu says:

    This article as usual will undermine the beginning of the return of protests votes to BN. As I predicted, Malay [Malaysians] will realise their mistake of being manipulated by these ‘adopted citizens’. Can you imagine how the DAP could work with PAS and even Nik Aziz is no longer Nik Aziz, the politician that we have known for nearly 40 years. I strongly advise that Malay [Malaysians] should unite and they do not need to please these adopted citizen to gain their votes. Just vote Umno and BN as non-Malay Malaysians will have to support it anyway later.

  9. Paul for Democracy says:

    I cannot see the so-called 1Malaysia meaning anything if the opposition is being bullied in so many ways, that the results of the voting is manipulated by the “ruling party” in a attempt to achieve their 60% control of Parliament.

  10. faith04 says:

    Chinese Malaysians, like other Malaysians, are great people. We labour hard to build so many buildings, pay tax, join forces to defend against Indonesia confrontation in the 60s; our [soldiers] died in fighting communists during the insurgency. We support Malays and other races together to build a great Malaysia.

    It’s time for us to seek justice to defend our citizenry rights. It’s time for us to deny Umno/BN of their two-third majority. It’s time for us to stand up in supporting a two-coalition political system.

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