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BN will not win from Perak defections

EVENTS are moving so fast in Perak that by the time this column is published, the Barisan Nasional (BN) may be in control of the state legislative assembly if there are enough defections to its side from Pakatan Rakyat.

Even though the two Pakatan Rakyat elected representatives who were tipped to cross over to the BN have reportedly tendered their resignations, nothing is certain.

Already, one of the elected representatives, PKR’s assemblyperson for Behrang, Jamaluddin Mat Radzi, has denied resigning. If, as stated by Jamaluddin, the resignation was tendered by the party and not by the representatives themselves, it could potentially be contested.

Hence, it is still possible that Jamaluddin and Changkat Jering state representative Mohd Osman Jailu, who have been charged with corruption, could still defect from the Pakatan Rakyat to Umno. The Pakatan Rakyat-BN ratio in the state government would then be a wafer-thin 30:29.

This would mean the defection of just one more Pakatan Rakyat state assemblyperson would put an end to the coalition-run state government. If such a defection occurs, it also means that the BN would have succeeded in reducing the number of Pakatan Rakyat-ruled states from five to four. This could mark the beginning of its revitalisation since its disastrous performance in the 8 March 2008 general election.

My reading, however, runs contrary. If the Perak Pakatan Rakyat government is brought down through defections, this may, in fact, hasten an early demise for the BN and its federal government. On one condition: that a snap poll for Perak — what a majority of democratic governments would opt for in the face of a no-confidence vote — is called by the state government.

A referendum on Umno

Should this happen, the BN’s chance of winning Perak is really slimmer than a sheet of paper. The existing party and ethnic breakdown of the current Perak state legislative assembly is telling. The Pakatan Rakyat’s current 32 seats consists of DAP’s 18, PKR’s eight and PAS’s six. On the BN’s side, 26 out of 27 lawmakers are from Umno. The 27th BN lawmaker is from the MCA.

Ethnically, the Pakatan Rakyat has 22 non-Malay Malaysian representatives (all of DAP’s 18 and four of PKR’s) and 10 Malay representatives, in sharp contrast to the BN’s 26 Malay Malaysians and one non-Malay. That could mean there are 36 Malay-majority seats and 23 non-Malay majority or mixed seats in Perak.

Perak MB Nizar Jamaluddin
(© Perakdaily)
However, PAS Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin (holding the Pasir Panjang seat), and PKR’s assemblyperson for Behrang, Jamaluddin, both won in seats that were traditionally contested by the MIC, seats which are non-Malay-majority or mixed seats. Thus there are actually two fewer, or 34, Malay-majority seats and two more, or 25, non-Malay-majority or mixed seats in Perak.

If a snap poll was called for, how would the Malay and non-Malay Malaysian electorate vote?

There is no legitimate ground for a vote of no-confidence against the current Pakatan Rakyat state government. Except for the corruption charges against Jamaluddin and Mohd Osman, the Pakatan Rakyat is not implicated in any major scandal of corruption, power abuse or incompetence.

If anything, the Pakatan Rakyat government, which prides itself for its “inexperience in corruption”, has scored with flying colours. Even on a financial note, its 2008 revenue has increased by RM97 million, or a whopping 15%, from 2007.

Hence, a snap election would actually be a referendum on whether Perak voters should reinstall or reject an Umno-dominated government.

Fatal self-deceit

What has Umno done since 8 March to win back non-Malay Malaysians? Nothing.

If anything, provocative statements by the likes of Datuk Ahmad Ismail and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, and worsening police violence have created more bad press for Umno and the BN.

Ahmad Ismail (Courtesy of Oriental Daily)
At the same time, it would be fatal self-deceit if the BN actually thinks that the retention of Chinese Malaysian votes in the recent Kuala Terengganu by-election can be repeated elsewhere.

So, there is a good chance that the BN will lose all the 25 non-Malay-majority and mixed seats in a snap poll. This would send a strong signal to all Umno’s non-Malay allies: the end is nigh. Stay in the BN and you will sink with Umno because of the electorate’s wrath. That would give little incentive to these allies to continue remaining in the BN.

But what about the Malay-majority seats? If the Pakatan Rakyat sweeps away all the 25 non-Malay-majority and mixed seats, it would only need another five seats to form a simple majority government. Hence, to stop Pakatan Rakyat, Umno must prevent the Pakatan from winning another five Malay seats.

Has the Pakatan Rakyat government done so badly in meeting the needs and aspirations of the Malay Malaysian electorate that it cannot keep even five out of its current eight Malay-majority seats?

In reality, PKR and PAS will not only keep the five Malay-majority seats they need to remain in power, they are also likely to make inroads into Umno heartland.

How? Just sing Umno’s tune of Malay unity. If a Pakatan Rakyat state government in Perak is a given because of the non-Malay Malaysian voters, the choices left for Malay Malaysian voters are straightforward: vote PKR or PAS for stronger Malay representation in government, or vote Umno for a stronger Malay opposition.

Faced with that kind of choice, isn’t it obvious Malay Malaysian voters will vote for the Pakatan Rakyat to ensure they are strongly represented in government?

A worse scenario

That is not the worst that could happen to the BN.

A worse outcome is that Umno manages to deny PKR and PAS those crucial five Malay seats. Imagine this scenario: Umno wins 30 Malay seats, while the Pakatan Rakyat takes the 25 non-Malay or mixed seats and the remaining four Malay seats.

While Umno would then claim that Malay Malaysians have returned to its fold, the Pakatan Rakyat would likely undermine such claims by producing evidence of alleged electoral fraud, especially with the likely wafer-thin victories in most of the Malay seats; and by organising protests or acts of civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, an all-Malay government is something Malaysians have not ever experienced. And Umno cannot count on the defection of non-Malay Malaysian lawmakers from the Pakatan Rakyat opposition who would fear the electorate’s wrath more than anything. No less because such a defection would be seen as a sell-out in an environment that is profoundly anti-Umno. And unlike Sabah in 1994, the next federal government need not be Umno-led. These factors will surely influence the calculation of possible defectors.

As we can imagine, a Perak under Umno would likely be ungovernable given the inevitable strong opposition from half of the Malay and almost all of the non-Malay Malaysians in the state. In such a situation, the federal government may even call for a state of emergency if opposition to an Umno-led state government starts to become messy.

But whether this happens or not, Umno would lose its “stability” appeal, something it has held on to even during the Reformasi years. Voting Umno would then be associated with voting for chaos.

Sultan Azlan Shah
Do we need to ask how voters would then vote during the 13th general election?

The best scenario

The best scenario for the BN to form the next state government is to bring down the current one through defections to its side, instead of going through a snap poll. But that would require Perak MB Nizar not requesting for the state assembly’s dissolution for snap polls to be held. Or it would require Sultan Azlan Shah rejecting such a request if it was made.

But why would Nizar hand over his government to his enemies? And why would the well-respected Perak Sultan sacrifice his reputation of benevolence, modernity and unity to save Umno?

As Stephen Covey states in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, begin with the end in mind. That’s good advice to political parties before they start playing with fire.

A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade, Wong Chin Huat rejects regime change through defection not so much because it is morally wrong, but more so because it is politically bad. He is currently based in Monash University Sunway Campus.

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17 Responses to “BN will not win from Perak defections”

  1. Mr Smith says:

    A good commentary. However, the assumption that Umno could govern Perak in the event of a snap election, is an “impossible dream”. The general mood in the country is anti-Umno, anti-BN. They will lose big regardless of any other permutations. With Najib leading the election machinery, a BN loss is assured.

  2. francis says:

    In fact, Umno will lose many Malay seats rather than BN getting any single non-Malay seat. Just read below and see how detrimental it will be for Umno to go into a snap election.

    State seats potentially to be lost by Umno in case of a snap by-election.

    1. Rungkup in Bagan Datok: Umno won by 454 (2,330 in 2004)

    2. Sungai Manikin, P Salak: Umno won by 1,374 (3,599 in 2004)

    3. Kampong Gajah, P Salak: Umno won by 1,415 (over 5,000 in 2004)

    4. Chenderiang in Tapah: Won by MCA by a 50%-reduced margin. PKR fielded an Indian in a pure Chinese base. Will be corrected.

    5. Ayer Kuning in Tapah: Umno won by 3,252. Close to 7,000 in 2004. However, research shows the Umno candidate got 74% of the 48% non-Malay electorate. Now those non-Malays will vote for PAS, which fielded a candidate here.

    6. Tualang Sekah in Kampar: Umno won by 1,500 (3,500 in 2004). PKR fielded an Indian in the majority Malay seat. Though he did well, fielding a Malay here will beat the pulp out of Umno. Non-Malays are 43%.

    7. Sungai Rapat: Umno won by 636 against PAS. Hamida Osman, the DUN here is the one who called Indians snakes later after she won. Her majority in 2004 was over 6,000 but she survived by 600 in 2008. PAS will win outright here. Furthermore, PKR V President is the MP here (Gopeng).

    8. Belanja in Parit: PAS lost by over 1,800 (over 3,000 in 2004) due to non-Malay votes in 2008. With Umno taking a dig at the non-Malays and PAS accommodating them, and with Perak’s large non-Malay vote, Umno will lose every March ’08 seat that was won due to the fear of PAS and the fact that PKR was unknown.

    9. Bota is in Parit. The candidate defected to PKR and will retain his seat. Yesterday he said the people who came to welcome him couldn’t be obtained even during his ceramahs in March 08.

    10. Pengkalan Baru: Umno won by 14 votes only. Yes, 14 votes (over 2,200 in 2004). PAS swept the Malay vote but got less non-Malay votes. Today, PAS will retain Malay vote and increase non-Malay votes. The 14 votes for Umno will be 1,400 votes for a PAS victory, KT-style.

    11. Bukit Chandaran in Kuala Kangsar: Umno won by 1,600 votes (close to 6,000 in 2004). With Rafidah Aziz on her way out (she won by 1,000 unlike 5,600 in 2004), Umno will lose here.

    12. Manong in K Kangsar: Umno won by 749 (2,353 in 2004). PAS will sweep the Malay vote and get non-Malay votes as well while PKR can obtain its one Adun here.

    13. Manjoi in Tampun: Umno won by 348 votes. Yet in 2004, it was close to an 8,000 majority.

    14. Lintang in Sungai Siput: Umno won by 1,376 (5,389 in 2004). PKR controls Parliament while DAP has the other DUN by a big margin.

    15. Chenderoh in Padang Rengas, of Nazri Aziz fame. Umno won by 1,749 votes (4,771 in 2004). Note that Nazri survived by a whisker yet had a big win in 2004. Umno is losing further and further.The other DUN was captured by PAS ousting Umno.

    16. Kamunting in Taiping: Umno won by 555 votes (4,571 in 2004). DAP has the Parliament seat here and PAS will cash on that apart from ISA is haram votes. Kamunting Prison is here.

    17. Trong in Bukit Gantang: PAS captured the Parliament seat. Umno won by 916 votes (3,020 in 2004). It has a decent 30% non-Malay vote. PAS will win here.

    18. Alor Bongus in Bagan Serai: PKR Malay candidate outsted Umno MP here. Umno won the DUN by 95 votes (3,416 in 2004). PKR to easily capture the DUN.

    19. Selama in Larut. Umno won by 355 votes (2,053 votes in 2004).

    20. Kubu Gajah in Larut. Umno won by 66 votes (1,403 in 2004).

  3. Sk says:

    Good analysis!

    BN has been pretty two-faced on the defection issue. When BN hopped to Pakatan, party hopping was “immoral”. When the Pakatan hops to BN, those party hoppers are welcomed.

  4. Singam says:

    All the signs of collapse of empire are visible. One may not be able to predict specific events but the overall trend rolls on unimpeded. The final outcome is inevitable.

  5. Eric says:

    Perak is back to the shore as a role model for the whole country. Orang-orang Perak, from the Sultan, Regent and MB all the way to the humble kampung and new-village penduduk make Malaysia proud by booting the racists and the corrupt out of power again.

  6. chinhuat says:

    I agree with Francis whose detailed analysis is simply superb and Mr Smith. Umno is unlikely to win the majority of the Malay votes, looking at the Permatang Pauh and more so, Kuala Terengganu by-elections. Its machinery is paralyzed by in-fighting and lack of motivation.

    But this article intends to show that, even if it overcomes the odds through electoral fraud or bribery, that itself is a disaster.

    A snap poll in Perak for Umno is like the buah simalakama in Malay legend – makan, bapa mati; tak makan, emak mati. (Eat the fruit and your father dies; don’t eat and your mother dies.) Retaliating on Anwar-triggered defection is not morally more wrong than Anwar’s move, but it is simply politically suicidal. Play with fire only if you know you can control the fire.

  7. Andrew I says:

    Don’t get involved in things like street demonstrations. Let us know through the ballot box.

    We certainly will.

  8. zik says:

    If Umno wins Perak, Pakatan Rakyat will win federal.

    The equation is so simple. In the end the BN will still be defeated by three million young Malaysian voters.

  9. Fikri Roslan says:

    Well, I don’t share that view. Don’t underestimate the capability of Malays and their non-Malay friends in the BN. We have seen how the Malays came back strongly after the “not so good” result of 1999 election. The moment they realise they have been at a disadvantage under the current political scenario, the sincere call for unity will be given higher priority.

    The analysis given in the article seems to be biased towards the downfall of Umno and its BN partners. It was just an election. It happened in 1969, and in 1999. Some commentaries even gave a scenario where all non-Malays would support Pakatan Rakyat while the Malay vote will split, even suggesting the Malays to strengthen the Malay participation in the non-Malay government

    It will not happen. This is not Singapore. I am sure in the next election, the whole Malay vote will go to Umno while the other BN partners will get back what they lost in the 2008 election.

  10. Melayu Muda says:

    Malay Malaysians will not be influenced by Government propaganda especially those voters aged 40 years and below. No Malay Malaysians will feel disadvantage and uncomfortable under the current political situation as long as we have calibre Malay Malaysians leader such as Nik Aziz, Nizar, Anwar, Saifudin, Azmin, Husam, etc.


  11. Eric says:

    @Fikri Roslan

    Tell us which Umno leaders can stand and bring BN back to its glory days of integrity? It is vital for Malaysia that BN re-emerges as a credible coalition for the federal government (now) or the federal opposition (soon enough) in the coming bi-partisan system. But nobody in BN seems up to the task. Especially not the tainted contesting “leaders”, from president to Umno Youth.

  12. Lex says:

    It looks like a by-election will come as a result of the latest development. Both by-election will most probably be won by Pakatan Rakyat given the prevailing anti-BN sentiments in the country. The resignation letters are a tactical masterclass as it totally derails BN’s plans to get the two state assemblypersons to defect and continues to pile pressure on both of them to justify their actions.

    Now it looks like the two of them are the biggest losers in this situation – they have lost their positions, their standing among the rakyat, their use to Umno and the corruption charges are still standing. They should have stayed loyal to the party instead of flirting with Umno. Both of them are doomed.

    Fikri Roslan does not understand that the ground has shifted politically and especially among the young Malay voters in the country. If a BN stronghold like KT can be lost with a massive swing to the Opposition among the young Malay voters, then I truly doubt that BN can do much except begin genuine reforms in the party. As it stands, they have further ruined their image by using coercion and bribery to lure the two PKR fellows over. When the Bota Adun crossed over, it was on a matter of principle. This much is clear for the rakyat to see.

  13. RUMI says:

    Snap elections in Perak will see to the demise of Barisan and Umno in particular in Perak. Najib is not a leader. He inherited his present position and the office he will ascend to not through any democratic and fair elections.

    If he anchors the election campaign in Perak, the Barisan will be whacked by the likes of Anwar and Kit Siang.

  14. Fikri Roslan says:

    We should not pre-judge that the current trend of anti-BN sentiments will continue. The BN and in particular Umno, is just like an injured tiger. It will reform and come back strongly. In the 1969 election, the non-Malays voted DAP, Gerakan, PPP and other opposition parties in almost all non-Malay majority areas. The Malays, on the other hand, showed their unhappiness to Tunku by giving their protest votes to PAS, a split that gave victory to opposition candidates in some Malay majority areas. Tun Razak formed BN and won the 1974 election. In 1999, Anwar’s “black eye” case split the Malay votes to the opposition. The Chinese who gave their votes to BN in 1999, received a bigger concession. The Malays, unhappy with the situation, gave the biggest landslide victory to Umno and BN in 2004.

    In 2008, unhappy with the weak leadership of Umno and the Anwar factor, the Malays sent their biggest protest votes against Umno and BN. They didn’t expect the result to be this bad and realised their mistake. Well, I expect they will a repeat similar situation as in 1974 and 2004. Permatang Pauh and KT are not really the strongholds of Umno and should not use it as indicators for the next election.

    Perak is still a Malay majority state. And I believe in general, BN and Umno are still seen as the best political solution for the state and the country. The current “tsunami” should be regarded as a temporary shock rather than a genuine wind of change. The 2008 election, however, gives a strong reminder to BN and Umno leaders to go back to their basic principle to serve the rakyat and providing leadership for the nation’s development.

    Contrary to some views, I don’t think Pakatan Rakyat, as it is now, has the right framework as the BN does to be the party for the the state as well as the country. PKR, PAS, and DAP may now share the same bed but have their own separate dreams. Perhaps not for long. As soon as they become too eager to tell others about their dream, then they will start displaying their own true colours on what they expect from this relationship.

    The Umno election in March, and its subsequent leadership change, perhaps will set a clear direction on how Umno will reform itself. The new leaders and perhaps a new style of leadership will surely emerge.

  15. R.Nadarajan says:

    The two assemblymen had not acted wisely. They may have been lured to shake up PKR and Pakatan Rakyat by some parties who want to disrupt the Perak state government and wrest the power from Pakatan Rakyat by some scheme that is improper. Under the circumstances, I believe that the empire in Perak which had put Pakatan Rakyat in power shall strike back once more in order to put things right.

    Further, this time, the PKR must select some faithful, non-selfish and honest candidates to contest any by-election; so that they will really serve the people. These new candidates also must sign in advance a letter of resignation; and also a letter of indemnity and liability should they fail to behave honestly and faithfully towards PKR and the people who have voted them in. Pakatan Rakyat is sure to win once more after looking at the happenings regarding this crooked matter. I am very sad to note that public funds are being wasted by holding by-elections for reasons of resignations and crooked activities.

  16. chinhuat says:

    Fikri is basically arguing that March 8 did not constitute a party realignment and since Malays are still aligned to Umno, they will return eventually – the “homing” phenomenon as political scientists would call it. His references were 1969 and 1999.

    My argument is basically one of realignment. Before March 8, the non-Malays took an Umno-led government as a given, including during 1999. Therefore some will always vote for BN’s non-Malay parties because they need to be represented in the government. What March 8 showed them (to the surprise of many) is that the given is no longer there. With a significant shift of Malays to PKR and PAS, the exclusion of Umno from executive power is perfectly possible.

    Since Umno’s ethno-centrism makes such exclusion perfectly desirable, there is nothing to hold voters back come next elections.

    This further changes the pay-off for the Malays. If a Pakatan Rakyat government is a given, they are left with only one choice: how many Malay lawmakers do you want in this government?

    In other words, the whole game of one-party dominance is now turned against Umno. As the system can only accommodate the survival of one healthy coalition, BN and Umno’s decline becomes inevitable.

    Historically, the process may be seen as such:
    (1) The “revolt” of the Malays (Reformasi)
    –> a sizable Malay opposition to be the core of the alternative coalition
    (2) The “revolt” of the Indians (Makkal Sakti)
    –> the emergence of alternative state governments and a strong federal opposition
    (3) the complete abandonment of BN by the non-Malays (expected)
    –> the abandonment of Umno by the Malays (best response)

    I don’t like to see the replacement of one party predominance (Umno/BN) by another (PKR/Pakatan Rakyat) but this can’t be helped unless the non-Malays can be persuaded to divide their support to both sides. But why should they when Umno still lives in the old fantasy of Malay dominance?

    The only way to arrest further the decline of Umno is democratization, making itself and BN a competitive democratic force which it never was (it was only a competitive hegemonic force in the past).

    Do you think Najib will bring such a change? Not until, as the Chinese saying goes, one sees the coffin. Losing Perak may provide such an alarm to wake the dinosaur up from its state of denial.

  17. Fikri Roslan says:

    As expected, this fragile coalition government, particularly in Perak, will not stand for long. I hope Datuk Najib will form a new BN government in Perak tomorrow, Thursday 5 Feb, 9am.

    I feel sorry that most of Chin Huat’s predictions have not materialised. Most of his assumptions are too biased towards the down-fall of Umno and the Malay political influence. His last scenarios where the Malays should struggle to be well-represented in the near-future “non-Malay” led state government, sound too arrogant. He was misled by the current euphoria of the unexpected March 2008 victory, and the formation of state governments by the non-Malay opposition parties. This over-confidence to form a federal government through defection, led by none other than their paramount leader Anwar, has now backfired.

    My reading about the current political situation is, more bad news to Pakatan Rakyat. There will be a lot of exchanges of blame among its coalition partners. More defections to BN are also expected. Selangor is then under pressure. There is also a great possibility that PAS and DAP will go separately. The dream for winning the next general election is therefore gone.

    The March 2008 election will be remembered, not about the victory of the opposition non-Malay parties, or, the new beginning of political landscapes; rather as the biggest protest votes to the leadership of BN government. The BN government was seen as too weak, too arrogant and had forgotten its responsibilities.

    The most important lesson learned from post March 2008 election, however, is, you understand more about the characters of your political partners. Umno should learn that they should focus more about the future of Malays and should try to please everyone. If possible get PAS as your close partner to unite Malays. Don’t bother too much to please the non-Malays, as the record shows that they will support Umno when you (Umno) are strong. When you (Umno) are weak, they will abandon and betray you (Umno). They are not your trusted partners, and you should not trust them.

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