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.
What has Umno done since 8 March to win back non-Malay Malaysians? Nothing.
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
(Source: sultan.perak.gov.my)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.