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From Gantang Hill to mountain

Corrected on 9 April 2009 at 12.05pm

IT is furthest from the truth to declare that the results of the triple by-elections on 7 April 2009 are about the status quo being maintained. Such an analysis, which focuses only on the number of seats each political party has, would fail to see the forest for the trees.

What has or will be changed because of 7 April, at least in Bukit Gantang, is the dynamics in party competition. The two contending parties, Umno and PAS, and their respective coalitions, the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR), are now officially in a new ball game.

The resounding victory of the Pakatan Rakyat’s Perak Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin over his Umno opponent, Ismail Saffian, with an even greater margin than in 2008 is a clear verdict on the Perak coup.

The triumphant Nizar giving two thumbs up to journalists at the vote-tallying centre on 7 April

The majority of voters in the Bukit Gantang parliamentary constituency have made it clear that they do not condone a coup or mutiny. So, unless coup plotters can avoid or abolish elections forever, they will be punished once fresh polls are held.

Political parties should not expect the people to accept the fait accompli of a palace coup or emergency rule and then reward a party with an electoral landslide. This is 2009, not 1969.

The message from Bukit Gantang — and Bukit Selambau — should therefore deter future coups, not only in Perak but in other states and at the federal level.


The Bukit Gantang result is also a verdict on new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, not over the Mongolian woman whose name shall not be mentioned, but over his “1Malaysia” reform hype. “1Malaysia”, incidentally, is reminiscent of the DAP’s slogan “Malaysians First”.

The key to any genuine reform by Umno is not about treating non-Malay Malaysians and non-Muslims better. Umno must do that at any rate, or it will be buried by the non-Malay Malaysians. Indeed, appealing to the constituency that punishes you is the given in the perverted logic of Malaysian politics. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad knew that after 1990. He launched “Vision 2020” to win back the minority votes. Najib himself may announce the end of the New Economic Policy towards achieving the same end.

No, the one reform Umno really needs is to embrace democracy. It needs to accept that it is not the default party in the government by virtue of being the sole representative of the Malay Malaysians.

That means acknowledging the legitimate existence — not purely on legal grounds — of its competitors in Malay Malaysian politics. This in turn means the discourse of Malay Malaysian unity under Umno must become a museum artifact.

If Umno is serious about reform, “1Malaysia” must therefore be inclusive not only of non-Malay Malaysians, but also of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and PAS. In other words, there cannot be a “1Malays” core in “1Malaysia”.

But for all the hype of the new emperor’s new slogan, Umno’s campaign in Bukit Gantang was exactly what it shouldn’t have been.

A Nizar banner peeks out amid BN and Umno flags (Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)

Embattled MB Nizar was harshly attacked on two grounds. First, for being “treasonous” for insisting on fresh elections rather than accepting the sultan’s installation of a new BN state government. And second, for being a “puppet of the DAP (read: Chinese Malaysians)”, which was in turn used to justify the need for a new Umno-led state government.

And what was the proof that PAS was the DAP’s puppet? Nizar’s granting of land titles to working-class Chinese Malaysians in new villages. Never mind that he has given more land titles to Malay Malaysian villagers or that the BN itself has given land away to non-Malay Malaysian business interests.

So, what did we see in Bukit Gantang? In a nutshell, Umno’s campaign there was the same decades-old ethno-centrist and far-right smearing strategy it’s used all this while. It was about “1Malays”, really.

The non-Malay Malaysians

And how about the non-Malay Malaysians? What did Umno offer them?

Firstly, Umno, with the MCA’s help, provided them entertainment involving sexy young women, which newly minted Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi somehow believes to be Chinese culture.

Secondly, the BN was kind enough to provide a million ringgit in aid to the Chinese-medium primary school in Simpang.

Thirdly, the new prime minister visited Petaling Street and Brickfields before going to Kampung Kerinchi on his second day in office.

And fourthly, the new prime minister ordered the release of 13 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees, including two Hindraf members.

Journalists and supporters outside the Kamunting Detention Centre on 5 April when 13 ISA detainees were released
(Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)

That 70% of the non-Malay Malaysian voters supported PAS in Bukit Gantang is a clear message that such cheap “divide-and-rule” tactics, even with the help of an expensive public relations campaign, has no place in the new Malaysia.

Unless Najib is willing to put democratisation as the core of his “1Malaysia” project, he should expect the following outcome at the next general election: the BN is likely to lose 51 seats that have a non-Malay Malaysian majority. It will also lose the 44 seats which have a significant non-Malay Malaysian minority of at least one-third. Bukit Gantang was one such seat.

This means Umno can win at most 70 Malay Malaysian-majority seats, but even then, a clean sweep is unlikely. While the BN may take comfort in the landslide in Batang Ai, can Najib expect the Sarawak and Sabah BN to remain loyal and deliver at least 42 seats for a bare majority? Even if he can, can an “Umno-and-East-Malaysian-only” government govern Malaysia?

That Umno’s “1Malays” politics has received its death sentence is the most important message from Bukit Gantang.

A worker removing party flags on 8 April, the day after polling day
(Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)


What does the Bukit Gantang result mean for PAS?

For one, it has firmly established itself as the third most popular party for Chinese Malaysians in the peninsula, just after the DAP and PKR. The MCA and Gerakan will not stand a chance to defeat Nizar or any PAS candidate that is seen as his proxy.

In the March 2008 general election, PAS already overtook the MIC as the third most popular party for Indian Malaysians, after the DAP and PKR. A case in point was (corrected) Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud’s victory in 2008 over the MIC candidate S Vigneswaran in the mixed seat of Kota Raja, in which non-Malay Malaysians make up 52% of the electorate. PAS’s Siti easily garnered 68% of total votes cast in the Selangor parliamentary constituency.

PAS’s future is clearly in the blue ocean of new politics, not the red ocean of ethno-religious nationalism which Umno tries hard to retain as its battle cry.

PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Seri Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat speaking at a DAP dinner on 5 April

As long as it can hold on to its basic ground of 40% Malay Malaysian support (in Bukit Gantang it was 43%), moving to the centre only means more room for expasion. Conversely, any talk of collaboration or negotiation with Umno, or any exclusivist measure of Islamisation, will serve only one purpose: to save an unrepentant Umno from its decline.

In fact, it may be time for PAS to incorporate its non-Muslim supporters club as a formal wing within the party.

On Malaysia

Unless the trends in Bukit Gantang are soon reversed, future historians will see Bukit Gantang in a very special light, much like the 1952 Kuala Lumpur municipal elections that gave birth to the Alliance, the precursor to the BN.

Bukit Gantang isn’t just status quo. It’s turning from a hill into a mountain, offering Malaysians the first real ray of new politics. And the good news is, it doesn’t need defections for it to affect change. Alhamdulillah.

An anak Perak, Wong Chin Huat is glad that good sense prevailed to the rescue of democracy and political stability in Perak and Malaysia. He is upbeat that he can soon stop wearing black to mourn and protest the Perak coup. A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade, he is based in Monash University Sunway Campus.

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11 Responses to “From Gantang Hill to mountain”

  1. Eric says:

    I’ll raise a toast (French champagne Moet et Chandon) to all true Malaysians who answered the call of reason yesterday.

    It is unfortunate actual news do not filter yet in deep Sarawak, but I guess the EC’s mode of transportation may have helped BN’s majority a lot (

  2. Kenny says:

    Can Umno sweep the Malay Malaysian majority seats? I think not as PAS is likely to grab a good share of those seats.

    In the Malay heartlands, PAS battles with Umno on Islamic credentials and with all the unabashed corruption in Umno, PAS projects a truer form of Islam.

    Malay Malaysian majority seats are not a given victory for Umno and may go to PAS. The Election Commission recognised this and preferred to create mixed seats which were considered safe seats before 308.

    The old strategy of creating mixed seats worked very well as long as voters voted for the opposition along racial lines. In the old days, Malay Malaysians will not vote for a DAP candidate and Chinese Malaysians will not vote for a PAS candidate while PKR had yet to exist. If both DAP and PAS fielded candidates, they would split the votes. Such seats were thought to be unwinnable by the opposition.

    Of course this ethnic voting is no longer true. There are no more safe seats for BN except maybe Putrajaya with its preponderance of civil servants.

    On reflection, BN has lost its two most powerful weapons – Chinese Malaysian fear of PAS and Chinese Malaysian fear of ethnic riots. And it has been floundering ever since.

  3. hatimarah says:


    Stop your heroic activities in trying to save Umno/BN. You are also the [one] who has some share in bringing down Umno/BN to where it is today. Your crusade against Khairy is seen as personal as it was against Badawi.

    Talking about corruption in Umno. Who’s clean in Umno/BN? None. Somehow or other, everyone in Umno are dirty either because of their own doing or someone else’s.

    If Khairy won, then he deserves a government post. Anyway that guy sometimes talks sense compared to many racists in Umno. So Mahathir, leave Najib alone, let him bear the responsibilities of a leader/PM. After all, he wanted to be PM badly.

    No one forced anyone to be a leader. If someone wants to be a leader and fails then he should RESIGN and get LOST from the political scence forever. You resigned on your own accord so stay retired.

  4. Kenny says:

    Let’s not forget that Kuala Terengganu is a 88.1% Malay Malaysian majority seat which BN lost to PAS in a by-election.

  5. Seth Ivan says:

    God’s will was done. The rakyat has spoken. No amount of money, neither the might of the ruling party’s machinery, including their tying of the hands of the Sultan(s), can stop the will of God and the rakyat’s desire for justice. Thank God they acted to see that justice was done, that they voted with their heads and not with their stomachs. More and more of this will be happening in the days to come. Power to the rakyat and glory to God!

  6. Andrew I says:

    It is often said that the Opposition is bankrupt of ideas. Yet, strangely enough, we find that what they, Anwar in particular, advocate first becomes the theme song of others.

    Strange, isn’t it?

  7. Mohd Azmel Mohd Noor says:

    As we all can see, the “rakyat” has spoken again on 7 April. The leaders have to really wake up from their slumber. Personally, I think we Malaysians are more educated and aware of our surrounding.

    I’m a Malay [Malaysian] and a Muslim but I despise any means to political racism. We are living in a new era where people cannot be divided into race or religion. World without boudaries applies to all not only to information but to the way we conduct our lives. Leaders have to have an open mind to accept the realities.

    They cannot forever live in the past where issues like Malay supremacy or “derhaka” were very relevant. Sadly, in the recent Umno assembly, these issues were played to such an extent, I thought I was living in the 50’s or 60’s.

    How can we depend on them to lead us Malaysians? How are we supposed to trust them when they openly, without fear or guilt, cried “Umno supremacy”? I can’t see any indication that these people want to change. Sometimes I think out aloud, what will happen to Malaysia if these brags were to lead our country?

    Now we need to see past all these and create a new way of seeing things. Any policies that are being drawn up need to cater to all races and religion, not only confined to certain sectors or parties. Democracy is all about wisdom. Malaysians need to equip themselves with knowledge and info to really participate in democracy. Without these, democracy will turn to “demo crazy!”

  8. beeyong says:

    “The message from Bukit Gantang — and Bukit Selambau — should therefore deter future coups, not only in Perak but in other states and at the federal level.”

    The next message should come from Selangor; to deter harsh suspension of Gobind for one year. Gobind should sacrifice and resign to trigger a by-election in Puchong. Gobind’s wife or siblings should contest on his behalf. Sure win 100% victory for PR. This will teach the leaders a lesson about harsh suspension; they are now so, so, so very afraid of by-elections. I won’t be surprised they will not contest in Puchong.

  9. Sam Leong says:

    Yes, Malaysians have adopted a new mindset to vote on the basis of issues and not race. Political parties that are unable to recognise this reality will die a natural death.

    Umno, MCA, and MIC better wake up and not claim to be heroes of their races. They must be heroes of all Malaysians and act sincerely and genuinely in this direction. The new generation of Malaysians are better informed while the older generation are just fed-up after tolerating 50 years of lies and narrow-minded politics. Wong, keep on writing and doing the great job that you are doing to create better awareness.

  10. tinta hitam says:


    Good article. Especially when you ended it with Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah). Umno has forgotten how we Malaysians started to assimilate to become one bangsa. Bangsa Malaysia.

  11. marc says:

    Chin Huat,

    Kudos on an informative and interesting article.

    Especially liked the part re: “blue ocean strategy” – well said.

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