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Snap poll best bet

MALAYSIA’S political and economic stability now hangs on the developments in Perak.

The Pakatan Rakyat state government has now effectively collapsed because it has lost four state assemblypersons. With the return of Bota state assemblyperson Datuk Nasaruddin Hashim to Umno, the Barisan Nasional (BN) now holds 28 seats — the same number as Pakatan Rakyat — in the 59-seat state assembly. Plus, the BN enjoys the support of three former Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers who just turned “independent”.

It is, however, premature to claim that the state is now in the BN’s hands. A new BN government is only one of the three possible scenarios that could emerge from Perak’s political crisis. The Perak Sultan’s second option is to advise for the formation of a BN-Pakatan Rakyat grand coalition, as speculated by The Malaysian Insider.

Both these options, however, can only be carried out after a formal no-confidence vote in the legislative assembly.

Sultan Azlan Shah’s third option, the most democratic one, is to grant his royal consent to the request by Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Nizar Jamaluddin for the Perak assembly to be dissolved so that the state will go to the polls. The new government can be Pakatan Rakyat, the BN, or a grand coalition of both should a hung assembly emerge.

But what is at stake is not only democracy, but also the economy. Given the bleak economic outlook, Perak, and Malaysia, must strive for the optimum level of political and economic stability.

Scenario 1: A BN state government

Should a BN government be installed in Perak as widely speculated, the state is likely to sink into deeper political crisis.

The Pakatan Rakyat coalition with its 28 seats will surely look for every opportunity to topple the BN government, no less by resorting to more defections. The return of the Bota state assemblyperson to Umno’s fold merely suggests the resale value of lawmakers, not their depreciation.

After all, the installation of a new government through defection implies that it is legitimate to trade, and perhaps “traffic”, legislators as a commodity. Why should one be surprised if the four assemblypersons return to Pakatan Rakyat later?

How many times then must Perak change her government within a year? And can a fast-changing state administration spur the state’s economic development in the face of a looming global recession?

For certain, the BN, too, may resort to more defections to strengthen its position. 

In 1994, the BN — incidentally under then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim — successfully brought down the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) state government by inducing 20 out of 25 PBS state assemblypersons to cross over in batches. This was thanks largely to the perception then that Umno/BN would continue to run the federal government forever, making any resistance look futile.

But Perak in 2009 is not Sabah in 1994. Umno running the next federal government is no longer a given. The Pakatan Rakyat has no reason to take whatever happens in Perak lying down. Hence, even if successful, more defections from Pakatan Rakyat would probably anger citizens into civil disobedience, if not mass demonstrations.

The greatest danger of a backdoor state government is that the Perak crisis will spread to Kedah and Selangor, where the defection of four and nine lawmakers respectively from Pakatan Rakyat to the BN will suffice to effect a regime change. 

Why on earth would Umno refrain itself from staging the same saga in these two states? And why should Anwar not fight back by engineering more counter-defections?

In this sense, then, the Perak Sultan’s decision on dissolving the state assembly will not just affect Perak but two neighbouring states. If the populous Perak and the industrialised Selangor are sucked into chronic political crises, can the Malaysian economy remain unaffected?

The decision to be made in Istana Iskandariah will therefore be one not for Perak alone, but for the entire country.


The Sultan’s palace (Source: tanah.sultan.perak.gov.my)

Scenario 2: A grand coalition

In comparison, a BN-Pakatan Rakyat grand coalition government would be less harmful. Because of the limited prize involved, the BN would have less motivation to stage similar “legislative coups” in Kedah and Selangor.

It may also dissuade Pakatan Rakyat supporters from staging an all-out confrontation against the party that steals their electoral mandate.

But the state of Perak will pay a dear price in economic development. For starters, the two coalitions would surely quarrel over the allocation of executive portfolios, especially the lucrative ones like land and industry.

Most dreadfully, given the old scores from bitter fights, the executive councillors would likely undermine the work and plans of their colleagues from the other camp.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. A grand coalition government is only possible when all parties demonstrate a basic degree of civility and fair play.

Can Perak — or any other state for that matter — afford strange bedfellows that are at each other’s throats?

Scenario 3: Snap poll

In contrast, a snap poll is the best way to end the existing instability and allow the new government to get on with business.

Why? A snap poll called in this circumstance is almost certain to return a stronger government, whether it is the Pakatan Rakyat or the BN. The electorate would make their choice based on who should run the state.

In February 1974, the UK elections produced a hung parliament and a Labour minority government. When Labour dissolved parliament to go to the polls in October the same year, it was returned with a bare majority that lasted for four and a half years.

Closer to home, PBS won the 1985 state elections but led a fragile government with 25 seats against its archrivals’ 22. When the state went to the polls 14 months later, PBS was returned with a stronger majority of 34 seats.

Going for flash elections would therefore kill the incentive for more defections. The stronger party can form the new government without defections, while the weaker one would find it harder to do so through crossovers. What else do you need to ensure political stability and observation of democratic norms?

This remedy would have a contagious effect, too. If it becomes a norm for the Ruler to dissolve the legislature whenever the government is brought down by defections, then parties would not resort to defections unless they really wanted elections.

This would end the defection talks in Negeri Sembilan as well as at the federal level, and restore political stability until at least one coalition is ready to go to poll.

Saving the economy

In November 2008, Sultan Azlan Shah reminded Malaysians that the interest of the people who elected the government should be prioritised, and the country’s peace and harmony should not be sacrificed because of power struggles among certain leaders and groups.

Such wisdom is what Malaysia needs the most now. A loud and clear message needs to be sent to both Anwar and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak:  the defection game will not be rewarded! Play it, and you will face the electorate’s judgment.

As politicians are letting us down, let’s pray that the Sultan will make the best decision, not only for Perak’s democracy, but also for Malaysia’s economy.

See also: Will Perak snap?


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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11 Responses to “Snap poll best bet”

  1. Mr Smith says:

    Wow, this is the best dissection of the whole scenario facing us Malaysians, not only Perakians.

    The Sultan of Perak can save this country from further turmoil if he dissolves the assembly and calls for snap polls. Anything else will mean all his past writings and speeches on good governance, etc., were mere hogwash.

    Do it and see yourself the will of the people to drive the last nail into Umno’s coffin.

  2. Observer says:

    Going by ringgit and sen, BN will “seize” Perak. Terribly unfortunate but that’s how the game will be played out.

  3. Awang Bohari says:

    Here is a lesson to learn. But knowing most Malaysians, they can easily forget. They tend to repeat the past and can be easily misled by politicians (YBs) because the majority of voters come from rural areas who voted the lawmakers in the Dewan and in Parliment. The way forward is a snap poll – go back to the voters to decide since the YBs have betrayed them (voters). If not, prepare for the worst to come.

  4. oakinn says:

    Oh my! How the tables have turned. The Pakatan force is now at the bottom of the wheel facing a mountain of a fight to wrangle themselves free from a political mess which they started much, much earlier.

    Perak’s future is now left to the DYMM Tuanku Sultan’s discretion. Whatever his decision is, he can do no wrong but the losing party surely would not see it that way. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone, from the one on the throne to the street peddlers who wear their Dacing or opposition party logos proudly on their chest.

    Post-Perak debacle, the great Dewan Rakyat MUST ACT. Amend the constitution if required, for we must never be faced with two-legged creatures who leap left, right and center like a four-legged frog.

    If I voted for Mutu, I sure as heck believe in Mutu’s ability to represent me and am confident that his party can represent my interest in DUN or Dewan Rakyat. If Mutu leaps like a frog, he might have leaped due to some nasty snakes chasing him for food or cash-laden mongrels offering him a slice of heaven on earth.

    Let’s pray that that there is no Act Two somewhere in the future in other states.

  5. Maozi says:

    But now, it seems the game is over for Pakatan Rakyat in Perak. Wonder how our fellow Perak brothers and sisters feel about the new government.

  6. chinhuat says:

    I feel like a citizen of an occupied territory, a free Perakian living in exile.

    It’s like 1942 replayed.

    Viva la Perak!

  7. Lainie says:

    Maozi: Severely unhappy, increasingly disappointed, and very powerless, why?

  8. blur says:

    What a priceless picture in the NST today.

    A picture paints a thousand words.

    Three broadly-smiling people, two which are…

    Isn’t there a saying, you are judged by the company you keep, or birds of a feather flock together?

  9. Rakyat says:

    Now is the time to show the PEOPLE’S POWER!!

    FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE!!

  10. akee says:

    Thumbs up!
    Your point up there is cool. Should be easy for the Tuanku to just to be fair – risk = best option. But he doesn’t see this. Maybe he has even closed his ‘cyber ear’ and maybe he already knows what is going to come.

  11. Johnny Lee says:

    In a democratic country, people consensus in PARAMOUNT!!!


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