Umno still got about 52% of the rural Malay vote in Sungai Siput and Pas bagged three quarters of the non-BN Malay vote, observes Jeyakumar Devaraj.
The 2018 general election was a watershed event in the evolution of Malaysia.
It has opened a new chapter for the country, and the potential for the renewal and rejuvenation of our institutions and for the building of a more harmonious and fair society is immense. The Pakatan Harapan parties and the rakyat who supported the PH should be congratulated, and they deserve our support at this crucial juncture in our nation’s history.
But we must be careful not to be carried away by the euphoria of the moment and blithely claim that Malaysia has moved away from ethnic-based politics and imagine that PH has the support of the overwhelming majority of the population.
Although it is true that Malay support for BN dropped significantly in this general election, in some parts of the country, the shift was to Pas and not to PH. We need to recognise this, determine the extent of this trend and its underlying determinants and over the next five years take steps to win over those traditional BN supporters who could not bring themselves to vote PH but voted Pas instead.
Let me share with you the voting data from Sungai Siput that highlights this phenomenon. Sungai Siput has several polling centres in the rural areas with more than 98% Malay voters. The results from several of these areas are shown below:
1. Malay/Chinese/Indian/ Others
Others = East Malaysia Bumiputera and Orang Asli
2. Kg Batang Kulim had two streams, while Temin and Felda had three voting streams.
The data from the seven polling stations listed above shows 52.4% of the voters in these polling centres voted for BN, 32.7% voted for Pas while only 14.4% voted for PKR.
There was considerable variation in the figures. The support for BN was the highest in the first stream of the Felda polling centre – 77.8%, and lowest (33.4%) in the second stream in Batang Kulim. The tendency for younger voters to support non-BN parties can also be seen in other centres that had more than one stream of voters.
The polling data that I have from previous years for the same polling centres helps us round up the picture:
There appears to be a significant erosion in support for Umno-BN. Roughly a quarter of the voters who voted BN in 2013 have switched over to opposition parties – and I suppose this can be termed a “tsunami”. But we need to temper this observation with the fact that Umno still got about 52% of the rural Malay vote in Sungai Siput and Pas bagged three quarters of the non-BN Malay vote.
This distribution of votes may not be the same situation in rural areas in Selangor and in the southern states of the Peninsula, but I suspect it would be mirrored in other rural areas in Perak and other northern states.
Why are these observations important? For two reasons I think.
First, they seem to indicate that the rural Malay population (in some areas at least) do not quite trust the Pakatan government to look after their interests. They might be worried that some of the programmes that are benefiting them and their families might be reduced under Pakatan rule.
It is important therefore to reach out to these communities, find out their concerns and make sure that they are also beneficiaries of Pakatan Harapan’s stated aim to improve the lives of the B40 in this nation. This might require tweaking of existing programmes or perhaps even coming up with new programmes that tackle their economic problems. The fact that Malay support for PH in Selangor is much higher than in Perak indicates that Selangor government programmes that targeted the B40 were appreciated and they did win over the political support of this group.
The second reason is that we need to recognise that almost a third of rural voters in Sungai Siput (and probably in the rest of Perak and Kedah) voted for Pas. We will be making a big mistake if we dismiss this as just a protest vote against a corrupt Umno. It is another indicator that Islam is an important component of the identity of Malays.
It would be a mistake if PH gives the impression that it is not interested in developing Islam and Islamic institutions. That would only create avenues for opposition parties to exploit the issue with negative consequences for the nation.
There are differing views among Muslims in Malaysia on what Muslims should be working towards. You just have to compare Hadi Awang’s approach to Ikram and Amanah’s Maqassid Syariah approach.
Non-Muslims have to appreciate the importance of the ideological battle that has to be undertaken by progressive Muslims who believe that their religion is about inclusiveness, about handling diversity humanely and above all, about social justice. If progressive Muslims are hampered from engaging in this ideological battle, we run the risk of allowing a rules-bound, punitive and intolerant version of Islam to become dominant.
So, yes, the PH and its supporters have achieved a monumental change in the political landscape of the country and in so doing have unleashed great potential for moving this nation forward.
But we have to be objective, take stock of the existing situation and recognise that the past 70 years has segregated us ethnically. Many of us still live in our silos.
We need to rise to the occasion and reach out to and understand the ‘other’ – what they hold as important, and what their apprehensions are – so that we can build a truly inclusive and harmonious Malaysia.