Opposition parties seeking to take over the reins of government in Malaysia will have to contend with a daunting obstacle course that could make Frodo’s journey with the ring (in Lord of the Rings) look like child’s play, writes Anil Netto.
More daunting than Frodo’s journey
It is going to be a bumpy ride; and the odds are stacked against PKR, Amanah, Bersatu, DAP, Warisan and PSM – which will have to contend with seven critical obstacles.
1. Lopsided redrawing of constituency boundaries
The heavily skewed redrawn electoral map has aggravated the already terrible malapportionment and gerrymandering in the system. Just imagine, the average size of a BN parliamentary seat is 48,000 voters while for the opposition it is 79,000. This alone shows us how heavily the seats are weighted in favour of the BN – but there’s more.
2. More postal voters
The expansion of postal votes – for no good reason – will add another serious obstacle, given that in the past, an overwhelmingly majority of postal voters (believed to be over 95%) have gone to the BN.
Nine new categories are now eligible to be postal voters – ie personnel from the:
- Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
- Prisons Department
- Fire and Rescue Department
- government hospitals and clinics
- Police Volunteer Reserve
- Civil Defence Force
- Immigration Department
- National Disaster Management Agency
- Urban Transformation Centre (within the National Registration Department)
This is on top of the usual postal voters from the:
- police and military
- Electoral Commission
All these postal votes could affect the results in a string of seats and tilt the balance in favour of the BN.
3. Anti-fake news law
The passing of the bill, which could come into force in the coming days, appears aimed at creating a culture of fear ahead of the general election especially over the 1MDB and Felda scandals.
Given that the mainstream media’s credibility has been shredded, the new law could end up stifling critical online views and preventing people from freely sharing news and opinions over social media and messaging apps. Whatsapp in particular has allowed critical news and views to penetrate rural areas, which form the BN’s crucial support base.
4. Handouts galore
Handouts ahead of an election would be tantamount to inducements to voters. In the 2013 general election, we witnessed how handouts and free dinners were used all over the place. We have just seen how civil servants and pensioners are being courted with a pay hike in July. Expect more to be dished out in the coming weeks – jual murah, free goodies, cabutan bertuah and sudden ‘development’ projects.
5. Disbanding of Bersatu
The Registrar of Societies’ decision to order Bersatu to disband for 30 days has thrown a cangkul in the works of the fledgling party of Najib Razak’s nemesis, Dr Mahathir Mohamad. This could make it a bit more difficult – though still not impossible – for him and his supporters to penetrate rural areas at a time when the bunga logo was rapidly gaining ‘brand’ recognition. It will also make it a bit more challenging for Pakatan Harapan to cobble together a united front ahead of the polls. But then again, it presents an opportunity for the opposition candidates to use a common logo (ie the PKR logo).
6. The Cambridge Analytica question mark
The Cambridge Analytica scandal shows how Facebook data can be tapped to make it easier to target dark campaign ads to specific groups of users, feeding into their fears and anxieties. Given that the company has an office in Malaysia, many are wondering what they could be up to this time. But now that the firm has been exposed, will it dare to show up here?
7. Three-way battles
The challenge posed by three-way battles threatens to split the opposition vote. It seems that three-way, even four and five-way contests, will be seen in many parts of the country.
The big question is, will Mahathir’s Bersatu and Amanah be able to capture more votes from Umno and Pas compared to what Pas can suck away from Pakatan?
Odds stacked against opposition parties
Before the latest redrawing of constituency boundaries, my guess was that the opposition parties would probably have needed about at least 55% of the popular vote to be sure of winning power, given the gerrymandering and malapportionment already in the system.
But after the latest lopsided redrawing of boundaries, my hunch is that the only way the opposition parties can achieve change is probably to secure more than 60% of the popular vote nationwide (and even then there is no guarantee) – that is, up from the 51% they secured in 2013. That would mean increasing their popular vote by around 10 percentage points – a tall order. It would mean the BN would have to lose some 10% of its popular vote ie from 47% in 2013 to 37% in 2018.
Now this might look like an impossible task. But the emergence of Mahathir as the leader of the opposition – with Anwar Ibrahim and his coalition partners’ backing – has changed the dynamics, even electrifying the contest – despite Pas going its separate way. Check out the crowds that Mahathir especially has been drawing in semi-rural and rural areas, this ceramah in Guar Chempedak in Kedah:
Add to that the discontent over the rising cost of living and the GST, in the face of stagnant real wages for many workers – and suddenly the BN’s hold on power cannot be taken for granted.
But will the BN suffer a plunge in its popular vote that is large enough for the opposition to come to power? That’s not impossible. Remember how the BN lost 9% of its popular vote from the 1995 (65%) to the 1999 (56%) general elections? And an even sharper drop of 14% from 2004 (64%) to 2008 (50%)?
Who’s to say the BN’s share of the popular vote won’t plunge again from 47% of the popular vote in the 2013 general election, given the serious erosion in the credibility of the ruling coalition, the rising cost of living, 1MDB and Felda. If popular support for the BN dips below 40%, the ruling coalition could be in for a rude shock.
The only way to overcome the seven hurdles mentioned above is for all concerned registered voters not to be influenced by dark propaganda, check their status online ahead of the polls and head out early en masse to ensure a large turnout on polling day. Remember, nothing is impossible. Dare to dream.