Losing the popular vote of the rakyat is just one of the many challenges that Najib must face, says Stephen Tan Ban Cheng.
Wonders never cease. At 3.29am on Sunday, 6 May, the Malaysian general election results gave the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) government 133 seats, 15 short of the two-thirds majority of 148 seats it pursued.
The results also actually awarded Pakatan Rakyat (PR, or People’s Alliance) 89 seats in Parliament – seven seats more than what it had won in 2008. The breakdown: Democratic Action Party – 38 seats, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) – 30, and Parti Islam (Pas) – 21.
The result also saw PR’s control of the rice bowl state of Kedah going back to the BN with 21 seats in the state legislature of 36, the PR retaining only 15.
With a fresh mandate of five years, Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to consolidate his grip on power since unlike his predecessor Abdullah Badawi, he had used this election to inject his core group of supporters into the next Parliament.
The election result saw the virtual eclipse of BN components parties such as the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Malaysian Indians Congress (MIC), the Malaysian People’s Movement (Gerakan) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in Peninsular Malaysia, and the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) in Sarawak.
For these parties and their leaders, it is crystal clear that unless major and drastic adjustments are made in the power-sharing coalition to give it more substance than style, their continued corroboration with Prime Minister’s BN trend-setting United Malays National Organisation (Umno) may well prove to be an embrace of certain death.
At first glance, it would appear as though the performance of the PR in the state administration of Kedah led by Parti Islam (Pas) has been found wanting. A scrutiny of the electoral result at the federal level in the state seems to confirm this.
In the state of Kedah alone, Pas lost the five parliamentary seats of Pendang, Jerai, Padang Terap, Sik and Baling while its component PR party PKR lost two parliamentary seats – Kulim-Bandar Baru and Merbok.
The loss of these seven seats in the hitherto 15 seats that the Opposition PR conceded represented almost half of its reverses.
Nationally, the PR picked up 21 parliamentary seats, but lost in the said 15 constituencies, making a gain of only seven seats in Parliament.
The main gainer seems to be the DAP, which not only successfully defended all its parliamentary seats, but gained 10 extra ones in Sarawak (Stampin, Sarikei, Lanang, and Sibu), Johor (Kluang, Gelang Patah, and Batu Pahat), Perak (Kampar), Pahang (Raub) and Sabahm (Sandakan).
PKR, comparatively, chalked up six fresh victories in Sarawak (Miri), Perak (Lumut), Sabah (Penampang), Malacca (Bukit Katil), Kedah (Alor Setar) and Kuala Lumpur (Pandan) after losing eight of its incumbent seats, making a marginal gain of just one seat.
PKR failed to defend its eight existing seats of Machang, Ketereh and Tanah Merah in Kelantan; Merbok and Kulim-Bandar Baru in Kedah; Balik Pulau in Penang; Bagan Serai in Perak; and Hulu Selangor in Selangor. PKR’s loss of the three seats in Kelantan may well be attributed to the technical failure in the combined PKR-Pas machinery.
On the face of it, within the PR, Pas lost seven parliamentary seats but gained five in Terengganu’s Kuala Terengganu, Dungun and Kuala Nerus and solitary ones in Pahang’s Temerloh and Selangor’s Sepang, returning with a loss of two seats.
In the heated aftermath of GE13, the MCA leader, the scandal-stained Chua Soi Lek, has said the MCA would not take part in the new Malaysian government. This is expected to complicate the tasks of governing for Prime Minister Najib, who has to somehow convince the electorate that all are represented within his regime.
Another immediate problem that will confront Najib is PR leader Anwar Ibrahim’s announced challenge over the entire electoral result.
Anwar, a former Deputy Prime Minister in the 1990s before he was jailed for six years on what is popularly perceived to be trumped-up charges, is expected to prove problematical and formidable unless the olive branch of national reconciliation that Najib has offered is set in place before the deep electoral wounds turn toxic.
In the foreseeable future, since the Election Courts are popularly seen to be unable to offer any redresses to the popularly conceived electoral process, it will not be surprising that this challenge takes the form of popular demonstrations, thus turning into a herculean task the governing of this country of nearly 30 million and a few million foreign workers.
This is all the more so when the BN has lost the popular vote despite bagging the majority of the 222 seats in Parliament.
The BN polled 5.2m votes or 47 per cent against the PR’s 5.6m or 51 per cent. In 2008, the BN polled 4.1m votes or 52 per cent compared to the Opposition’s 3.8m or 48 per cent.
Stephen Tan is a journalist with international experience. He is today a New Zealand-trained lawyer with his small boutique practice in his hometown of Penang