Why Dyana Sofya is the underdog in Teluk Intan

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 27th of May, 2014

Why would the DAP candidate, Dyana Sofya, be considered the underdog in a seat won by the DAP with more than 7000 votes in the 13th general election? Is it merely a ploy to gain more sympathy votes for DAP on the 31st of May?

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a very real possibility that Dyana and the DAP would lose this by-election. While her candidacy has been a breath of fresh air and has been applauded by various quarters at the national level, there are a few important factors which are at work against Dyana among the people who matter most in this by-election, namely the Teluk Intan voters themselves.

A whispering campaign has already started among certain quarters to appeal for Chinese voters to vote for a Chinese representative in Teluk Intan. This was always a challenge which was recognized by the DAP from day one – that fielding a Malay candidate in a non-Malay majority seat would cost the party some votes, especially among the Chinese voters.

At the same time, the fact that Dyana does not hail Teluk Intan would be used against her especially since the BN candidate, Dato Mah Siew Keong, is a local boy with an influential and well-known family backing him. We fear that the fact that Dyana relocated to Gelang Patah, Johor as part of her responsibility as Lim Kit Siang’s political secretary and that she would do the same if elected as the MP for Teluk Intan would be drowned out by this ‘local’ versus ‘outsider’ campaign message. Of course, lost in this message is the fact that NOT being local did not prevent two Perak born former MCA presidents – Dr. Ling Liong Sik and Ong Ka Ting – from serving as MPs in Johor for most of their political lives.

It is noteworthy that Mah Siew Keong received 4606 more votes at the parliamentary level compared to his BN colleagues in the state seats of Pasir Bedamar and Changkat Jong even though he went up against local DAP three term Pasir Bedamar ADUN – the late Seah Leong Peng. Mah’s split voting advantage in GE2013 is an indication of the strength of the Mah family ‘brand’ in Teluk Intan where such ties matter especially among older voters.

Dyana’s age, her gender and her appearance have also been heavily criticized and attacked especially by UMNO politicians and in the mainstream media.

These attacks will be the most effective among older Chinese voters whose support for Pakatan is noticeably lower than among younger voters. For example, in the Jalan Market Barat polling station, which is 92% Chinese, 72.5% of older voters in the first polling stream (or saluran) vote for DAP in GE13 compared to 85.1% among the youngest voters in the 4th (and final) polling stream who voted for DAP.

Older Chinese voters also outnumber younger Chinese voters in Teluk Intan. 40% of Chinese voters in Teluk Intan are above 55 years of age compared to only 21% who are under 35. In comparison, only 28% of Malay voters are above 55 years of age compared to 34% of voters who are below 35 years of age.

Younger, more pro-Pakatan Chinese voters, are also more likely to be working or studying outside Teluk Intan and may not come back home for this by-election. Turnout in GE2013 was a remarkably high 80.6% compared to only 70.0% in GE2008. A large reason for this high turnout is the return of outstation voters who came back to vote in GE2013. The turnout for this by-election will most certainly be lower than in GE2013. It is expected that the turnout rate would be between 65% to 70%.

One also cannot underestimate the possible impact of PAS’ attempt to table a private members bill for the implementation of hudud in Kelantan especially among the Chinese voters.

These factors – lower support for a non-Chinese DAP candidate who is not seen as a local, a larger proportion of older Chinese voters, a lower turnout rate especially among outstation young voters and the possible impact of the hudud issue – means that DAP’s support among the Chinese voters – at an estimated 85% in GE2013 – would almost certain drop in the upcoming by-election. The Chinese support for DAP is expected to drop by between 5% to 15%.

Among the Indian voters, who supported PR at a 62% rate in GE2013, similar arguments – lower turnout especially among the young, the hudud issue, the Mah family factor – will also explain why Indian support for Dyana and for DAP will fall in the by-election. Factors such as the resignation of Hindraf leader Waythamoorthy as Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister department over the inability of the Prime Minister to deliver on the Hindraf Blueprint will not likely be salient. The Indian support for DAP is expected to drop by between 5% to 10%.

It was and is not anticipated that Dyana’s candidacy would increase PR’s support among Malay voters in Teluk Intan. While fielding Dyana has a candidate has galvanized many young voters including young Malays all over the country to pay attention to this by-election, the local sentiment in Teluk Intan among Malay voters will be hard to overturn within a 2 week campaign period. It will take many years to win the hearts and minds of a majority of Malay voters especially in the Malay majority Changkat Jong are. Hopefully Dyana will have a chance to undertake this challenge but for this by-election at least, it is unlikely that the Malay support for DAP will increase from the 25% we received in GE2013. It would already be an achievement if we managed to preserve the Malay support at 25% given the incessant attacks against Dyana by top UMNO leaders and the many government handouts which have been given in Teluk Intan during this campaign.

Under a relatively optimistic projection, if turnout is at 70%, Malay support is maintained at 25%, Chinese support falls by 10% to 75% and Indian support falls by 5% to 55%, DAP will maintain this seat with a majority of just over 1000. Under a more pessimistic projection, if turnout were to fall to 65%, Malay support falls by 2% to 23, Chinese support falls by 15% to 70% and Indian support falls by 10% to 50%, DAP will lose this seat by slightly more than 1000 votes.

Turnout is key. If voters feel unmotivated to turn out, as was the case for the Bukit Gelugor by-election, and turnout falls below 65%, DAP will almost certainly lose this seat. If turnout is at 70% or more, then the chances for the voters of Teluk Intan to have a young, energetic and idealistic Member of Parliament will be bright.

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