Is a 15% Malay swing against the BN in GE14 realistic?

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang, on the 26th of August 2017

Is a 15% Malay swing against the BN in GE14 realistic?

My colleague and Member of Parliament for Kluang, Liew Ching Tong, has been discussing the possibility of a Malay tsunami in the upcoming 14th General Election which will allow Pakatan Harapan (PH) to win power at the federal level.

DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang has written about a 10 and 5 formula whereby a swing of 10% against the BN by Malay voters and a swing of 5% by non-Malay voters would enable PH to win 113 out of 165 parliament seats (or 68% of seats) in Peninsular Malaysia, thereby paving the way for PH to get to Putrajaya.

How much of a Malay swing against the BN is needed for PH to win Putrajaya? Is a Malay tsunami in the form of a 15% Malay vote swing against the BN something realistic?

To answer the question of whether a 15% Malay vote swing against the BN is a realistic projection in GE14, we must examine vote swings among other voting ‘blocks’ in previous general elections in Malaysia.

Table 1 below shows the estimated support for the BN by racial group and changes in racial support for the BN from 1995 to 2013.

Table 1: Estimated support for the BN by racial groups in Peninsular Malaysia, 1995 to 2013

1995 1999 2004 2008 2013
Malay 81% 54% (-27%) 65% (+11%) 59% (-6%) 64% (+5%)
Chinese 55% 65% (+10%) 75% (+10%) 35% (-40%) 14% (-21%)
Indian >90% >90% (NA) >90% (NA) 48% (-42%) 38% (-10%)

(Change from one election to the next is in brackets) (NA = Not Available)

Source: Estimates by Dr. Ong Kian Ming

From Table 1, there has been one instance of a more than 15% swing in Malay support against the BN, which was during the 1999 ‘Reformasi’ election where BN’s support among the Malays fell by 27% from 81% in 1995 to 54% in 1999. PAS emerged as the largest opposition party in parliament after the 1999 general elections. The loss in support for the BN was felt most in the northern states of Kedah, Teregganu and Kelantan where PAS won most of its parliament seats. What ‘saved’ the BN in the 1999 GE was its high level of support among non-Malay voters. Chinese support for the BN increased by an estimated 10%, from 55% in 1995 to 65% in 1999. Indian support for the BN remained high at over 90%.

In the 2004 GE, Malay support for the BN rebounded somewhat when it increased by 11% from 54% to 65%. BN support among the Chinese increased by a further 10% to an estimated 75%, one of the highest levels in Malaysian history. This was the Pak Lah tsunami effect which allowed the BN to capture 91% of parliament seats.

In the 2008 GE, the BN suffered a tremendous drop in its non-Malay support. BN support among the Chinese voters fell by 40% (from 75% to 35%) while BN support among the Indian voters, mostly because of the Hindraf movement, fell by at least 42% (from more than 90% to 48%). BN support among the Malays fell by a smaller amount, from 65% to 59%, a drop of only 6%.

In the 2013 GE, BN support among the Malays increased slightly, by 5%, from 59% to 64% while BN support among the Chinese and Indians fell by a further 21% and 10% respectively to 14% and 38%.

To go back to the initial question, how much of a Malay swing can we expect in GE14? A Malay swing of 10% is not out of the question given the impact of Tun Dr. Mahathir and the formation of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and later on, the creation of Pakatan Harapan which includes PPBM. With a historically unpopular Prime Minister, the 1MDB scandal, and the impact of the GST and rise in the cost of living, the Malay vote is likely to swing against the BN in GE14. A Malay swing against the BN of 15% would bring BN’s Malay support to about 50% which would leave BN teetering on a knife’s edge. A swing of 15% or more in any voting block doesn’t usually occur but we are living in unusual circumstances. It happened in 1999 among the Malay voters and it happened again in 2008 among the non-Malay voters. If I had been told in 2013 that Dr. Mahathir and Tan Sri Muhyiddin would form a new political party to fight UMNO in GE14, I would have said that you were out of your mind. And yet, what was then unthinkable is now reality. As unlikely as a 15% swing may sound, it is not out of the realm of impossibility.

Of course, if there is a 15% swing in the Malay vote against the BN, the next question we have to ask is how much of this swing would go to PH and how much of this would go to PAS? To answer this question would require another media statement…

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang