Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 27th of September, 2017
Battle for Selangor Part 2
In Part 1 of the “Battle for Selangor”, I showed evidence from past elections on how voters in Selangor are very quick to punish what they perceive to be ineffective governments and how they are quick to reward parties which can deliver good governance.
In Part 2 of the “Battle for Selangor”, I discuss the political circumstances which can limit the amount of damage PAS can do in three corner fights in the upcoming general election.
A common perception among political observers and analysts is that contests involving BN, Pakatan Harapan (PH) and PAS will likely result in a victory for the BN. The Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections, which were contested by the BN, PAS and AMANAH and which were won by the BN with increased majorities (compared to GE2013) are often used as evidence that three corner fights will be in the BN’s favour.
I do not dispute that straight fights against the BN would be the ideal situation for the opposition. But I want to use the following three points to show that PH can still win Selangor even in the presence of three corner fights involving PAS.
(i) The political landscape has changed since the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections.
The political stakes for voters in by-elections are not very high. Voters know that they are not deciding the future of a state or federal government. Local issues become more important than state and national issues. Voter turnout is also significantly lower than in general elections. The fact that the BN would perform better in these by-elections is thus not that surprising.
The political landscape has changed significantly since the two by-elections in June 2016. Back then, BERSATU had not been formed yet. Tun Dr. Mahathir and Tan Sri Muhyiddin had not been sacked by UMNO. PAS had not yet broken off ties with PKR. BERSATU had not yet joined Pakatan Harapan. The Pakatan Harapan leadership line-up had not been established. More than a year after the two by-elections, it is increasingly clear to voters that there are now two distinct and broad-based coalitions which can form the next federal government and the state government in Selangor. PAS does not feature in either coalition.
In the context of a general election where voters have to choose who forms the next state and federal governments, it would be a mistake to assume that all those voters who supported PAS in past elections would continue to support PAS in the next general election.
The more we make the next elections a stark choice between supporting a BN government led by a world renowned kleptocrat and a historic opportunity to change to an alternative coalition with a proven track record of governing two states for two terms, the likelier it is that more voters will not want to ‘waste’ their vote on a third-party candidate which has no chance of forming the government at either the state or federal level.
In general elections prior to 1990, in seats featuring two or more opposition parties, voters never had to face the choice between an opposition coalition that could form the next state or federal government. In a contest featuring BN, DAP and PAS, pro-opposition voters did not have to think of whether DAP or PAS would form the next state or federal government. In GE14, this choice is now available to pro-opposition voters given that there is a real chance that PH could win Putrajaya and very likely retain control of the Selangor state government.
As such, past assumptions about how voters would vote in a multi-corner fight must be revised.
(ii) PAS’ political success in Selangor is relatively recent
One of the reasons political observers tend to overestimate PAS’ overall support in Selangor is because of the 15 state and 4 parliament seats won by PAS in GE13. But they forget that PAS’ electoral success in Selangor is a relatively recent phenomenon.
According to Table 1 below, PAS did not win a single parliament seat in Selangor from 1990 to 2004. Even in the 1999 Reformasi elections where PAS emerged as the largest opposition party in parliament and won control of the Terengganu state government (and retained the Kelantan state government), it only managed to win 4 state seats in Selangor namely the Sungai Besar state seat in Sabak Bernam, the Sungai Burung state seat in Tanjung Karang, the Gombak Setia state seat in Gombak and the Kajang state seat in Hulu Langat.
Even in the 2008 and 2013 general elections, PAS only managed to win 52.9% and 54.3% of the popular vote respectively in the parliament seats it contested and 49.5% and 54.9% of the popular vote respectively in the state seats it contested. And as we shall see in the next point, a large proportion of this support was from the non-Malay voters which are likely to abandon PAS in droves in GE14.
Of course, PAS can respond by saying that DAP and PKR’s electoral success in Selangor is also a relatively recent phenomenon. And they would be right in saying this. The difference is that DAP and PKR are part of a larger political coalition, Pakatan Harapan, which has a legitimate chance of forming the next federal government and are in a strong position to retain the Selangor government. On the other hand, for the first time since 1986, PAS is in a political isolated position (putting aside the stillborn Gagasan Sejahtera coalition) with no chance of forming either the state or federal government on its own.
(iii) PAS did not win a majority of Malay votes in Selangor in GE2013
Perhaps the best evidence of PAS’ strength in Selangor can be seen its performance in the 2013 general elections where it won a historic 15 out of the 20 state seats it contested in. Table 3 below shows the estimated level of support for PAS by Malay, Chinese and Indian voters in the 15 state seats it won in GE2013.
From Table 3, what is clear is that PAS failed to win more than 50% of Malay votes in all except one of the state seats it won (the exception is N26 Bangi). The average Malay support for PAS in the seats it won is approximately 40%. PAS managed to win 14 out of 15 state seats in Selangor in GE2013 because of the high non-Malay support it received – an estimated 88% of Chinese and 68% of Indian support in these seats.
I would make the argument that PAS Malay support in newly won seats in GE2013 such as Seri Serdang, Paya Jaras and Morib, was largely due to the fact that it was part of a larger opposition coalition rather than because of its grassroot strength and support. Once PAS is no longer part of an opposition coalition, not only would its non-Malay support drop precipitously, I would argue that in many areas, PAS support among the Malay community would also fall.
Challenge for Pakatan Harapan (PH) in Selangor
There is a phenomenon that has been documented in political science called Duverger’s law which states that in first past the post single member constituency electoral systems which is used in countries like Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States, voters tend to focus their votes on two parties (or two coalitions, in the case of Malaysia). In other words, most voters tend not to want to ‘waste’ their votes on third party candidates because they know that these candidates have little chance of winning the seat. This does not mean that third party candidates will get no votes but that they will get relatively few votes.
PH can expedite the move towards two coalition competition in Selangor by taking the following steps.
Firstly, it can and should make it clear to voters that PAS will not be part of the Selangor state government after GE14 regardless of the outcome. This will provide a further incentive for pro-opposition voters to choose PH over PAS especially if they do not want the BN to recapture the Selangor state government.
Secondly, PH must actively court fence sitters and PAS sympathisers to continue to vote for a PH government in Selangor in GE14. As I’ve argued in Part 1 of the “Battle for Selangor”, many voters in Selangor do not have very strong party loyalties. Many of the voters who voted for PAS in GE13, especially the Malay voters, can be persuaded to switch their votes to another party in PH on the basis that PH can form the next government in Selangor and in Putrajaya.
Thirdly, PH must focus its attention on comparing and contrasting itself to the BN and not go all out to attack PAS. The main political adversary for PH in Selangor and in other states is still the BN. If PH is too obsessed with attacking PAS, this will inevitably alienate many PAS sympathizers.
At the end of the day, given Azmin Ali’s popularity as the current Menteri Besar of Selangor, especially among the Malay community, there is no reason why he cannot lead PH in Selangor to a convincing victory in GE14 even if PH has to go up against the BN and PAS in some seats including his own parliamentary seat of Gombak and his state seat of Bukit Antarabangsa.
In Part 3 of this series, I will show the possible electoral outcomes for GE14 under different assumptions of how many votes PAS can obtain in the context of three corner fights. By showing these results, I hope that I can convince some of the sceptics that despite having 3 corner fights, PH can still regain control of the Selangor state government.
Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang
 This was prior to the 2003 delimitation exercise which reconfigured many of the seats which PAS won to make it more difficult for them to retain these seats in the 2004 general elections.
 PAS was part of the Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU) coalition with Semangat 46 in 1990 and 1995, the Barisan Alternative in 1999 and 2004 and Pakatan Rakyat after the 2008 general elections.
 The Indian support could not be calculated in all seats because not all seats have a large enough % of Indian voters.