GE14 – A truly Malaysian Tsunami

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Assistant National Director for Political Education for the DAP and Member of Parliament for P102 Bangi, on the 17th of May, 2018

When I returned to Malaysia from the United States after the completion of my PhD in 2010, I made a presentation where I said that the opposition was not likely to win GE13 but would take power in GE14. I must admit that even on the eve of polling day on the 9th of May, 2018, I was not 100% confident that Pakatan Harapan would be able to win a majority of parliament seats in GE14. The delimitation exercise which was bulldozed through parliament in March, the expected three corner fights with PAS, the seeming inability for the opposition to break through in Sarawak and the expected fear mongering by the BN among the Malay voters were the main reasons for my doubts.

What Najib and the BN did not count on was the creation of a Malaysian Tsunami which, to their utter shock and horror, swept the BN out of office, not just at the federal level but also in all of the states with the exception of Perlis and Pahang.[1]

BN’s share of the popular vote in Malaysia (including Sabah and Sarawak) nosedived by 12.8%, from 46.7% in GE2013 to 33.9% in GE2018 (Table 1 above). To put this figure into context, BN’s vote share in GE2018 was far lower than the 46.2% of the popular vote it (contesting as the Alliance Coalition) managed to win in Peninsular Malaysia in the 1969 general elections, which was already considered a disastrous performance.

Table 1: Share of and Change in Share of Popular Vote in Malaysia (GE2013 vs GE2018)

Pakatan Harapan emerged as the largest coalition with 48.3% of the popular vote. Some analysts have used the fact that PH failed to win a majority of votes to say that PH does not command the support of a majority of supporters in Malaysia. These same analysts also try to lump together the total support for BN and PAS to say that more than 50% of the voters did not support PH in GE2018. This interpretation totally misses the mark. The results of GE2018 was all about the backlash against the BN. 65% of voters voted AGAINST the BN and threw their support behind parties that were NOT the BN. Almost two thirds of voters in the country voted AGAINST the BN because that is how badly they wanted BN out of power at the federal and state levels.

The anti-BN swing was felt in ALL of the states in Malaysia. The largest swing against the BN occurred in Kedah where support for the BN fell by 19.8% from 49.8% in GE2013 to 30% in GE2018. Double digit swings against the BN were also experienced in Selangor, Johor, Perlis, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Sabah, Wilayah Persekutuan (KL & Putrajaya), Perak and Terengganu. (Figure 2 below)

In fact, the only state where the BN won more than 50% of the popular vote was in Sarawak, with 52.7% of the popular vote. (Table 2 below)

Figure 1: Change in BN support (Parliament) GE2013 to 2018

Table 2: Change in BN support (Parliament) GE2013 to 2018

Unlike in GE2013 where Malay support for the BN actually increased slightly compared to GE2008, there is no question that the Malay voters abandoned the BN in unprecedented numbers. Even many of the civil servants voted against the BN. Tengku Adnan, the former Minister for the Federal Territories, won his Putrajaya seat with only 49.5% of the popular vote in GE2018. This was a seat which he won comfortably in GE2013 with almost 70% of the popular vote.

There is strong evidence to suggest that even the police and army voters abandoned the BN in significant numbers. The four parliament seats with more than 10,000 early voters (mostly police and army voters) were all won by Pakatan Harapan (Table 3 below). Two of these seats – Setiawangsa and Tangga Batu – were won by the BN in 2013. The parliament seat of Lumut was gerrymandered to make it easier for UMNO to win back this seat. 10,000 police voters were moved into the Lembah Pantai parliament seat. Without a significant number of police and army voters NOT supporting the BN (either voting for PAS, PH, spoiling their votes or not casting their vote), PH would not have been able to win these parliament seats.

Table 3: Parliament seats with more than 10,000 early voters all of which were won by PH (GE2018)

In my own constituency of P102 Bangi, out of the 1305 postal votes which were cast (mostly army votes), 471 went to the PAS candidate (36.1%), 409 went to the myself, the PH candidate, (31.1%) and only 299 went to the BN candidate (22.9%). I was shocked when I saw these results. I won’t be surprised if the results in many of the other seats with a high number of postal and early voters also shows that a significant proportion of the army and police votes were cast NOT in support of the BN.

Pakatan Harapan performed very well in the ethnically mixed or ‘heterogeneous’ parliament seats. These are seats where no one race comprises more than 70% of the electorate. Out of the 83 mixed parliament seats, Pakatan Harapan won 73 or 88% with BN winning the remaining 10 (UMNO 7, MIC 2 and MCA 1). PAS did not win a single ethnically mixed parliament seat. These constituencies have become and will become increasingly important in Malaysia’s electoral landscape with increasing migration to urban areas. If the constituency delimitation were done fairly, such mixed seats would easily comprise 60% to 70% of total parliament seats in Peninsular Malaysia. Only a coalition with the ability to win the support of all the ethnic groups can hope to win such seats.

Last but not least, this Malaysian tsunami could not have happened without the voters in Sabah and Sarawak. While I was confident that Warisan together with DAP and PKR would make headway in Sabah, I did not imagine that PH together with Warisan would win 14 out of 26 parliament seats as well as 29 out of 60 state seats in Sabah.[2] What was more unexpected was the fact that the opposition would capture 12 out of 31 parliament seats in Sarawak[3] including a few semi-rural and rural seats such as Mas Gasing, Puncak Borneo, Saratok and Selangau.

With urban and rural voters, Malay and non-Malay voters, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysian voters, the civil service, the police and the army all rejecting the BN in record numbers, history was made and for the first time in 61 years, Malaysia has a new federal government. The question now is whether Pakatan Harapan can hold on to these gains and expand our influence to places where we performed poorly in notably Kelantan and Terengganu. But that is for another statement. For now, the focus for PH is to deliver on our manifesto promises and show that voters that we are a government which can truly deliver for the people.

[1] Sarawak’s state elections were held in 2016.

[2] Including WP Labuan.

[3] Including 2 independent candidates who have since joined PKR