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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In Malaysian elections, it is SEATS AND NOT VOTES THAT MATTER.

The ten-year mood swings

Posted by Raja Petra

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The opposition (referred to BN) is arrogant. The opposition has a large ego. They think we need them so they can do what they like. It is time they learned that we do not need them but it is they who need us.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

This ten-year cycle theory holds true for politics as well, at least as far as Malaysia is concerned. Every ten years or so we see a shift in voters' sentiments. Sometimes the shift is large enough to make an impact like in 1969 and 1999. Sometimes it is a minor shift but only because the Malays shift one way with the non-Malays going the opposite direction one election, and then the non-Malays reverse direction with the non-Malays again moving in the opposite direction the following election. Now, if only the Malays and non-Malays both shift the same direction then the election results would have been totally different. But the Malays and non-Malays love playing see-saw. When one goes up the other goes down, and vice versa. Maybe they should start playing swings instead so that both can swing up and down at the same time. But such are the mood swings of the Malays and non-Malays. When one is in the mood, the other is not, and then when the other finally gets into the mood, the mood of the first moves the opposite direction. It's like when tonight your wife has a headache and is not in the mood and tomorrow night when she is in the mood you in turn get a headache. If only you can both get your headaches at the same time so that you can synchronise your moods.

I remember in 1968 -- I was 18 then -- when Malaysians went through their first mood swing. Resentment against the government was high and both the Malays and non-Malays voted against the ruling party in the 1969 general election giving the opposition 55% of the votes. No doubt the ruling party still formed the government even though it had just 45% of the votes but it lost many states and ruled without a two-thirds majority. History was almost repeated 30 years later in 1998 but in the 1999 general election the Malays and non-Malays were not as united as in 1969 (though in 1969 the Malays and non-Malays were not really united in that sense but just that both wanted the government out without working in concert to achieve this).

Now, we must remember, 1969 was not long after Merdeka and not long after the ruling party swept almost all the seats in the first parliamentary elections in 1959. Ten years before that the voters gave the ruling party a landslide victory. Ten years later they took it back.

Let us look at the First Parliamentary General Election again. What really happened in that first election in 1959, merely two years after Merdeka? Did the ruling party do that well, only to lose it all again ten years later?

In the First Parliamentary General Election in 1959, the voter turnout was only 73.3% or 1.55 million voters. 600,000 people decided to just stay home and not bother to come out and vote. The Alliance Party, which had won the Municipal Elections four years before that in 1955, managed to garner only 51.8% of the votes. That's right, the Alliance Party won slightly over half the votes in the First Parliamentary General Election. And the Alliance Party was a coalition of three parties -- Umno, MCA and MIC. Therefore Umno, on its own, won less than half the votes.

In terms of seats, though, the Alliance Party won 74 out of the 104 seats or around 71% of the total seats contested. This means they managed to form the government with a comfortable two-thirds majority in spite of winning slightly over half the votes.

Five years on, in the Second Parliamentary General Election in 1964, the voter turnout increased slightly to 78.9%, a 5.6% increase. In this election the Alliance Party garnered 58.5% of the votes, an improvement of 6.7%, more or less corresponding with the increase in voter turnout. The increase in votes which the Alliance Party won can easily be attributed to the increase in the number of registered voters. The number of registered voters had increased by 28% but the Alliance Party saw an increase in votes of 50%. This means the Alliance Party saw a real increase and not just because there were more voters. In short, 500,000 'new' voters came out to vote in the 1964 general election and 80% or 400,000 of these votes went to the Alliance Party -- an impressive performance indeed. The number of seats the Alliance Party won increased to 86%, which more or less gave them a landslide victory.

Five years later, in 1969, the voter turnout dropped back to 73.6%. In this historic election (historic only because of the racial riots that followed) the Alliance Party managed a paltry 44.9% of the votes. Out of the 144 seats contested, the Alliance Party managed only 74 giving them slightly better than half (72 seats is 50%) and FAR SHORT of the two-thirds they needed to form an effective government.

That’s when all hell broke loose -- organised chaos if you wish -- infamously known as the May 13 incident.

The ruling party, by then called Barisan Nasional, performed better during the 1974 general election. They managed to garner 60.7% of the votes. But this is only because the old Alliance Party no longer existed and the new coalition called Barisan Nasional comprised all those opposition parties that, in the election before that, had denied the ruling party its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

In terms of seats it was almost a clean sweep for Barisan Nasional as the opposition managed to win only 19 out of the 144 seats contested. Something must be wrong with the system when the opposition won only 13% of the seats though 40% of the rakyat voted for them. In this election the voter turnout was only 75.1%. Again, 600,000 people did not come out to vote just like in the two elections before that.

The 1978 general election was not any better and was almost a repeat of 1974. Only 75.3% of the voters came out to vote. The ruling party won 57.2% of the votes, but this time their number of seats won dropped to 130. The opposition managed to win 24 seats on the now enlarged total of 154 seats -- a slightly better performance for the opposition.

The 1982 general election was, again, a duplicate of the election before that -- 74.39% voter turnout, 60.54% votes to the ruling party giving them 132 seats, and 22 seats to the opposition, which was almost status quo.

From thereon PAS seemed to be going downhill. The following general election in 1986 was a disaster for PAS when it won only one seat and lost Kelantan to UMNO. Ironically, DAP saw its best ever performance by winning 24 Parliament seats. Barisan Nasional, which got 57.28% of the votes, won 148 seats or 84% out of the total of 177 seats. This was the turning point for both PAS and DAP -- PAS its lowest point and DAP its highest.

One interesting point to note is that the voter turnout in 1986 was the worst in the history of our general elections. Only 69.97% of the voters came out to vote. It was said the low voter turnout was one factor that worked against the opposition. More than 2 million people stayed home in that election.

1990 was the most interesting year. In the general election held that year, the ruling party managed only 53.38% of the votes. Voter turnout was only slightly better at 72.7%. A 'record' 2.2 million people stayed home and did not bother to come out and vote. Considering the ruling party managed only around 3 million votes and the opposition obtained 2.6 million votes (giving the ruling party a mere 400,000 vote majority), the 2.2 million voters who stayed home was quite significant indeed. If 8% more people had come out to vote, and if they had voted for the opposition, the results would have been quite different. Of course, if they had voted for the ruling party instead then it would not have mattered much.

Anyway, DAP lost four seats and managed to retain only 20. PAS & Semangat 46 shared 15 seats between them from a mere one seat the election before that. PBS in Sabah got 14 seats and four independent candidates got in. Out of 180 seats contested, the ruling party still managed to win 127 or 70% of the seats on slightly more than HALF the votes they garnered. Again, this showed, in Malaysian elections, it is SEATS AND NOT VOTES THAT MATTER.

During the 1995 general election, PAS and Semangat 46 got one seat less each and, combined, managed to win only 13 seats. DAP did quite badly at nine seats while PBS got only eight seats this time around. There were nine million registered voters that year but, just like in 1990, more than two million people stayed home. The ruling party garnered 65.2% of the votes and won 162 out of the 192 seats contested giving it 85% of the seats.

In the 1999 general election, Barisan Nasional won 102 or 70.8% of the 144 seats it contested in Peninsular Malaysia. This gave it 4.2% more than what it needed to retain its two-thirds majority in Parliament. With the 46 seats it won in East Malaysia, Barisan Nasional sailed in comfortably with 148 seats, 20 more seats than what was required to maintain its two-thirds majority and 52 more seats than what it need to form the government with a simple majority.

Now, it must be noted that while Barisan Nasional won more than the two-thirds of the seats, it failed to win two-thirds of the votes. Out of a total of about 5.8 million voters in Peninsular Malaysia, Barisan Nasional managed to convince only 3.1 million voters to vote for it while 2.6 million voters voted for the opposition. This came to less than 54% of the total voters who cast their votes -- far short of the two-thirds it needed to legitimately claim that the people support the ruling party.

What is most interesting to note is that only 73% of the voters came out to vote. Perak was the lowest at 66% followed by the Federal Capital at 70%. Why this low turnout?

Thousands of complaints were received that voters who had voted in that same area for the last few elections suddenly found their names missing from the electoral list. Others complained that someone else had voted in their place. When they went to vote they found that their names had been 'cut off' from the register, which means they had already voted. Then there were cases where voters’ names had been transferred to another state so they could not vote as there was no way they could make it across the country in time to vote.

It was estimated that around 80% to 82% of the registered voters would have come out to vote this time around, if they had been allowed to. This would have made it one of the highest ever in Malaysian election history. Many did in fact come out but were sent home disappointed.

If these 7% to 9% had not been denied their right to vote, and if the 680,000 voters who had registered earlier but could not vote were included in the voters’ list, an additional one million people would have voted in the 1999 general election.

According to the Elections Commission, 95% of these 680,000 disenfranchised voters were below the age of 30. The Alternative Front or Barisan Alternatif claimed that more than 70% of these people barred from voting were their supporters. If this were true, then Barisan Nasional would have garnered 3.4 million votes while the opposition would have won 3.2 million. This would have changed the results drastically, probably even giving the opposition an additional 30 to 40 Parliamentary seats. Looking at the wafer-thin wins the Barisan Nasional candidates obtained, this assumption is more than possible.

A couple of years later, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted during the Umno General Assembly that if the 680,000 disenfranchised voters had been allowed to vote, Barisan Nasional would have been kicked out of office.

The opposition officially won 42 of the Parliament seats contested. They claim the number should have been between 70 to 80 if the elections had been free and fair. And all they needed was 65 seats to deny Barisan Nasional its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Then came the 2004 general election, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's first general election, and the tide turned yet again in favour of the ruling party. Even with just roughly two-thirds of the votes, Barisan Nasional managed to win 92% of the seats, never before achieved in 50 years of election history. Now, what is 2008 going to look like? Well, we have eleven previous general elections to look at so take your pick. But whatever it is, take note that:

1) even with 45% of the votes Barisan Nasional will still form the government;

2) they do not need two-thirds of the votes to win two-thirds of the seats;

3) and finally, in 1959 the ruling party garnered 51.8% of the votes, in 1969, 44.9% of the votes, in 1978 (which should have been held in 1979), 57.2% of the votes, in 1990 (they held elections every four years instead of five during this period so that is why there is an 'extra' two years), 53.38% of the votes, and in 1999, 54% of the votes.

Now, what is 2009, the next ten years (which may be 2008 rather than 2009 if they call an early election) going to look like? We have seen a voters' mood swing every ten years, just like we saw an economic downturn. Can we expect a downturn of the ruling party's performance as well?

Most likely. If the Malays and non-Malays unite under a united opposition we can see a 50-50 split in the votes. Of course, Barisan Nasional will still form the government. But it will be without a two-thirds majority and with the loss of a few states.

Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis may fall. Barisan Nasional may lose its majority in Penang, Perak, Selangor and Sabah. And 80 Members of Parliament will sit in the opposition aisle giving Barisan Nasional a mere 64% of the seats, slightly less than the two-thirds it needs to blatantly amend laws such as the recent one that allowed the Prime Minister to extend the tenure of the Chairman of the Elections Commission without seeking the approval of the Agong.

Yes, let us force the opposition to unite. And if they don't then let us boycott the opposition. Let us show them we mean business. As Lim Kit Siang said, “The people are the boss.” So let us show them that we really are the boss by telling them what we want and by rejecting them if they refuse to listen to the boss. We want 80 opposition members in Parliament. And we will get it even if we have to vote against the opposition or by not coming out to vote just to teach the opposition a lesson and to show them that if we can't have it our way then we do not want it any way.

The opposition is arrogant. The opposition has a large ego. They think we need them so they can do what they like. It is time they learned that we do not need them but it is they who need us. Malaysia Today will soon launch a campaign called ONE OPPOSITION OR NO OPPOSITION. The civil society movements and NGOs will soon launch a PEOPLES' DECLARATION or DEKLARASI RAKYAT. If the ruling party accepts this Declaration we shall support them. Whomsoever accepts it we shall support them, never mind which party they are from. It is time we took back the streets. It is time we took back the ballot box. It is time the Wakil Rakyat learnt the meaning of wakil rakyat. It means we are in charge and they are merely our wakil.


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