Malay waves, not tsunami

Status quo expected: Merdeka Center reported that any swing in Malay support towards the Opposition will not be enough for Pakatan Harapan to wrest Putrajaya from Barisan Nasional. | 29-Apr-2018 – THERE is dissatisfaction among Malay voters, especially those living in urban constituencies in the Klang Valley, where griping about the high cost of living and corruption is a preoccupation.

Make no mistake though; such unhappiness will translate into votes for the Opposition on polling day. But whether a Malay tsunami or merely waves of discontent prevail remains to be seen.

Journalists and pollsters who have visited the villages and engaged the rural electorate did not sense overwhelming anger to end Barisan Nasional’s reign.

Those who have loudly predicted the winds of change are mainly urbanites who have never ventured into these backwoods. Quiz them on the names of the 114-odd rural Malay constituencies and they are most likely to stare blankly.

They make their deductions based on chatter among friends in WhatsApp chat groups, interacting with people who echo their political sentiments.

Those who fail to fall in line with these loud voices are likely to keep their cards close to their chests for fear of being singled out, or worse, being booted out of these chat groups.

Obviously, many will find it difficult to embrace the latest findings of independent polling firm Merdeka Center, which says that Barisan Nasional will win in the general election.

What Merdeka Center has revealed is what many other pollsters – local and foreign – have said all along, except with different spins. The prognosis, however, is consistent.

Then there are those likely to subscribe to the findings of Invoke (funded by PKR leader Rafizi Ramli), it being more in tune with what they want to believe. The body has predicted the collapse of Barisan and PAS getting zero representation.

Last week, Merdeka Center reported that any swing in Malay support towards the Opposition will not be enough for Pakatan Harapan to wrest Putrajaya from Barisan.

It said not only is the ruling coalition poised to retain the status quo, but it also has the potential to “add a few more seats”.

Its executive director Ibrahim Suffian admitted that the shift in Malay support away from Barisan had benefited the Opposition in areas like Selangor, where it had captured enough votes to secure the state government.

There was a swing in Johor and Kedah as well, but it had not reached the level needed to form the state government, he added.

“In other states, the swing is present but because Opposition votes will be split, it is not likely to be material enough to shift the outcome,” he said after the forum “Malaysia GE14 Outlook: Perspec­tives and Outcomes”.

His assessment came a month after research outfit Ilham Centre said even growing disappointment among voters who supported PAS and Umno would not let Pakatan form the Federal Government.

The Opposition is banking on a “Malay tsunami” to win the coming polls.

However, Ibrahim said the only state where Pakatan had the potential to deny Barisan a two-thirds majority is Sabah.

“Pakatan and Warisan might make some inroads, but we don’t think it will be enough to take the government,” he reportedly said, referring to Sabah-based Parti Warisan Sabah, which is led by former Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.

He said the 1MDB controversy, the rising cost of living and the Goods and Services Tax had played a part in drawing support away from Barisan.

“But the recent redelineation exercise and PAS’ decision to leave Pakatan and be a third force has improved Barisan’s chances, even though we are likely to see a lower popular vote (for Barisan),” he said.

Ibrahim also said the Merdeka Center survey showed that Malay sentiment against the ruling coalition was likely to cause only a 7.9% swing in the May 9 polls.

Malay voters constitute 62% of voters in the country, scattered across 120 parliamentary seats. Out of the 222 parliamentary seats, 117 are bumiputra seats in rural areas.

He said if Barisan hopes to maintain the status quo, they need to secure at least 95 seats in Peninsular Malaysia.

“At this time, we estimate their support level at 53% of the Malay vote,” Ibrahim added.

According to him, Merdeka Center estimates that Barisan would require 47.5% of Malay support to win the 95 seats.

“So, right now, they have a 5.5 percentage point surplus (of Malay support) nationwide. They (Barisan) still have the majority of the Malay vote,” he said, adding that this was despite dwindling support in a few states.

If Pakatan were to clinch the election, Merdeka Center estimates that it would need to win 100 seats in the peninsula.

Ibrahim said the Opposition needs to attain 34% of support from Malay voters, assuming non-Malay support stays the same.

“Right now, they have 20% of the Malay support. That is 14 percentage points short of the 34% target,” he explained.

Basically, over the next 10 days of campaigning, all the resources of both Barisan and Pakatan will be used on the Malay electorate – those who will decide the winner of the general election.

In the 2013 general election, there were 30 Chinese majority seats or 13.5% of the parliamentary seats, according to a recent news report, quoting social media analytics firm Politweet.

But another group, Tindak Malaysia, has claimed that the number of Chinese majority seats has dropped to 24. There is also another stark fact – even without the redelineation exercise, the number of Chinese voters has continued to shrink sharply.

Barisan doesn’t need Bangla­deshis to help it win the elections, as some would like to suggest, because all it needs is PAS – as the spoiler – and the rural Malay votes.

Anyone attempting to look at the small margins of the last elections must consider that these tiny majorities, in many instances, were the result of PAS members supporting the Opposition pact of 2013.

But this time, instead of voting for Pakatan, PAS members will likely vote for their Islamist party instead, which will be contesting in 140 parliamentary seats.

Those who have written PAS off haven’t spoken to their die-hard supporters, who still flood the rallies in huge numbers.

It can’t be ignored that our first-past-the-post system isn’t based on popular votes. The redelineation exercise will have an impact.

The multi-cornered fights will play into the hands of mainly Barisan, although they could also backfire in some parliamentary constituencies.

If the Malay votes are split, then Barisan must depend on the non-Malay votes. But if these minority communities back the Opposition, then the coalition will have it tough.

In locations with up to seven contenders, the slugfest will be even more intense as crucial votes could be snatched from both Barisan and Pakatan.

Another potential disruptive factor for both coalitions is sabotage by sulking members who have either been dropped or not selected to contest.

Driven by analysis and public opinion, though, the grand summation is a familiar one – Pakatan will struggle to unseat Barisan.