As a guest blogger on May 2 I described the intense interest in the General Election to be held on May 5. This was shown on election day with a voter turnout of more than 84%, the highest in Malaysian history.
The Opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) won the popular vote but lost the elections. It garnered 5,623,984 or 50.88% of the popular votes but won only 89 Parliamentary seats (40%) compared with the ruling Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 5,237,699 votes or 47.38% with 133 seats. The BN lost 7 seats.
The component parties of BN, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and the Gerakan were almost annihilated and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) with only 4 seats barely survived the mauling. The United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) the strongest coalition partner however did well in the rural areas.
The hard fought elections had some undesirable aspects. Rumors were rife that “ballot box stuffing” by foreigners legitimized as “Malaysian citizens “was used in marginal constituencies to influence the result. Opposition supporters were encouraged by bloggers to alert the authorities, but some of them behaved like vigilantes.
Despite BN’s fear mongering tactics of talking up potential racial violence and religious tensions, the bribing of voters with cash handouts and promises of more to come after the elections, urban voters voted for the PR in large numbers. The Prime Minister’s election pledge of “you help me and I will help you” only amused urban voters.
The BN, particularly the PM and former PM Tun Mahathir Mohammed, bitterly criticized the Chinese voters for being racial in abandoning the party in urban constituencies. It became clear how out of touch BN was with the demographic changes and the powerful socio-economic and political forces at work in urban areas. Their political analysts must know that the Chinese electorate could not have pulled off the coup in urban areas without the strong support of the Malays. But stoking racial and religious sensitivities have always been exploited successfully by BN. They must also know that Chinese candidates in BN lost to opposition Chinese PR candidates. Clearly this was a party preference and not an ethnic one. It is to the credit of the Opposition that they did not use the race card to criticize the BN for pushing for Malay dominance in rural areas.
What saved the BN were the rural Malays voters in the 317 Felda settlement land schemes spread throughout the country. 90% of these 600,000 settler voters, beneficiaries of huge payouts during the run up to the elections, are diehard UMNO supporters. The Pan Islamic Party (PAS) a component party of PR was hoping to improve on its 2008 performance in these areas but was not able to make inroads into the 54 parliamentary and 92 state seats in the Felda dominated areas. Also, BN maintained its stranglehold in the mainly rural areas of East Malaysia. The opposition DAP made impressive gains in all urban areas in the country.
The PR claims fraud in at least 30 seats. This is significant as it needs only 23 seats to unseat BN. Allegations have been made of vote buying, misuse of postal ballots, of legitimizing foreigners to vote and other irregularities. The Election Commission (EC) has said that appeals to the courts can be made within 21 days of the election results being gazetted. No one is holding their breath in expecting a fair outcome to any of the appeals. The credibility and track record of the investigating agencies have never inspired confidence in Malaysians.
Bersih, the NGO for clean and fair elections is setting up a Peoples Tribunal to probe election fraud and irregularities. Its findings may have little impact on the outcome of the election but it will certainly have long term national and international implications.
El Tee Kay from Kuala Lumpur