Waves of change keep reps on their toes, reminder they work for the people - not vice versa



16 Aug 2023 07:30am
Election Commission personnel carrying ballot boxes to the official counting station for Selangor's Kota Anggerik state seat at Dewan Besar Tanjung MBSA Seksyen 19 on Aug 12. (Photo by BERNAMA)
Election Commission personnel carrying ballot boxes to the official counting station for Selangor's Kota Anggerik state seat at Dewan Besar Tanjung MBSA Seksyen 19 on Aug 12. (Photo by BERNAMA)

The six states that opted to conduct separate elections are currently forming their respective state governments. Campaigning and the elections themselves came and passed.

In other words, the time has now come for Malaysia and, more importantly, its political actors to begin focusing on delivering services to the people rather than plotting another covert political manoeuvre. In a democratic system, the process is adhered to, and the next election cycle is not anticipated to occur for at least four years.

When that time arrives, the people will once again have the ability to elect their federal and state governments.

Despite the fact that only about 46 per cent of eligible Malaysian voters (9.7 million out of 21.1 million) cast their ballots on Saturday, the elections were billed as a referendum against the Unity Government. This narrative contains truths, half-truths, and falsehoods. Legally, there is no such thing as a federal government referendum.

This "referendum," if any, will take the guise of the subsequent parliamentary election. However, these elections, which were held less than a year after the formation of the Unity Government, provide insight into how approximately half of eligible voters perceive the current administration.

I cannot emphasise this enough: not all Malaysians voted on Saturday.

Perikatan Nasional (PN) appears to be the largest winner following the announcement of election results, not only because they were able to defend their states with a two-thirds majority, but also because they were able to make inroads into traditionally Pakatan Harapan-held (PH) urban areas. PN won 146 of the 245 contested seats. This gives the coalition a total of 60 per cent of seats despite receiving only 49 per cent of the vote. In comparison, if we combine the latest election results for the 11 state seats in Peninsular Malaysia, PN received a total of 43 per cent popular votes in contrast to 57 per cent received by the combined forces of PH and Barisan Nasional (BN).

Malaysia must examine the issue of malapportionment and gerrymandering in the country with great care. Possibly, if the current administration has the political will, we ought to also bring up the possibility of combining proportional representation with first-past-the-post in order to level the playing field. However, that is a topic for a later post, and perhaps another analyst.

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The objective today is to present the following numbers:

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I have tabulated the percentage of seats and votes received by PN and the PH-BN coalition in Peninsular Malaysia's state legislative assemblies. I did not include Sabah and Sarawak because West Malaysia is where the polarisation between the two major coalitions is most pronounced.

As shown in the table above, there are significant disparities between the percentage of votes received and the seats gained by each coalition. States such as Penang, Pahang, and Selangor have seats proportional to the proportion of ballots received by the coalition.

Terengganu, on the other hand, has no opposition whatsoever following Saturday's election, despite PH-BN receiving a respectable 32 percent of the vote. Similar conditions exist in the three other states held by PN, where they won more than 90 per cent of seats despite garnering between 52 and 75 per cent of the vote.

In Johor and Melaka, however, the coalitions are reversed. In these two southern states, BN and PH hold more than 90 per cent of the seats despite receiving less than 75 per cent of the vote. Obviously, these two states held their elections prior to GE15 during the pandemic, and so the contexts were slightly different.

I share this information not to diminish the accomplishments of each coalition, but to give confidence to the opposition — whether PN in Melaka and Johor or PH-BN in the northern states — that losing seats does not indicate a lack of support. As demonstrated by Terengganu and Kedah, close to one-third of electors chose Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional. As it is oft repeated, our voters are not homogenous, including the Malays.

This is not the time to play the blame game or to burn bridges. In fact, to those who lost Saturday’s election, now is the time to assist people on the ground to demonstrate to those who voted for you that they did not make a mistake. They will come back and vote for you again, perhaps with others in tow.

Politics is a long game. Do not anticipate immediate gratification.

Remember that it took Pas seven decades to get here, and that PKR had only one seat in 2004 before winning the general election 14 years later.

It is common for citizens of a democratising nation like Malaysia to vote against the incumbent. It is easier for the opposition to launch an assault than for the government to mount a defence. PH won the most popular votes and a plurality of 82 seats at the 15th General Election by defeating the incumbent PN-BN administration headed by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

In contrast to decades of Malaysian history in which one coalition ruled with little viable opposition, recent developments demonstrate that Malaysian voters are becoming wiser and that Malaysian democracy is maturing as the people vote back and forth among different coalitions. We need this wholesome competition to keep our representatives on their toes and to remind them that they work for the people, not vice versa.

Syaza Shukri, PhD, is an associate professor and the current Head at the Department of Political Science, IIUM.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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