Future of political power lies in urban areas

Lim Chee Han

Perikatan Nasional has been the big winner of the general election, overtaking Barisan Nasional as the coalition of choice for Malay voters. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 22, 2022

MANY people were surprised when Perikatan Nasional (PN) pulled off its election result.

It was unexpected to many ordinary urban voters, to contesting parties and likely even PN supporters.

PAS has emerged as the biggest single party in the Parliament for the first time in history, with 44 seats.

Bersatu also rode on the wave, winning 28 seats under its PN banner (plus another six seats for Gabungan Rakyat Sabah), beating Umno’s 26 seats.

It has become obvious now: PN is the number one choice for Malays, with an Umno-led Barisan Nasional suffering its worst electoral defeat in history.

PN has gained 42 seats, while losing only eight seats, making the best net gain of 32 seats. Out of its 42 seats, it wrested 21 and 14 seats from Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH), respectively.

The coalition made a clean sweep of Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis, and took all but one seats in Kedah.

PN also made further gains in Malay majority seats in Penang, Perak, Selangor and Pahang, and took the two Federal Territories seats: Putrajaya and Labuan.

Most notably and impressively, PN candidates defeated Nurul Izzah Anwar in Permatang Pauh, Dr Mahathir Mohamed in Langkawi and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in Gua Musang, stronghold seats for some of the most decorated politicians in Malaysia.

It seems like many of the opinion polls were unable to detect the trend of things coming, grossly underestimating PN, being too optimistic about PH, and overvaluing of BN and Warisan.

The fact that many polls indicated Dr Mahathir would win in Langkawi is a gross deviation by a wide margin – he even lost his deposit.

Given that some parties attempted to use the poll results to rally their supporters, their accuracy could be politicised.

The biggest limitation for the pollsters is the sample size and randomness. If the pollsters rely on the contactable persons by phone, it may have created some biases for the urban voters and who have better access to communication.

Looking at the aggregated vote preference bears no meaning when our electoral system is clearly constituency based. Margin of error can be great if the sample size for each seat is small.

It is not the first time this has happened. During the 2018 general election, Invoke predicted a wipe-out of PAS, which is of course turned out to be a big mistake.

Another observation is that Malaysian voters tend to recognise party affiliation for their voting decision.

All independent candidates, except two in Sabah, failed terribly, forfeiting their deposits. Few of them garnered more than 1,000 votes: Tian Chua in Batu (4,603 votes) was the best performing loser.

Lee Wai Hong contested in Seputeh and garnered just 1,276 votes, compared to the winner Teresa Kok (73,234 votes), retained for a sixth term.

Other than Kok, several veteran DAP politicians have their majority votes increased, such as Fong Kui Lun (Bukit Bintang) and Tan Kok Wai (Cheras).

In fact, many of PH’s urban strongholds have been fortified and unchallenged since 2008, meaning that whoever the coalition appoints as a candidate will win comfortably and probably with increasing majority votes.

Currently, PH is dominant in almost all of the non-Bumiputera and urban majority seats, as it managed to retain 70 seats in the recent election.

Due to malapportionment of electoral constituencies, however big the majority in those seats, it returns with the same number of seats.

In 2020, 77.16% of the population lived in urban areas. With the increasing national trend of urbanisation, in future, there can only be more residents in the cities.

The electorate’s voting district by right should follow their residence address on their identity card, so that their constituency interests and ideas can be effectively represented, and no longer the need to “balik kampung” to vote.

However, for this, the Election Commission has to address the issue of malapportionment, otherwise the gap between the biggest electoral size and the smallest will keep on growing, and this severely violates the principle and spirit of “one person, one vote”.

Thus, urban areas should receive more representation, and there should be more healthy democratic competition in the urban seats, instead of the over-dominance of Pakatan Harapan.

There used to be the common perception of “Chinese” control and heavy population of the cities, but now increasingly it is not the case.

Many constituencies in Kuala Lumpur are now more diverse and have a multi-ethnic outlook.

Thus, if the malapportionment concern is addressed, the future of Malaysian politics should be where the majority live.

This would probably moderate any ambitious party coalition to keep their multi-ethnic and multicultural outlook to remain competitive and appealing for forming the government.

This would probably also help assuage the fear of some voters that a single-race and religion dominated coalition will neglect their needs and steer to further right.

A federal government should represent the whole nation and all races, not just to serve its own electorate. – November 22, 2022.

* Lim Chee Han is a founding member of Agora Society and a policy researcher. He holds a PhD in infection biology from Hannover Medical School, Germany, and an MSc in immunology and BSc in biotechnology from Imperial College London. Health and socioeconomic policies are his concerns. He believes a nation can advance significantly if policymaking and research are taken seriously.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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