Kedah, Penang polls outcomes a lesson for BN-Pakatan

LAST Saturday’s six state elections resulted in a return to the political status quo with the unity government winning Selangor, Penang and Negri Sembilan while Perikatan Nasional (PN) secures Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.

However, many consider the recent progress of PN in Selangor, a stronghold of Pakatan Harapan (PH), to be a significant political blow to the Anwar Ibrahim administration, revealing a growing polarisation within Malaysia that is stronger than ever.

After all, PN chairman Muhyddin Yassin was not talking through his hat when he projected the coalition winning big in the elections.

In the northern region, PN has made significant inroads in Penang and had a landslide win in Kedah.

PN’s success in Penang and Kedah demonstrates that it can win big in both federal and state elections. This was in doubt when in 2018, PAS only won one seat in Penang (Penaga).

Among the think tanks that projected the state election outcomes, Emir Research accurately predicted 38 of the 40 seats in Penang while making close calls on seven other constituencies. Two seats were blind spots –Bertam and Sungai Acheh – where Barisan Nasional (BN) won by a narrow margin in both instances.

On the other hand, the research firm accurately predicted every one of the 36 seats in Kedah while another five seats were close calls. Derga, Bukit Selambau, Sidam, Lunas and Kulim – all of which were won by PN, except Sidam, won by PH.

The above chart shows the number of seats won by parties in the 14th and 15th general elections respectively, in Kedah and Penang. With the recent elections, PN-PAS’s support climbed from 15 seats in Kedah to 33, reflecting this trend. While there is an apparent downward trajectory for PH, the coalition currently only holds three seats in Kedah, down from 18 in GE14.

Instead of winning a simple majority in Kedah, PN secured a two-thirds majority (33 out of 36 seats). On the other hand, in Penang, after only obtaining one seat by PAS in GE14, the coalition has managed to secure 11 seats in the August 12 state elections, paving significant inroads in the state.

Based on Emir Research’s analysis, overall, PN made the biggest jump mainly through PAS (83% success rate), which won 105 out of 127 seats contested in the six states.

On the other hand, DAP remains PH’s biggest deposit (98% success rate) by winning all the seats contested except one (46 out of 47 seats contested).

To emphasise, the unity government has lost 44 out of 76 seats in the northern region – 11 seats in Penang and 33 in Kedah.

While the number may not be significant compared to the total wipeout on the east coast, the northern states (especially Penang), once a stronghold of DAP, are facing resistance from the PN movement.

The results of the state elections, particularly in Kedah and Penang, show that PH-BN only won in its “fixed deposit” areas, with the unity government failing to capture any of the PN seats. Contrarily, PN has been able to seize control of many of the seats previously under the control of PH or BN, in addition to winning its fixed deposit.

The phenomenon amply demonstrates the high rate of vote transferability from PH and BN in GE14 to PN in the recent state elections, wherein most votes in these states were swung to the opposition coalition.

According to the voting patterns in the two states, PN continues to be the alternative coalition of choice in Malay-majority seats.

Particularly on the Penang mainland, the voting patterns in several locations, including Pinang Tunggal, Permatang Berangan and Sungai Dua, demonstrate a significant shift in voting patterns. These constituencies, which were once BN strongholds until the 2018 election, the seats were occupied by PH, and now all of them are won by PN.

It cannot be denied that a handful of politicians were confident of non-Malays’ vote for the unity government, as PN leaders are often painted as the cause of political polarisation across ethnic groups in the country. However, the voter turnout rate in the recent state elections showed otherwise.

For instance, the preliminary analysis done by Bridget Walsh found that the number of Indian supporters for PH in Penang has decreased by 17%, while the number of Indian supporters for PN has climbed by 29% in the state elections, which had a comparably bigger margin.

The decision to not field MIC leaders in the elections, the ongoing pressure on the quota system and the “P. Ramasamy effect” might be among the contributing factors to the vote swing.

These patterns point towards significant changes in the social fabric since GE15 and make it apparent that this is not just a “green wave” anymore.

As extensively circulated, one of the prime strategies for winning over Malay voters was the combined might of the PH-BN alliance.

However, the results of the polls make it quite clear that voters from other races, besides Malay voters, are still in doubt about the pact.

Is BN playing a pivotal role in garnering popularity among Malay voters, or is the party merely undermining the success rate of PH?

Ineffective communication tools and channels during campaigning

Despite launching several initiatives via the inclusive Madani Economy framework and providing aid, election goodies and assistance to lower- and middle-income groups throughout the election campaign, the unity government could not effectively utilise its resources and win the favour of the general populace.

Why? What went wrong? Where it all went wrong?

These initiatives, for instance, did not fully emphasise how they would generate revenue for the lower and middle-income groups to better cope with the risks associated with the rising inflation because there were no proper and effective channels to deliver the benefits it holds to the people.

The uneasy connection among coalition partners, in addition to the external communication elements, is undoubtedly the leading cause of PH-BN’s internal demise.

Concerning the “secretive”, ongoing, irreconcilable divisions, it is evident that envisioning a combined team effort might be a pipe dream. Thus, fixing the PH and BN leaders’ estranged relationship is important, particularly at the grassroots level.

Emotional v rational campaigning

Although the unity government used pragmatic and rational campaigning to deliver the achievements and manifesto for the states, it was unable to defeat the on-ground sentiments by PN. This include the strong ethno-religious narrative used by the coalition.

The use of Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor as a campaign focal point, for example, was a poor decision on the part of PH-BN even if the activities of the Kedah menteri besar were unacceptable, as this, in reality, increased the popularity of Sanusi and PN.

The voters in Kedah had unmistakably cast their ballots based on the on-ground sentiment or emotion, portraying Sanusi as the “victim” rather than holding him responsible for his unacceptable acts. What’s more, they were prepared to jeopardise their well-being and the future of their generation.

By data, in the latest elections, Sanusi secured 21,823 votes (79.08%), double the amount of support he received in GE14 (10,626 votes or 46.31%).

The Sanusi factor, albeit not the primary cause, had a role in the ascent of PN among Malay voters in the recent polls.

In summary, despite winning 146 (60%) of the overall 245 seats in the six states compared to PH-BN (99 seats or 40%), the popularity vote of PH-BN – 3,399,472 (49.5%) – remains slightly higher compared to PN’s 3,382,454 (49.3%).

However, if the current course is maintained, this administration would experience a greater loss in the next general election.

This, therefore, points to a potential realignment of the unity government in order to promote and work towards a progressive and inclusive Malaysia.

As the sayings goes, “the buck stops here”. Politicians should now stop politicking and focus on fixing the economy and improving the people’s well-being. – August 19, 2023.

* Jachintha Joyce is research assistant at Emir Research.

* 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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