Guest Post: Malaysia’s National Alliance Clinches Victory in GE13

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Guest post by Raymond Siva, managing director of Edelman Kuala Lumpur (pictured).

It truly was a weekend of overacting, grandstanding and political intrigue. The 2013 general elections in Malaysia (GE13) has been historic and has set a new benchmark of civic consciousness and solidarity, voter turnout, political machinations and blatant cheating, as well as the  use  and abuse of social media.  Below is a brief summary of the results and initial analysis.

Results Snapshot

The recently concluded 13th General Elections (GE13) in Malaysia on May 5, 2013 saw the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) forming Malaysia’s next federal government, clinching 133 seats in Parliament ahead of the 89 seats won by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR). BN also secured 10 State and the two Federal Territory administrations of Labuan and Putrajaya, with PR maintaining its grip in three states and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.

GE13 was widely regarded as the most closely fought battle for Malaysia, with Anwar Ibrahim leading a resurgent opposition to take on the longest-serving ruling coalition in the world, led by PM Najib Razak.

The historic 85 percent voter turnout reflected the mood on the ground for change and saw more than 11 million voters casting their vote in the first truly two-coalition national election. The eligible number of voters swelled by more than 2.3 million from the last general election in 2008, from 10.9 million to 13.3 million, with a majority of new voters within the 21-40 year old age group. This has been an election largely fought on digital and social media platforms, with both parties openly acknowledging the use of social-activism, cybertroopers, hackers and bloggers-for-hire in an intense and, often emotional, battle.

The results are seen to be a blow to the BN and PM Najib, as it lost an additional seven Parliamentary seats to the opposition from the previous polls in 2008 when it won 140 seats, despite massive cash handouts and populist promises to the electorate in the run-up to GE13.

Significantly, 51.4 percent of the popular vote went to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, while only 48.6 percent voted for the ruling BN. This did not translate into seats as most of the opposition votes came from the larger urban constituencies.

Pakatan Rakyat has refused to concede defeat and has instead vowed to challenge the results through legal and public platforms. This has been compounded by the overwhelming outrage and sheer disgust expressed by a large number of netizens at the manner in which the elections were conducted and the gerrymandering that led to this result. The comment of PM Najib that the “Chinese Tsunami” caused BN to lose was met with wide derision and wholesale contempt. A petition to the United Nations has been initiated, resulting in over 205,000 signatures to date .

A petition to Barack Obama has also been posted on the White House official petitions page  to protest the suspected illegal voters that were brought in from Bangladesh to tip the balance in marginal seats. This has received over 220,000 signatures in support.

Malay/Bumiputera Parties Deliver

BN’s Malay/Bumiputera component parties, namely the dominant United Malay National Organization (UMNO), and East Malaysia (Borneo) based parties, delivered handsomely for BN. UMNO won 88 of the 121 parliamentary seats it contested, PBB in Sarawak won all 14  seats, while PBS took  four out of five in Sabah.

BN’s Non-Malay/Bumiputera Parties Falter

BN’s Chinese and Indian partners, however, failed to deliver. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) won only seven parliamentary seats (37), GERAKAN (an offshoot of MCA) won just one (11), and the Indian-based Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) captured only four (9). In Sarawak, BN’s Chinese partner Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) won only one (7) seat contested.

Implications for the Future

The results show that UMNO’s and its Bumiputera allies’ formula of race-based patronage has worked in its favour, especially in the heartlands. The Chinese have overwhelmingly rejected the BN, and with it, the perceived corruption, self-enrichment and race scare-mongering that is prevalent in the ruling coalition. Urban areas from Penang in the North to Johor in the South and even in East Malaysia have demonstrated that they are willing to vote for change, meritocracy and civic rights, punishing BN candidates with sometimes humiliating majorities. This has, however, clearly resulted in an urban/rural divide.

The implications are clear – the Malay/Bumiputera majority will see more patronage from UMNO and its partners as they can be counted on to deliver the goods when it is needed the most.

This level of generosity will be less so towards its non-Malay/Bumiputera partners. The dilemma for BN now is how to balance rewarding the loyalists while not further alienating the Chinese and Indian communities. The MCA and MIC will be retained only to give a semblance of representing all Malaysians in line with PM Najib’s 1 Malaysia slogan. In reality the Malay/Bumiputera agenda will dictate the national agenda.

What it Means for Business in Malaysia

In the immediate aftermath, the Malaysian Stock Exchange jumped over 100 points and the Ringgit strengthened to its strongest level in four years against the US Dollar, ostensibly pointing relief and confidence in the results. However, it is likely that the culture of patronage and cronyism will likely continue, more so that the Malay/Bumiputera loyalists have rescued UMNO and BN. It is highly likely that government-linked companies (GLC) and crony companies will see significant increase in lucrative government contracts resulting from PM Najib’s on-going Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). In this zero-sum game, the largely Chinese-dominated private sector is expected to bear the brunt of BN’s displeasure, although we are unsure how.

The ETP in itself is expected to continue carrying momentum, as the economic corridors of Iskandar Johor, Sarawak Corridor Of Renewable Energy (SCORE), and other economic transformation initiatives resume their growth trajectory.

However, the lower-than-expected performance of the BN has increased internal party pressure on PM Najib, with internal sources reportedly being quoted as saying his position is wobbly and may be open to challenge at the upcoming UMNO party polls in the last quarter of 2013.

All eyes are now on the composition of the Cabinet, expected by early this week.

Raymond Siva

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