Ong Kian Ming | Apr 6, 09 12:38pm
Of the three by-elections that will take place tomorrow, perhaps the one that has the greatest significance for new Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is the Bukit Gantang by-election.
Whether one interprets the eventual outcome as a vote of confidence for or against Najib’s premiership or the way he managed to engineer the takeover of the Perak state government, the results will be seen as a referendum on Najib, one way or the other.
As such, if my prediction of a Pakatan victory by approximately 3,000 votes were to materialise, then it would not be a very positive start to Najib’s premiership especially if this were to be accompanied by a loss in the Bukit Selambau by-election as well.
This result will be driven by a small increase in the level of Malay support for BN (compared to 2008) but will be more than overwhelmed by a slightly larger drop in its level of non-Malay support.
BN will get a small post-Umno general assembly boost that compensates for the sympathy factor that is associated with the PAS candidate, ousted Perak menteri besar Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin. But the perception that the ‘takeover’ of the Perak state government was ‘illegal’ and ‘unjust’ will hurt the ruling coalition more among the non-Malay voters.
Malay support for BN barely above 50%
Reports leading up to the Bukit Gantang by-election seem to indicate that PAS is only confident of securing 40% of the Malay vote. But the previous three general elections have shown that the BN has never managed to secure anywhere close to 60% of the Malay vote.
bukit gantang by election ethnic voting 1999 to 2008This table below shows my estimates of Malay and non-Malay support for BN in Bukit Gantang in the past three general elections.
Malay support for BN was barely above 50% in 1999 because of the treatment of Anwar Ibrahim at the hands of Mahathir and the ‘reformasi’ movement arising from that. Malay support for the BN remained low even in 2004 because this seat was ‘given’ by Umno to Gerakan in return for the predominantly Chinese party letting PPP president M Kayveas to contest in its Taiping parliamentary seat.
Many Malay voters in Bukit Gantang opted to vote for the PAS candidate instead of the Gerakan candidate, Tan Lian Hoe, who is the current MP for Grik. In 2008, when this seat was ‘returned’ to Umno, the Malay support for BN increased slightly to 53% but this is very far from the 60% Malay support for BN that some are projecting for this by-election.
The reason why PAS managed to win this seat in 2008 was because of the almost precipitous drop in the non-Malay support for the BN in this seat, where non-Malays comprise 36% of the voting population. BN only managed to win 35% of votes from the non-Malays which ultimately delivered this seat to the PAS candidate by a majority of 1,566 votes.
The question of interest then is whether the non-Malay support for BN will increase, decrease or stay the same in the upcoming by-election, by how much and for what reasons?
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