Malaysian Election Roundup

My father, Michael Leigh, is a political scientist who specialises in Malaysian politics. He’s there at present, and emails the following commentary (note to opinion editors: feel free to get in touch via me if you’re interested in an op-ed from him).

Yesterday Malaysians voted for change, shocking the leadership of a coalition that has governed Malaysia without a break ever since independence, for half a century.

The benchmark for National Government success was its maintenance of a 2/3 majority of seats in Parliament. With that majority, the Constitution may been amended at will. Using its untrammeled power, over the past 40 years the Government has fundamentally re-shaped the polity, suspended opposition state governments, abolished the independence of the Electoral Commission and declared states of emergency when its political power has been challenged. Since federation, some 650 single and 42 multiple amendments have been made to the Malaysian Constitution.

The electoral system is a first-past-the-post, winner take all, system, which serves to exaggerate the winning margin of a leading party or coalition. In 2004 the National Front reaped 91% of Parliamentary seats from 64% of the vote, in 1990 70% of seats from 53% of the national vote. In the absence of an independent electoral commission, gerrymandering has become an established art form. After removal of a constitutional requirement for equity between the size of constituencies, the discrepancy between the largest [112,224] and smallest [6,608] electorates has blown out to beyond 17:1, i.e. the value of one individual’s vote can be 17 times more than another. [One of the latest constitutional amendments specified that no election result could be challenged based upon the validity of the electoral roll.]

The political landscape has changed overnight, now that the National Front Government has lost its 2/3 majority. As of the time of writing the Government has won 137 of the 222 seats in the National Parliament, the opposition has 82, with 3 yet to be decided. The combined opposition parties have also won a majority of seats in five of the state legislatures: Penang, Kelantan, Kedah, Perak and Selangor, giving those parties a real power base across the north and down the west coast of the Peninsula. The ruling party now derives its strongest support from the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah [where it will take 51 or 52 of the 54 Parliamentary seats] and the south of the Malay Peninsula, especially the state of Johore.

Credit goes to the People’s Justice Party [PKR], led by Anwar Ibrahim. It was his persistence in hammering out agreements between the three major opposition parties that only one of their representatives would contest each constituency, which is absolutely essential for any hope of success in a first past the post voting system. Crucially, PKR won 30 extra parliamentary seats and was able to draw upon a multi-racial support base, and to attract urban Malay voters in a swathe of constituencies where no one race dominated the electoral arithmetic. Malaysia had been caught in a time warp of ethnicized politicking, that had always worked to the benefit of the ruling coalition.  The National Front blanketed the electronic and printed media, stressing that it was only their coalition that could successfully protect the interests of each component race. Dissatisfied Malays could just not bring themselves to vote for the ‘Chinese’ DAP, unhappy Chinese would not vote for Party Islam [PAS], given its commitment to an Islamic state. PKR broke through that logjam by leading a loose opposition grouping, with no one of those three parties – PKR, DAP and PAS – itself fielding enough candidates to possibly win in their own right. Indian, Chinese and Malay voters on the Peninsula embraced the opportunity to send a strong message to the National Front Government, by voting for opposition candidates, and clearly doing so across ethnic boundaries. PKR, DAP and PAS have secured 31, 28 and 23 parliamentary seats. In 2004 those parties only won 1, 12 and 6 federal seats, respectively.

How will the National Front respond? Historical precedents worry Malaysians. They are concerned about the threat of a repeat of violence on the streets, which last happened when the ruling party lost control of the state legislature of Selangor,  and that every possible inducement will be offered to elected legislators to leave the opposition party on which they were elected and join the National Front.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi will be under pressure to hand over the top leadership to his Deputy, though the latter has other clouds over his head. One month hence, as soon as he is no longer barred, Anwar Ibrahim is sure to contest a by-election in the Parliamentary seat won by his wife. As a newly invigorated Member of Parliament, he will be a thorn in the flesh to the Federal Government.

That Government, facing rising inflation, must cut the fuel subsidies that have kept the price of petrol at AUD 65 cents per litre, and are said to be costing three times total federal expenditure on health and education. 

~ Michael Leigh, 9 March 2008

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Malaysian Election Roundup

  1. ghenjis khan says:

    btw what is he doing in Malaysia and so interested in Malaysian Politics?

    is he working for the CIA or MI5 or Moassad or Surete ?

    or Christian Missionary or neo-Con groups ?

  2. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Andrew – you should put in a link showing your father works for that super-secret organisation with rampant ambitions of world domination, the University of Melbourne. 🙂

  3. Molesworth says:

    Wow, what a brilliant result, in all sorts of ways. I know extremely little about Malaysian politics but this has to be a great result for democracy in South East Asia. I’ve got a good feeling about how our non-Melanesian neighbours move in coming years, and this helps confirm it. Indonesia and, increasingly as it seems, Malaysia simply put paid to the notion that majority Muslim societies are fundamentally flawed in terms of democratic governance. It’s a good sign that the Malaysian government is prepared to lose its 2/3 majority without rigging the results. Or, perhaps, without being able to rig the results.

  4. Patrick says:

    I too think that is a brilliant result and it sounds like considerable kudos for a lot of things, including bravery(!) for Anwar Ibrahim.

  5. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link Daily

  6. Pingback: Malaysian election » The Bartlett Diaries

  7. Andrew – I don’t suppose you could ask your father if he knows anything about Jeff Ooi? i note he’s a successful DAP candidate in Jelutong and saw a story or two labelling him as a ‘popular blogger’ and I was curious whether this might actually be an example where blogging was used as an effective campaign tool or even just as a way of building a major profile – or whether he was already well known anyway and the blogging was just a convenient way to describe him. He’s quoted as deploying an e-media strategy and described as a ‘pioneer of social-political blogging’.

  8. Brian Tan says:

    Hi I am a Malaysian working in Singaporean and has been following the political development in Malaysia for the past 2 years leading up to the election recently.

    I would like to share my opinions on certain issues and shed some light on it.

    a) The dissatisfaction of the people with the government.

    Over the past 2 years, there have numerous reports of corruptions, wastage in funds, rising crime, rising cost of living, racial tensions etc. etc. Basically, bad governance. Unfortunately, the worse of these is that the Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has been indecisive and have not been taking solid actions to address these issues. Something which haven’t gone well with the public because the impression is, the common folk have been ignored. Peaceful demonstrations have been met with excessive police presence which sometimes employed excessive force like water cannons, riot batons and tear gas. Therefore, this has resulted in the swing not just the Chinese and Indians (which have been traditionally easier to convert to the opposition) but the Malays as well. Especially the urban Malays which have been hardest with the recent development.

    b) The role of the Internet in the 12th election.

    Traditional media like the dailies and the TV stations have been under tight control and censorship by the government. That’s why the opposition parties have turned to alternatives like the Internet. In fact, the opposition leader Lim Kit Siang have maintained his personal blog for years , sharing his views and providing an alternative insight to issues in Malaysia. Instead of embracing the Internet like the opposition, the ruling coalition has branded bloggers as ruffians and agents of foreign countries in the news. Well, this of course does not go down well with the younger generations of which many are bloggers and many more read them. Thus, alienating the younger Malaysians which tend to view the current batch of leaders as virtually dinosaurs.

    To add salt to the wound, the opposition has made effective use of the Internet not just to spread their propaganda but to garner campaign donations. I believe more than RM 1 million (over USD 300k) has been donated through online payment services like Paypal, credit cards and online banking by not just Malaysians living in Malaysia but overseas as well. This provided the opposition parties which normally would be cash strapped, further ammo to promote their cause. Personally, I am impressed with the way they have used their funds. Rather than touting hard-line rhetorics and appearing hostile, tongue-in-cheek campaign posters, online videos, professional official websites and funny radio adverts gives the impression of being friendly and closer to the people.

    c) Better quality candidates fielded by the opposition

    The opposition has fielded university professors, young professionals (IT consultants, lawyers etc) and entrepreneurs. Many of which are multi-lingual, capable of conversing in Malay (the national language), English and the native dialects (Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Tamil, Malayalee etc). Compared with the list of candidates fielded by the ruling coalition, where some have been tainted with corruption charges, some are even downright unpopular.

    I have to apologize that I seem biased towards the opposition here but I believe what has happened is definitely good for Malaysia. The opposition has always ask for a chance to prove themselves and well, Malaysians have given them the chance now. It is up to them to prove themselves. If they do it correctly, they could change the balance of power forever but if they fail, Malaysians can always teach them a lesson during the elections like what we did to the current government.

    This is true democracy, the power lies with the people now.

  9. chris says:

    to be honest, i believe the elections were to a certain extent rigged. that is why sabah and sarawak was still lost.

    my uncle had never registered to vote, however, his friend warned him that his name was probably registered anyway.

    true enough, his name was registered, and not only that, but he was registered to vote in a location far from where he lives.

    furthermore, i’m unsure if these rumours are true, or just keadilan [PKR] propaganda, but more than 3000 postal votes were registered just before the elections, but no new army camps or police camps were built. the existing ones had already registered all their personnel.

    i was deeply saddened to hear that sabah was still under the ruling party.

    what brian said was very true, in that it was the internet using generation who were eager for change, however sabah does not seem to be ready for change.

    socio-economics in malaysia is such that the malays and indigenous people have privileges their chinese and indian counterparts. as a sabahan, what i feel is that most sabahans either wish to carry on reaping the benefits the ruling party gives them, or simply don’t care. the night before i left sabah to further my studies, i was discussing the current state of politics and the upcoming elections, and to my annoyance, another guy comes over and says “stop discussing all this politics, its boring. its not like it matters anyway, nothing’s going to change.”

    o rly?

    wonder why.

    the fact that the ruling party is corrupt is common knowledge, but people seem to accept it. why? we don’t have to. vote for the other guys. “but they’re corrupt too.” they’ll reply.

    well. on one hand, you have a group of people who are out to take care of themselves and not the country. they’ll use chemically treated water cannons and tear gas at the first sign of a demonstration.

    why? cause any assembly of more than 3 indians is a racially charged riot? that’s what they’re implying.

    then there’s the opposition, and more specifically Anwar, the guy behind Keadilan. he’s very clever, and he’ proven it. i want a clever guy to run my country, not someone who spends millions on building a mosque with a crystal dome when the roads around it, that people drive on everyday, are broken and filled with potholes. he’s just a little cocky. which is why he got locked up in the first place. speaking out against the government a bit too soon.

    i got a little carried away sorry.

    anyway, i think what Brian was more or less implying was that, the younger and educated generation were really the people aiming for change, and i agree with him, which basically means i’m more or less implying that sabahans aren’t as educated. that would be unfair, but it is somewhat true, but i think the real reason is the nonchalance in their attitude towards the country. almost all the votes came from the rural areas, where they benefit from government funding thanks to the ruling party. by funding, i really mean bribing for votes.

  10. Thanks for posting that up, it is a far neater synopsis that any of the papers have managed today!

  11. […] I was pleased to see Andrew Leigh post the thoughts of his father, Professor Michael Leigh, who has studied Malaysian politics for some time now. […]

  12. Anna says:

    I think the Mahathirs should just keep mum about the election results and keep their opinions to themselves. The recent election fiasco cannot be blame entirley on Badawi’s government. Rather, it is a culmination of the people’s suppressed feelings/ sentiments/ emotions/ thinking that in all probability started all the way from Mahathir’s reign as PM. Do you expect the volcano to erupt at once? Volcanoes will have years of building up before the big eruption. It may not have been in Mahathir’s time but the build-up surely started from there.

  13. Brian Tan says:

    Hi Anna,

    I am not sure who you are referring to as “the Mahathirs”, hopefully I am not one.

    However, I do agree with your opinion that the root of the problem goes way back to the ex-PM Dr. Mahathir Mohammad.

    Although the economy was booming during his administration and there’s seems to be abundance of wealth for everyone but the whole fiasco was built on unsound economic and socio-political fundamentals. Therefore, causing the problems that occurred during PM Badawi’s administration.

    The main grievances with PM Badawi, is not due to these problems but the seemingly indecisiveness and lack of political will to reform. I personally won’t blame him if he tries and failed. In fact, Malaysians would probably give him a bigger mandate if he would at least stand firm and gives his best to stamp out corruption. Unfortunately, he did nothing of the sort and continues to stay ignorant. I can’t seem to recall any major contributions he made during his term other than announcing several development corridors (North South East West), which costs billions of dollars but has yet to seen the light (it’s all on paper only) and the Iskandar Development Region in Johor which has yet to seen any major development.

    Instead, his term is marked by major financial scandals that I don’t blame him for but he has yet to take firm actions or remedies, this he has to take 100% responsibility. He failed because of his inaction. Period.

  14. Ganesh says:

    Perhaps Micheal Leigh should also disclose any work undertaken together with and/or alongside Anwar Ibrahim-see for instance

    Having lived and worked in Malaysia as financial journalist between 92-97 , my recollections of Anwar Ibrahim are far removed from that which Micheal Leigh describes.
    Perhaps Michael would like comment on the following recent statement by Anwar Ibrahim, reported by TEMPO:

    TEMPO: But aren’t the Chinese and Indians more economically advanced?

    Anwar Ibarhim: Yes. The fact is that the Chinese are much better off than the Malays. But they still perceive themselves to be marginalized.

    TEMPO: How did that economic distortion emerge?

    The Chinese are ahead not because of economics. They are industrious people. They are capable of coming up with economic programs and projects on their own, not dependent on anyone. But the rich ones, like the financiers, have been manipulated by the ministers and the cronies. Ultimately, this became the justification to be on the side of the common people. I am a Malay and I don’t want to sacrifice the interests of the Malays. But as a Malay and a
    Muslim, I don’t want to do anything that is unjust to other people

    Anwar Ibrahim: “My political agenda is clear”
    AsiaViews, Edition: 49/III/Jan/2007

    By Bina Bektiati, Akmal Nasery Basral, Ahmad Taufik,
    Tempo, No. 17-18/VII/02-08 January 2007

  15. ganesh says:

    Given Michael Leigh’s comments against Mahathir and crony capitalism, perhaps he can now comment on the new PKR Menteri Besar of Selangor, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, and how he fits in with the new Malaysia PKR and Anwar Ibrahim are brining about.
    On Khalid Ibrahim:

    The chief executive of Malaysia’s huge national investment corporation will leave his post with a hefty golden handshake and the promise of more gains to come.
    Permodalan Nasional Bhd. said Thursday that Abdul Khalid Ibrahim will acquire up to 20% of its publicly listed subsidiary, Kumpulan Guthrie Bhd., when he leaves his post as PNB chief executive on July 1 to become Guthrie’s deputy chairman and chief executive officer. Datuk Khalid will initially buy a 5% stake in Guthrie, or 50 million shares, for 125 million ringgit ($48.1 million), or 2.50 ringgit a share. He will also have a three-year option to buy an additional 15% of Guthrie at a price to be determined.
    Guthrie stock closed Thursday at 3.96 ringgit per share, up 24 sen. That means Datuk Khalid will enjoy an immediate windfall, on paper, of about 73 million ringgit. But Datuk Khalid said at a press conference that he intends to hold his Guthrie stake as a long-term investment, and plans to expand the company. “PNB wants Guthrie to be a corporation that could challenge . . . other multinationals in Malaysia and elsewhere,” he said.
    (Source:PNB Chief Moves to Guthrie With Lucrative Share Deal
    By Raphael Pura ,Staff Reporter,17 June 1994
    The Asian Wall Street Journal)

    Then see

    Khalid, also a former Permodalan Nasional Bhd chief executive officer, was commenting on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s claim on Wednesday that Khalid’s animosity for Barisan Nasional was because he had failed to acquire a 20% stake in Guthrie.

    Khalid said he planned to sue Najib and those who had made false and unfounded statements about him

    In a separate statement, Parti Keadilan Rakyat adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said he was instructed by Dr Mahathir in 1994 to write a letter to allow Khalid to purchase Guthrie shares at market price.

    “I have known Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim for many years. During my time as Finance Minister, he approached me on many occasions for many issues, but never once had he ever asked for shares or allocation for his own benefit.

    “I was and still am very impressed by Khalid’s honesty, integrity and his concern for the common people by introducing the Amanah Saham Nasional and Amanah Saham Bumiputra schemes in the country,” Anwar said.

  16. Roger says:

    The stunning election result is the answer to those who convinced themselves not to do anything to bring about change. At last the wind of change is blowing through Malaysia….but the people in Sarawak & Sabah are either manipulated to the point of total apathy or are still sleeping to allow themselves to be colonised and their natural wealth blatantly ripped off….

  17. Pingback: The Internet and the Malaysian MSM : Tree of Knowledge

  18. Hantu Laut says:

    Without Sabah and Sarawak the BN wouldn’t be able to form the government even on a simple majority. There was no compliments and not a word of thank from the PM.He imagined the BN won because of him when in fact he was the cause of the massive lost of supports.

    Even worse, when he announced the cabinet line-up, Sabah and Sarawak got a raw deal.

    At least two sultans are at loggerhead with him, the Raja of Perlis and the Sultan of Trengganu.Perlis has appointed a chief minister of his own choice and Trengganu has also chosen its own menteri besar.Abdullah has issued directives to all UMNO elected members not to attend the swearing in.

    He is ready for a showdown with the Agong, whose home state is Trengganu.

    I believe Abdullah should step down.

Comments are closed.