Read here for more article by Kenny Gan
Review of the Hulu Selangor Election Results and Advice to Pakatan Rakyat Leaders
It was an intense hard fought by-election in a traditional Umno stronghold which many said was too close to call. BN’s Hulu Selangor campaign was as dirty and nasty as any other by-election and dirtier than most with the stakes seen as a referendum to Najib’s administration.
BN fought mostly with character assassinations and money and but both sides have released strategically timed policies, land titles and grants although naturally PR could not match BN’s largesse.
The campaign was fierce and furious with both sides throwing in their biggest guns with PR bringing in revered Tok Guru Nik Aziz to shore up Zaid’s Islamic credibility among the conservative Malays. The normally ignored orang asli were wooed by BN with parties, booze and cash and Felda settlers who were nursing grievances for decades suddenly found the sky raining with money and promises.
Even Maika shareholders were buoyed by the strategically timed news that a buyout of their troubled investment is in the works.
In an uncharacteristic move for an incumbent prime minister which underscored how important this by-election is, Najib Razak himself joined the fray.
The Election Commission also got into the act by a dubious transfer of 14,000 voters between polling stations seen as a calculated move to cause confusion. Several hundred pro-opposition voters were also transferred outside the constituency and denied their right to vote.
When dust of battle had settled and the votes counted, it was BN which emerged victorious by a thin majority of 1725 votes of the 49000 votes casted. But if BN thinks that this by-election win means they have swept popular support away from PR, they are deluding themselves.
BN won only because of EC’s shenanigans and their win at any cost tactics supported by wheelbarrows of money. Such questionable tactics would not be able to be repeated in a general election. Bribes are ineffective if there is a possibility of the bribe giver being kicked out of power.
A BN stronghold
Hulu Selangor is a mixed parliamentary seat constituency with 54% Malay, 27% Chinese and 19% Indian voters and a traditional BN stronghold.
In 2008 BN won the three state seats under the Hulu Selangor parliament seat with convincing majorities. It lost the parliament seat by a whisker thin majority of 198 votes which is swamped by the 1466 spoilt votes. As this large number of spoilt votes can be seen as protest votes against an unpopular candidate by BN loyalists, this means that BN could have won in 2008 with a more popular candidate than G. Palanivel.
Hence it is fair to say that the 2008 tsunami did not upset the BN stronghold of Hulu Selangor. To defend this seat against BN is far harder than pro-opposition seats like Permatang Pauh or Penanti.
Hulu Selangor is an ideal mid-term check for PR. It is called a semi-rural constituency but is more rural than urban. The people are primarily concerned with bread and butter issues although they also have some grasp of national issues.
The mixed nature of this constituency is a good test of PR versus BN’s strength in mixed seats which will be the main battleground in the next general election. It is a test of whether Najib’s 1Malaysia has made any impact in mixed seats.
As the constituency is under Selangor it may be seen as a referendum on the performance of the PR state government for the past two years. It can also be seen as a referendum on Najib’s performance since taking the reins as prime minister.
However BN’s thin majority in their traditional stronghold despite fighting a no-holds-barred contest did not furnish the pointer that Najib wanted. If anything, it shows that support for PR is still strong. We must remember that BN goes into every election with tremendous advantages of money, machinery and media especially in a by-election where it can focus its resources. To think that only a mere 900 voters need to change their votes to reverse the result is cold comfort although BN’s propaganda machine will go to town with this narrow victory.
A changed political landscape
It is worth noting that prior to 2008, BN could have won this mixed seat merely by putting up some posters. Mixed seats were considered safe seats for BN and recognizing this, the Election Commission created lots of mixed seats.
The fact that BN had to fight tooth and nail with PR and used every dirty trick in the book for a narrow victory shows how much the political landscape has changed since 2008. Gone are the huge majorities it used to enjoy for this seat prior to 2008.
BN’s slim victory shows that the 2008 general election results was not a fluke brought about by temporary anger at BN. Just as a tsunami sweeps in and changes the landscape irreversibly what happened after the 2008 political tsunami is a sea change in mindset. This change in mindset is best exemplified by the loss in safe status of the mixed seats.
To maintain its hold on power in the face of blatant corruption and institutional abuse, Umno has traditionally depended on racial divide and rule tactics by playing on racial and religious fears. It was in the mixed seats that such tactics had been played to great advantage for BN. But the 12th general election has turned this on its head with voting across ethnic and religious lines for the first time and this trend is again affirmed in this by-election.
What this means is that voters now vote on democratic issues instead of fears of racial strife or unchecked Islamization. In the era of new politics they look at performance, policies, social justice, service delivery and whatever future hopes and expectations they have of the political parties. This is what a two party system is all about.
A coalition which represents all races is essential for success in mixed seats. Where previously only BN could claim to represent all races, the PR coalition comprising of PKR, DAP and PAS can lay an even stronger claim of multi-racialism. The rise of PKR as a true multi-racial party with a Malay spine is a nightmare come true for BN.
A rejection of 1Malaysia
It is clear that with the receding of racial and religious fears, BN has to find another strategy. This came in the form of Najib’s 1Malaysia promoted incessantly by the mass media as a catchy slogan.
But 1Malaysia is an intractable contradiction to the race based underpinning of Umno and the concept of Malay special privileges which has been used as the basis for corralling Malay support.
To provide a counterbalance to 1Malaysia for the Malays, Umno nurtured the swift rise of Perkasa to outsource its racial posturing. Meanwhile the non-Malays are expected to return to the BN fold on the shady and vague promises of 1Malaysia.
For a true 1Malaysia, the slogan must be match by the reforming of racial policies especially race based economic policies to provide fairer opportunities and treatment to all races. But it goes without saying that Najib’s 1Malaysia will never be fleshed out but remain a hope and a promise to pull in the non-Malays. With 1Malaysia and Perkasa, Umno hopes to have its cake and eat it too.
The Hulu Selangor by-election result shows that the astute Chinese have rejected Najib’s slick slogan which is nothing more than an attempt to pull the wool over the people’s eyes.
The Indians have returned moderately to BN’s fold could mean that the Hindraf factor has largely dissipated. The Indians are mainly concerned with bread and butter issues and PR will have to do more work to convince them that it represents a better future for them than BN. They should also be educated that accepting BN’s gifts for votes is selling their future away.
The way forward: Can BN compete?
In a democratic competition with PR for the hearts and minds of the people there are certain areas where BN or specifically Umno can never reform despite loud proclamations to the contrary. Among them are corruption, abuse of public institutions and fair treatment of races.
As a party structured on the feudal system of patronage where largess are given for political loyalty, the use of public funds to fund the patronage will forever remain an essential feature of BN’s rule. The vehicle for siphoning of public funds may take the form of inflated negotiated contracts, anti-people sweetheart deals, crony privatization or allocation of national resources, licenses for rent seeking and unproductive projects and may be properly termed corruption.
To allow the corruption to continue public institutions such as the police, the MACC, the judiciary and the media must be co-opted and subjugated to serve interest of the ruling regime instead of the public.
An egalitarian society is not to BN’s interest as BN’s power depends on leveraging a racially polarized society. The race based parties whose raison d’etre depends on fighting for racial rights have no reason to exist in a racially egalitarian society. The use of a cheap slogan like 1Malaysia without any substance behind it does not convince the non-Malays.
BN is critically aware that its fate is tied to the economy. Rising cost of living against stagnated income does no favours for any ruling regime. However to lighten the people’s burden and boost the economy is yet another structural contradiction for BN.
Endemic corruption is ultimately passed to the man in the street and raises the cost of living. A profligate spending government has no choice but to reduce subsidies and increase taxes. Race based quotas and rent seeking activities impose inefficiencies on the economy and hamper its performance. They also lead to the flight of skilled human capital which further drags down the economy.
Hence we can conclude that BN is unable to compete with PR in the next couple years leading to the 13th general election. Time is not on the side of a decadent regime. As the years pass, more young voters join the ranks, the online media penetrates deeper, rural areas become more urbanized, the cost of living goes higher, corruption bites deeper, more scandals will be exposed and 1Malaysia rings hollower.
If PR can survive BN’s incessant attacks until the next general election it stands an excellent chance of wrestling Federal power from BN. Despite PR’s loss the Hulu Selangor by-election result shows that PR is firmly on track to Putrajaya.