For those who not really into Politics, and just think everything about the country is fine. Think again, you may read below article to know what exactly took place in our last general elections (1999) and history our general elections. By reading this, maybe you have better picture how our BN government rules the country for many years.
Come next general election, you may know who to vote and who not to vote.
Raja Petra Kamaruddin
Last year (1999), the opposition parties, under the banner of Barisan Alternatif (BA), contested in the Tenth General Elections. All the four coalition partners unanimously agreed that, in the event BA succeeds in the General Elections, Anwar Ibrahim would be appointed the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Of course, this appointment would not be automatic. First of all, Anwar Ibrahim would be given a fresh trial. If the court finds Anwar Ibrahim innocent, only then would he be released from jail and appointed as the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
From the outcome of the Tenth General Elections it can be seen that if we are going to expect change through the ballot box it is going to be a long wait — maybe forever. And why is this?
Let us analyse how general elections are conducted in Malaysia to get a better perspective of the reality of Malaysian elections — and why we cannot hope for change through the ballot box.
An Analysis Of The Previous General Elections
Malaysia’s first Parliamentary General Election was held 40 years before this, in 1959. According to the government-of-the-day, they have always had the majority of the people’s support except for a brief period in 1969.
Let us analyse the results of all those past elections to give us a better understanding of the recently concluded Tenth General Elections and why it turned out the way it did.
First of all, let’s look at the voter turnout. Voter turnout has never been good and it has always been to the ruling party’s benefit if lesser people came out to vote. In fact, the higher the voter turnout, the higher the opposition gain. That is why the opposition parties always make more effort to get as many voters as possible to come out and vote. The ruling party would be quite happy if the voters all stayed home. Sometimes they would even do certain things to make it more difficult for the voters to come out and vote.
(Editor’s note: This theory is no longer true. Today, if more voters turn out to vote then this means BN will win because these would represent ‘phantom’ voters. In 2004, some areas saw more than 100% voter turnout in — up to 130% voter turnout in some cases — and the opposition of course lost in those areas. In the next election, the voter turnout is going to be very high, and all in favour of the ruling party. In the past, the ruling party would set up police road blocks, confiscate the identity cards of voters, burn bridges, etc., to ensure lesser voters came out to vote. This happened rampantly in states like Kelantan that had a strong opposition presence. Today, the opposite holds true).
In the First Parliamentary General Election in 1959, the voter turnout was only 73.3% or 1.55 million voters. 600,000 people chose to just stay home. Surprisingly, the Alliance Party managed only 51.8% of the votes. You would imagine they would have performed better than that considering they took the country through Independence barely two years earlier.
It must be noted that the Alliance Party comprised of UMNO, MCA and MIC. Therefore UMNO, on its own, did not get even 50% of the votes — which means many Malays did not support UMNO as they make us believe. So much for Malay Supremacy or Ketuanan Melayu touted by UMNO! In terms of seats though, the Alliance Party won 74 out of 104 or around 71%. So they managed to form the government. (So, 51.8% votes equals to 71% seats).
Five years on, in the 1964 General Election, the voter turnout increased slightly to 78.9%. In this election, the ruling party garnered 58.5% of the votes. The increased votes can easily be attributed to the increase in registered voters. The number of registered voters had increased by only 28% but the ruling party saw an increase of 50% in votes. 500,000 more voters came out to vote for this election and 400,000 of these votes went to the Alliance — an impressive performance indeed. The number of seats the ruling party won increased to 86% — which more or less gave it a landslide victory. (So, 58.5% votes equals to 86% seats).
In the 1969 General Election, the voter turnout dropped back to 73.6%. In this historic election (historic only because of the racial riots that followed it), the ruling party managed a paltry 44.9% of the votes. Out of the 144 seats contested, the Alliance party managed only 74 giving them slightly better than half and FAR SHORT of the two-thirds they needed to form an effective government. (So, 44.9% votes equals to a simple majority of 51.39%. This means the opposition would need to win 60% of the votes to kick out the ruling party — yet the opposition would form the government with only a simple majority and without a two-thirds majority).
That’s when all hell broke loose — organised chaos if you wish — infamously known as the May 13 incident.
The ruling party probably performed its best ever during the 1974 General Election. It managed to obtain 60.7% of the votes. But this is only because the old Alliance party no longer existed and the new multi-party coalition called Barisan Nasional comprised of all those opposition parties that, in the election before this, had denied the ruling party its two-thirds majority in Parliament and in some State Assemblies as well (in fact, in 1969, some states actually fell into opposition hands).
In terms of seats, it was almost a clean sweep for Barisan Nasional as the opposition managed only 19 out of the 144 seats contested. Something must be wrong with the system when the opposition won only 13% of the seats though 40% of the voters voted for them. In the 1974 election, the voter turnout was only 75.1%. Again, 600,000 people did not leave home. (So, 60.7% votes equals to 87% seats).
The 1978 General Election was not any better and was almost a repeat of 1974. Only 75.3% of the voters came out to vote. The ruling party won 57.2% of the votes, but this time its number of seats won dropped to 130. The opposition managed to win 24 seats on the new enlarged total of 154 seats — a slightly better performance for the opposition. (So, 57.2% votes equals to 84.4% seats).
The 1982 General Election was, again, a duplicate of the election before that — 74.39% voter turnout, 60.54% votes to the ruling party giving it 132 seats, and 22 seats to the opposition, almost status quo. (So, 60.54% votes equals to 85.7% seats).
From thereon PAS seemed to be going downhill. The following General Election in 1986 was a disaster for PAS when it won only one seat and it lost Kelantan to UMNO. Ironically, DAP saw its best performance ever by winning 24 seats. Barisan Nasional, which got 57.28% of the votes, won 148 seats or 84% out of the total of 177 seats. This was the turning point for both PAS and DAP — PAS its lowest point and DAP its highest. (So, 57.28% votes equals to 84% seats).
One interesting point to note is that the voter turnout was the worst in the history of our General Elections as only 69.97% of the voters came out to vote. It was said the low voter turnout was one factor working against the opposition. More than 2 million people stayed home in that election.
1990 was the most interesting year. In the 1990 General Election, the ruling party managed only 53.38% of the votes. Voter turnout was only slightly better at 72.7%. A ‘record’ 2.2 million people stayed home and did not bother to come out and vote. Considering the ruling party managed only around 3 million votes and the opposition obtained 2.6 million votes, the 2.2 million voters who stayed home was quite significant. If 8% more people had come out to vote, and if they had voted for the opposition, the results would have been quite different. Of course, if they had voted for the ruling party instead, then it would not have mattered much.
Anyway, DAP lost four seats and managed to retain only 20, PAS and Semangat 46 shared 15 seats between them, PBS in Sabah got 14 seats, while four independent candidates got in. Out of 180 seats contested, the ruling party still managed 127 seats or 70% — on slightly more than (only) HALF the votes they obtained. (So, 53.38% votes equals to 70% seats). Again, this showed that, in Malaysian elections, it is SEATS AND NOT VOTES THAT MATTER.
During the 1995 General Election, PAS and Semangat 46 got one seat less each and, combined, they managed only 13 seats. DAP did quite badly at nine seats while PBS was reduced to only eight seats. There were nine million registered voters that year but, just like in 1990, more than two million people stayed home. The ruling party obtained 65.2% of the votes and won 162 out of the 192 seats contested giving them 85%. (So, 65.2% votes equals to 85% seats).
They say 1990 was the high point for the opposition parties and their success can never be repeated. How then did the opposition parties fare in the 1999 General elections?
The 1999 Tenth General Elections
In Peninsular Malaysia, Barisan Nasional won 102 out of 144 seats it contested. This gave BN 70.8% of the seats, 4.2% more than what it needed to retain its two-thirds majority in Parliament. With the 46 seats it won in East Malaysia, BN sailed in comfortably with 148 seats, 20 more seats than what is required to maintain its two-thirds majority and 52 more seats than what it needed to form the government with a simple majority.
This could be viewed by many as quite an achievement for BN which has never lost control of Parliament over the 43 years since Independence. Why then is BN not in a jubilant or celebrative mood?
This is because it knows that, though it came in with more than the two-thirds of the seats, it failed to win two-thirds of the votes. Out of a total of about 5.8 million voters in Peninsular Malaysia, BN managed to convince only 3.1 million voters to vote for it. This comes to less than 54% of the total voters who cast their votes — far short of the two-thirds they need to legitimately claim that the people support the BN.
Low Voter Turnout
What is most interesting to note though, only 73% of the voters came out to vote. Perak was the lowest at 66% followed by the Federal Capital at 70%. Why this low turnout?
Thousands of complaints were received that voters who had voted in that same area for the last few elections suddenly found their names missing from the list. Others complained that someone else had voted in their place — when they went to vote they found that their names had been ‘cut off’ from the register (which means they had already voted). Then there were cases where voters’ names had been transferred to another state so they could not vote as there was no way they could make it across the country in time to vote.
It is estimated that (because of the ‘Reformasi wave’ or gelombang Reformasi) around 80% to 82% of the registered voters would have come out to vote this time around — if they could have. This would have made it one of the highest voter-turnout ever in Malaysian election history. Many in fact did come out but could not vote and were sent home disappointed.
If these 7% to 9% had not been denied their right to vote — including the 680,000 voters who had registered earlier but could not vote because their names had not been entered into the voters’ list — were included in the voters’ list, an additional one million people would have voted in the 1999 General Election.
The Affect Of The Disenfranchised Voters
According to the Elections Commission (SPR), 95% of these 680,000 disenfranchised voters are below the age of 30. The Alternative Front or Barisan Alternatif (BA) claims that more than 70% of these people barred from voting are their supporters. If this is true, then BN would have obtained 3.4 million votes while BA 3.2 million. This would have changed the results drastically, probably even giving the BA an additional 30 to 40 Parliamentary seats. Looking at the wafer-thin wins the BN candidates obtained, this assumption is more than possible. (Tun Dr Mahathir later admitted during the Umno General Assembly that if these 680,000 disenfranchised voters had been allowed to vote, then BN would have lost the 1999 General Election because, according to UMNO’s census, up to 90% of these votes would have gone to the opposition. So this fact has already been established and is no longer just a theory).
BA officially won 42 of the Parliament seats contested. BA claims that the number would have been between 70 to 80 seats if the elections had been free and fair (and the one million voters had not been blocked from voting). All the opposition needed was 65 seats to deny BN its two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Opposition Shifted Into Malay Hands
For the first time in the history of this nation the opposition had shifted from the hands of the Chinese into the hands of the Malays. In the past, whenever one speaks of the opposition, one always means the Chinese. This is not surprising seeing that the bastion of the opposition has always been the urban areas or towns — which is where the majority of the non-Malays live. UMNO has always reigned supreme in the rural areas which prompted two ex-Deputy Prime Ministers to say that, if UMNO wishes to retain its rule, it has to go back to the kampongs, the place where UMNO has its power base and where all the Malays live.
Today, it was the kampong people who rejected UMNO whereas the urbanites voted for the government instead.
It is estimated that 70% of the Malays voted opposition this time around. UMNO makes no bones about this when Mahathir classified the Malays as an emotional lot while praising the Chinese as being more pragmatic — meaning they would vote for the government. You could see Mahathir openly wooing the Chinese with his China visit and the return visit of the Chinese leader in the run-up to the elections.
Did The Chinese Support The Government?
Did the Chinese really support the government and did they vote for Barisan Nasional out of love for the party? Many Chinese I spoke to say, "No!" Maybe some of them did vote BN, but they did so out of fear that the government would instigate racial riots if it loses its two-thirds majority just like what happened 30 years before that in 1969.
The Chinese have a valid reason for believing so. In the two weeks of campaigning, Mahathir constantly reminded the Chinese of this ‘threat’ that it left many older Chinese, who still remember the ravishes of May 13, extremely paranoid. Newspaper advertisements were full of these warnings and no speech was complete without a mention of the ‘threat of riots’. The Chinese must have had sleepless nights and most would have been glad if there were no elections at all.
The Chinese Fear Factor – ANOTHER "May 13"
The Chinese remember very well this bloody incident of 13 May 1969 and their main fear is that history would repeat itself if the government loses its two-thirds majority in Parliament and that retaliation in the form of racial riots would follow. That’s why the Chinese did not dare vote for the opposition in the Tenth General Election in 1999. And that is how the BN will continue to perpetuate its rule, even if support from the Malay voters has declined. And that is why we cannot hope for change through the ballot box.
And we have not even touched on the rampant cheating by BN, aided by the SPR, in ensuring the ruling party wins the elections ‘by hook or by crook’, which makes it practically impossible for the opposition to make any headway in Malaysian General Elections.
The Bottom Line Is………..
Without further going into lengthy details, THE BOTTOM LINE IS……….. Malaysian elections are not free and fair. The odds are stacked against the opposition. The government has massive propaganda machinery at its disposal — which includes the mainstream media, the government departments, and the Information Department. On top of that, the ruling party needs to win only 50% of the votes to retain its two-thirds majority in Parliament. For the ruling party to retain just a simple majority (without a two-thirds majority) it requires a mere 40% of the votes. Ten General Elections over 41 years has proven this — as the analysis above has shown.
This means BN can practically rule forever. And watch the next election. The cheating has already started. BN has already won the Twelfth General Election due anytime over the next year or so even before Polling Day. And Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will remain as Prime Minister for a long time to come.