It is rather confusing to read comments from well known political analysts how to make of it. Raja Petra Kamaruddin of Malaysia Today, as expected, brushed it aside as desperate moves by two desperate people, Mahathir and Anwar, to topple the reigning Prime Minister, when they both failed to do it within UMNO itself. On this account, older political observers would still remember Anwar’s own failure to unseat Mahathir himself some twenty years ago. But Anwar is still at it in spite of the twenty years that have passed, most of which spent in prison.
Jocelyn Tan of The Star, a respected political analyst, is more guarded in her analysis and posed more questions than answers. As she correctly pointed out Pakatan now has a big Malay name to bring it to the Malay heartland, especially the Felda Schemes which holds a total of 60 parliamentary seats.
Can Mahathir shake the Malay heartland? We shall see afterwards with my own analysis of electoral data over the last 18 years since the 1999 General Election when Anwar himself attempted the same feat to topple Mahathir the PM at that time, but only to be thwarted by a strong support from the Chinese and Indian voters for Barisan Nasional. Of course in this earlier scenario, racial politics did not feature very much as Chinese and Indian voters mainly followed their established political affiliation, while Malay sentiment was least racial but more consumed by hatred for Mahathir for the way he kicked out Anwar from the Cabinet and UMNO and later threw him into prison.
Another respected analyst, Yang Razali Kassim, senior fellow with RSIS, Nanyang Technology University, Singapore said the alliance promises a formidable line-up to challenge the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) led by Najib’s UMNO in the coming general election to be called after September but before June next year. With this, the analyst stated the prospect of dethroning Najib is no longer a distant one, given the political crisis triggered by the 1MDB scandal. Suspicion of Mahathir, however, remained deep; Najib has exploited this distrust by running down the Mahathir-Anwar reconciliation as doomed to fail from the start.
Malay Voting Behavior : 1999 to 2013 General Election Scenario
The Malay voters are conservative in their political approach. They are loyal to their parties, especially to political parties that fight for their race or religion, hence UMNO and PAS have remained the two most dominant Malay Parties since the time of the nation’s birth. Many offshoot of these two parties came in the past but all disappeared after sometime. The current offshoot PKR so far survived mainly on Chinese and Indian votes aided only by the minority Malay opposition voters. Mahathir’s newly founded party and PAN the recent offshot of PAS are yet to prove themselves.
It is natural for the Malays being the majority race in a multiracial country to demonstrate such a tendency because of the needs to protect their racial interest. This is more so against the Chinese who are perceived to be greedy and non-compromising and in control of the nation’s economy. Naturally the Malays feel that politic is the last bastion of defence for their future survival in their own country.
The most extreme test of Malay political loyalty occurred in the General Election of 1999. In the events that preceded the election, there was widespread anger among the Malays against Mahathir for the way he kicked out Anwar and later jailed him. UMNO could not survive in the predominantly two Malay states Kelantan and Trengganu and lost badly there. The other states however remained in BN’s hands with the help of Indian and Chinese votes who still remained loyal to the ruling party at that time.
A regression analysis of Parliamentary data for Peninsular Malaysia done for the 1999 general election indicated 66% of support for BN were based on voters’ racial profile. This high percentage was a reflection of Malay negative sentiment but positive ones for the Chinese and Indian and this had large influence on the election outcome. The role of BN voters’s party loyalty was less significant at 16% as there were fairly significant number of voters who cast their ballot differing from their normal party line.
As regards the General Election of 2008 where BN faced a strong challenge from the opposition, only 54% of support was based on racial profile as the voters tended to be less racial in their voting pattern with the advent of Anwar vigourously promoting a multiracial front. However, party loyalty for BN at 31% became a significant factor that saved the BN government.
In the 2013 General Election, support by racial profile at 69% was the highest ever recorded against a background of a more racial awareness of both the Malays and the Chinese though in opposite directions. Voter support by party loyalty at 23% was also high during this General Election. This also saved the BN government.