Warning Signs For Ph Umno From Sungai Bakap Poll


 


From Ong Kian Ming
The recent Sungai Bakap by-election results were not surprising in that they follow the trend of by-election results post-15th general election where the incumbent party retained the seat.
At the same time, the results were also surprising in that the margin of victory for the incumbent, Perikatan Nasional (PN) or specifically PAS, in this case, was larger than expected.
The increase in support for PN was driven by a small increase in its overall support and, more importantly, a significant decline in non-Malay turnout.
The many missteps in the Pakatan Harapan (PH)-Barisan Nasional (BN) campaign exacerbated the already challenging political and economic landscape for the unity government at the national level.
If the key parties within the Madani government do not heed these warning signals, these trends will likely worsen, and the point of no return may be crossed well before the next general election (GE16).
Table 1 below compares the results in the Sungai Bakap state seat for the 2023 state election and the recent by-election. The winning majority increased from 1,563 to 4,267 in favour of PN and support for PN increased from 52.3% to 58.1% while turnout fell by 13.4% from 76.8% to 63.5%.
Table 1: Comparing the results in Sungai Bakap in the 2023 state election and the 2024 by-election
(Election Commission, Malaysia pic)One of the key highlights from this by-election is the much larger drop in non-Malay turnout compared to Malay turnout.
Figure 1 below shows the turnout percentage against the percentage of Malay voters in each polling stream for the 2023 state election and the 2024 by-election.
For the 2023 state election, there was no significant difference in the turnout of Malay versus non-Malay voters as seen by the more or less horizontal line. The situation was very different for the 2024 by-election where there was a significant drop in non-Malay turnout and a much smaller drop in Malay turnout.
The estimated Malay and non-Malay turnouts in 2023 were 78% and 73% respectively while the estimated Malay and non-Malay turnouts in 2024 were 76% and 46% respectively, meaning that the estimated Malay turnout fell by 2% while the non-Malay turnout fell by a massive 27%.
I was not able to estimate the Chinese and Indian turnouts separately because of the relatively small percentage of Chinese and Indian voters at most of the polling stations.
With this differential in turnout among Malay and non-Malay voters, the Sungai Bakap seat effectively went from being a 60% Malay/40% non-Malay seat to a 70% Malay/30% non-Malay seat.
Figure 1: Turnout percentage against Malay voter percentage using polling stream data, 2023 state election versus 2024 by-election in Sungai Bakap


This is in contrast to the Kuala Kubu Baharu (KKB) by-election, which took place on the May 7 where the turnout of Malay voters fell by 10% from 68% to 58%, while the turnout of non-Malay voters fell by only 2% from 66% to 64% compared to the 2023 state election.
See Figure 2 below. This means that KKB went from a 50% Malay/50% non-Malay seat to a 47% Malay/53% non-Malay seat.
Figure 2: Turnout percentage against Malay voter percentage using polling stream data, 2023 state election versus 2024 by-election in KKB.


The shifts in Malay and non-Malay support against PH were more balanced among the voters who turned out to vote. According to Figure 3 below, estimated Malay support for PH fell by 6% from 22% in 2023 to 16% in 2024 whereas estimated non-Malay support for PH fell by 5% from 88% in 2023 to 83% in 2024.
PH suffered a double whammy in that not only did it lose some Malay and non-Malay support from 2023 to 2024, there was also a significant drop in non-Malay turnout, the overwhelming majority of whom supported PH in 2023 and previous elections.
Figure 3: PH support vs Malay voter percentage using polling stream data for the 2023 state election versus 2024 by-election in Sungai Bakap


In the KKB by-election, estimated PH Malay support fell by 5% from 22% in 2023 to 17% in 2024, but this was compensated by an increase by 6% of non-Malay support from 86% in 2023 to 93% in 2024. The fact that the non-Malay turnout fell by less than the Malay turnout in KKB also explains why PH was able to maintain this seat with a similar majority and a slight increase in vote share, in contrast to the situation in Sungai Bakap.
Figure 4: PH Support vs Malay% using saluran / polling stream data for the 2023 state election versus 2024 by-election in Kuala Kubu Baharu


Table 2 below summarises the differences between the turnout rates and the levels of PH support for the Sungai Bakap and the KKB by-elections in 2024 and the results in the same seats in the 2023 state election.
Table 2: Comparing the turnout and PH support in Sungai Bakap and KKB in the 2024 by-elections and the 2023 state elections


It was always going to be an uphill task for PH to win back this seat from PN, right from the start of the campaign, because of the following reasons: (i) the challenge of countering the narrative of the rising cost of living in the post-Covid-19 landscape under the unity government; (ii) the poor communication with regards to the policy direction of the unity government; and (iii) the tough reality that there are more issues for the opposition to attack the government on compared to positive outcomes which the government can claim credit for.
The battle was made harder during the campaign because of (i) the inability of the government to effectively explain the reasons for the introduction of the targeted diesel subsidy; (ii) the incessant politicisation by the opposition of the Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd privatisation exercise involving a minority share by Global Infrastructure Partners, which is being acquired by BlackRock; and (iii) the unfortunate use of derogatory remarks by PKR elections campaign director, Rafizi Ramli, against the opposition and the unnecessary playing up of the differences in academic qualifications of the PH versus PN candidates.
The dramatic fall in non-Malay turnout reflected the growing disappointment among the Chinese and Indian communities towards the unity government over unfilled promises and poor performance amid an uncertain economic landscape.
The poor handling of the dual language programme and matriculation-related issues also likely contributed to this sense of unhappiness.
The lower turnout as a protest vote among the non-Malays and the slight shift in non-Malay vote towards PN should be a warning sign to PH and Umno. If this trend continues and if it cannot be reversed before GE16, a sizeable number of marginal seats won by PH in GE15 and some of the seats which Umno is hoping to hold on to via an electoral pact with PH may be lost to PN.
Will Sungai Bakap be a positive wake-up call for the unity government? Time will tell, but I am not particularly optimistic at this point. -FMT
Ong Kian Ming is currently pro-vice chancellor of Taylor’s University. He was also previously Bangi MP and a former deputy minister of investment, trade and industry.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT


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