If Najib Abdul Razak remains the only prime ministerial candidate for Barisan Nasional in this coming general election, it would not be unthinkable to see the end of the BN era.
Of course, some people might think that I make such a stand because I am from the opposition, a fact that I do not deny as I want to see BN and Umno losing this election.
However, more importantly, I am merely describing the non-partisan political dynamics that I have been observing for quite some time.
Umno has three fundamental weaknesses. Unless very dramatic events happen to change the course of events in the next few months, Umno will walk into this election handicapped by these factors: Najib himself, no love from the non-Malays, and massive discontent over the economy.
The Najib factor
In the 2013 general election, Najib was an asset to Umno-BN. His personal brand was consistently polling higher than that of Umno-BN, especially among Malay voters. Najib’s approval rating was above 60 percent for most of the time until 2015, a watershed year.
As the 1MDB scandals and the donation-gate were exposed, the prime minister’s national approval rating nosedived to the thirties (in percentage) and never returned to its former glory.
A senior journalist wrote before the recent Umno general assembly that “internal party polls show that his (Najib) popularity ratings have steadily climbed to the high 30s. Najib is now the king of the hill, given that there is no other alternative centre of power in the party.”
It is amusing that the author and her source think that a rating in the high 30s for Najib is a cause to celebrate.
Some have argued that the 1MDB scandal would have no impact on the election. I beg to differ. Yes, 1MDB alone probably won’t swing votes, but the fact that the voters will walk into the polling booth knowing that the prime minister had taken money into his own personal bank account is an important electoral factor.
Otherwise, Najib’s rating would have gone back to the 60 percent level of pre-2015, and not hovering in the 30s, a recipe for disaster for Umno-BN.
Whether they like it or not, both Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor (photo) are hated figures among the electorate. On the social media and political gossip circles, they are constantly ridiculed by parodies, not by the opposition but by the spontaneous public.
Unless Umno removes Najib and puts up a new set of leaders, he is a liability for the party and the ruling coalition. It even reaches the stage when anyone who is with Najib is tainted by association.
The non-Malay factor
After Umno’s right turn in 2005, signified by Hishammuddin Hussein’s keris waving antics, non-Malay voters no longer voted for Umno.
A journalist who worked for a foreign media told me a story recently. He probed a senior MCA leader on the news source of MCA’s claim that BN had 35 percent of Chinese votes. After being coy for some time, the leader finally admitted that “Liew Chin Tong said so!”
The source for this absurd claim came from my interview with The Edge in June this year that the opposition had a solid backing of 65 percent of non-Malay support, as shown in the Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar by-elections.
In both elections, a new party, Amanah, was fielded in semi-urban areas. Yet it managed to receive 65 percent of the non-Malay support. (Non-Malay support for the opposition is higher in urban settings, while the majority of semi-urban non-Malay voters voted for BN until the big swing in the 2013 election.)
Between the 65 percent support in the by-elections and the 85 percent non-Malay support across the board in the 2013 general election, there is, of course, a gap. It doesn’t mean BN naturally has the remaining 35 percent non-Malay support. But we know that when someone is desperate, he or she will justify anything under the sun.
Hence, there is a campaign to ask Chinese voters to spoil their votes in the next election – because BN leaders know that it is impossible to convince Chinese voters to vote for them.
I concede that the swing voters among the non-Malays have yet to be convinced that BN can be defeated and that a change would be for the better. This is something Pakatan Harapan has to work on.
The discontent factor
Average Malaysians are struggling to survive because the economy is bad for them. Worse still, the Najib government refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem.
Superstar celebrity Sheila Majid’s (photo) tweet essentially exposed Umno as the emperor with no clothes. Malaysia’s Jazz Queen’s tweet about the struggles of ordinary Malaysians came just before the recent Umno general assembly.
During that pompous and boisterous assembly, Najib did not talk about the hardship of ordinary Malaysians. Instead, he highlighted selected statistics to show that the Malaysian economy is doing very well. For him, Malaysia is supposedly one of the best performing economies in the world.
He even claimed that Umno will continue to rule for a thousand years.
Sheila Majid’s tweet was on point, describing the financial difficulties of ordinary Malaysians. She said nothing after the tweet but minister after minister responded. One said artistes should not comment on politics while another justified that the rising cost of living is God’s will. Another one even demanded the popular singer to provide evidence on the state of our economy.
These ministers’ responses, seen by many as merely attempts to butter up Najib, do not rest well with average Malay voters, and it is expected to fuel stronger anti-establishment sentiments among the electorate.
Perhaps Umno leaders never realised that many ordinary Malays are sharing their stories of financial difficulties with local celebrities through the artistes’ social media.
In short, with Najib being highly unpopular since 2015 and increasingly being hated, with a non-Malay electorate having no love for BN since 2005, and with a highly discontented Malay electorate ready to rise against the political elites, the end is nigh for Umno-BN.
WRITER: LIEW CHIN TONG is the MP for Kluang, DAP Johor chairperson and the party’s national political education director.