2018 will be all about politics and the general election, which ruling party Umno leaders have dubbed the “mother of all elections”.
Despite political fatigue among Malaysians, it will still be one of the most anticipated polls, given the potential game-changers that have occurred in the past year that could weaken support for Umno among Malay voters.
These include the prominence of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the opposition and scandals that have plagued Felda, traditionally a reliable vote bank for the ruling coalition.
BN did not win the popular vote, netting 48% to the opposition’s 52%, during the 13th general election in 2013.
And after the 14th general election, major political parties will be conducting their internal elections. The outcome of Umno’s party polls, in particular, and whether Prime Minister Najib Razak remains its president, will hinge on the results of GE14.
Polls before May?
The GE14 must be held by August 24, as Parliament automatically dissolves on June 24.
By law, the Election Commission (EC) must call for elections within 60 days of Parliament’s dissolution.
But with Ramadan expected to start around May 15, and PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim due for early release in June, Barisan Nasional (BN) is expected to call for elections before May.
A possible window for GE14 is the first term school holidays on March 16-24, as it would be easier for EC to utilise schools as polling stations.
But GE13 in 2013, however, was held three weeks before the second school term holidays on May 5.
One key indicator that the polls are near is when BN calls for a special parliamentary sitting to approve the EC’s redelineation of electoral boundaries.
EC, after overcoming several legal objections from the opposition, is rushing through a series of local inquiries against its proposed redrawing of electoral boundaries for Selangor. The process for other states has been completed. Once the hearings for Selangor are completed, EC can present its redelineation proposal to Najib for tabling in the Dewan Rakyat.
BN only needs a simple majority to pass the redelineation proposal as it does not involve changing the number of federal seats. Once adopted by Parliament, BN can call for elections with the newly changed boundaries.
A study by Penang Institute showed that EC’s proposal would create more Malay-majority seats.
In GE13, BN won 77 (53.4%) out of 114 Malay-majority seats and only eight out of 29 mixed seats in Peninsular Malaysia. BN lost all the 22 Chinese-majority seats.
“From a tactical perspective, BN needs the new boundaries to improve its chances by creating more Malay-majority seats,” said Ilham Centre director Hisommuddin Bakar.
However, the EC’s recent statement that Parliament’s dissolution is the prerogative of the prime minister and GE14 can be held even before the redelineation exercise is approved, seems to be a further indication that the polls will be held sooner, Hisommuddin added.
“But if BN doesn’t use the new boundaries, the competition will be tougher,” said the political science analyst.
Who will win?
Although BN is expected to face a tougher challenge from a renewed opposition, Penang Institute’s Dr Wong Chin Huat is predicting another BN victory, unless PH and Dr Mahathir can generate enough excitement for voters.
“I am expecting a lower turnout, around 70% in certain constituencies compared with 2013’s 84%,” said the political science academic.
“There seems to be a lot of political fatigue at the moment, and coupled with the redelineation that looks set to go through and multi-cornered fights caused by PAS, BN should win again,” he added.
Wong expects the number of votes that BN and Umno garner to drop significantly although the ruling coalition would win more seats due to the redelineation.
“All that, however, can change if PH can excite their non-Malay voters to turn out in force while improving on the Malay vote, turning the lower turnout problem into a BN and PAS problem instead.”
PAS was part of the now dissolved opposition Pakatan Rakyat bloc, but is now largely on its own with a clutch of smaller parties under another opposition pact, Gagasan Sejahtera.
“Can PH and Dr Mahathir produce real synergy through greater reconciliation so that they can pull more votes from the Malay voters?
“If that happens, Umno would have minimal gains and PAS will find itself punished badly for its strategy to ride on Umno,” said Wong.
Hisommuddin is also predicting a lower turnout compared with GE13 because of Pakatan Harapan’s internal problems.
“The latest crisis on picking a prime minister candidate is not helpful for its core supporters who are university graduates and civil servants who live in urban and semi-urban areas.
“The focus of GE14 will nevertheless hinge on the rural and Malay-majority seats. PAS’ departure has helped BN but if the Malay-vote swing is good enough, it will upset the balance again,” said Hisommuddin, who conducts qualitative and focussed-seat surveys instead of national surveys.
More elections after elections
Another highly anticipated event in the political calendar next year will be party polls.
With the exception of PAS that held its elections this year, major parties such as Umno, MCA, MIC, PKR and DAP will have to elect new office bearers.
DAP, though, is in a limbo as the party just held a re-election for its central leadership in November after it was ordered to do so by the Registrar of Societies, based on its 2012 list of delegates.
Undoubtedly, the focus will be on Umno’s party elections as the president and deputy president are by convention also the prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively.
Although, the party passed a resolution for the president and deputy president’s posts not to be contested, to pave the way for incumbent Najib and vice president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to lead the party, the issue is not settled, according to Umno insiders.
“The motion has helped Najib and Zahid but a lot depends on GE14,” said one of the delegates at the Umno general assembly earlier this month.
“If Umno maintains or improves its GE13 results, there will be no issues. But if we win fewer than 88 seats, there might be calls for a new leader. It’s very fluid,” said the former Youth leader.
In GE13, BN won 133 seats compared with 140 in the previous election. Umno however, managed to better its results by nine seats.
The grassroots leader said former Umno president Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had looked similarly unassailable before GE12 in 2008, until Umno lost 30 seats in the elections – more than half of BN’s loss of 58 seats that year.
Abdullah stepped down ahead of the 2009 Umno elections after facing an uphill battle to gain sufficient nominations to defend his party position, and Najib suceeded him.