THE Tanjung Piai by-election was the final warning to Pakatan Harapan from its supporters that the ruling coalition must change its ways or lose the 15th general election, said analysts.

The results, which have shocked political observers and politicians alike, was a wave of protest at the administration and its uneven 18-month rule.

Tanjung Piai’s Chinese voters especially, who overwhelmingly supported PH last year, showed their anger over unresolved education issues.

Meanwhile, Malay voters were upset over failing palm oil prices and cuts in welfare aid for low income folk and fishermen, they said.

“This does not mean that the Chinese are returning to Barisan Nasional,” said political scientist Dr Mazlan Ali, referring to the opposition coalition of Umno, MCA and MIC.

“Chinese voters are still distrustful of PAS and Umno, and their Malay agenda,” said Mazlan, referring to the Islamist party, which is currently in league with BN through the muafakat nasional political pact.

“However, this is the last chance for PH to change itself, its performance in government and to fulfil its election promises,”   said Mazlan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

Pollster Ibrahim Suffian said Tanjung Piai’s voting trend does reflect a broader sentiment despite the constituency being part of Johor, a BN stronghold state.

“Despite this, the results are ominous for PH, if it is unable to remedy the cause of voter disappointment, this single setback could the turn the tide in its battle with BN.”

Extraordinary swings

PH was massacred in the by-election, losing in all of the constituency’s 27 polling districts. In GE14, it managed to win at least 11.

This contributed directly to the ruling coalition losing by a 15,000-vote majority, one of the heaviest defeats for a political party in a sitting government.

It is learnt that the Tanjung Piai results even caught BN by surprise, with its best-case scenario to win with a 7,000 to 8,000 vote margin.

In GE14, 64% of Tanjung Piai’s Chinese voters and 32% of its Malays backed PH and this allowed it to snatch the previously un-winnable constituency from BN by a narrow 524 votes.

However, in the by-election PH lost in all the Chinese majority districts such as Pekan Nenas Timur, Tengah, Barat and Selatan, which it won in GE14.

At the same time, the level of support for BN in these districts went up to between 400 and 500 votes compared to GE14.

According to think tank Political Studies for Change (KPRU), the overall swing in Chinese votes from PH to BN is estimated at between 27% and 38%, while the Malays switched over by a rate of between two and 12%.

“The overall impact of a 10% decrease in Malay support is bigger than the 20% among Chinese voters because of the larger population of Malays in the country,” KPRU said in its analysis.

“The anger towards PH is so high that it managed to sideline issues of ideology, race, religion and corruption.  

“Although the Chinese do not agree with the Umno-PAS pact, they voted for BN,” said KPRU.

UTM’s Mazlan believes that another critical message PH supporters are sending is not to delay the succession plan between Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim.

“This is a referendum on the PH administration and also the head of that administration,” said Mazlan, who had surveyed voter sentiments in the parliamentary seat in the run up to the by-election.

This point is echoed by another observer Lim Hong Siang of the think tank Saudara.

Lim said Chinese frustration towards PH, which was already high due to unresolved education issues, became even worse after the Malay Dignity Congress.

The convention’s Malay nationalist rallying cry that ‘Malaysia belongs to the Malays’ was hurtful to PH supporters, especially since Dr Mahathir, along with several ministers, attended the event, Lim said.

“Some will say that this sentiment does not represent the government, but the fact is the presence of the prime minister and other ministers creates the perception that PH endorses the sentiment.”

Although PH has three and a half more years before it has to call for GE15, Mazlan argues that it is no reason for Pakatan to still take things lightly.

“The signal from Tanjung Piai is that they have to perform in the next three years, otherwise, they are going to be changed.”

As Malaysia’s voter disenchantment grows, time for Pakatan to get the economy moving

COMMENTARY – Yes, it is true the government needs time to fix a lot of structural issues plaguing the country, and yes, it is true that many things cannot change overnight.

But if there is one single reason why Tanjung Piai voters voted the way they did last weekend, it is probably because of the state of the economy.

Here’s the thing: many politicians and analysts will offer up a laundry list of voter grievances which contributed to Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) worst showing at the ballot box since winning power in Putrajaya and they may well be right. But ultimately, most of these complaints would not matter if the economy was not in the doldrums.

While it takes time to move away from the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s style of administration that was riddled with allegations of corruption and cronyism, the ordinary Malaysian voter has obviously lost patience because there does not seem to be enough reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Hence, our WhatsApp groups are filled with complaints, allegations and mostly ridicule and jokes about the PH government and its leaders. The kind of memes which get shared used to be reserved for BN leaders and their supporters just a year ago.

So what this government must understand is this: what is ultimately important right now is to get the economic engine humming smoothly.

And that is at the heart of the grievances of the disenchanted voters — from the petrol station owner who has seen his sales fall by at least 10 per cent, to the roadside hawker who has seen his business affected by Grab food delivery, to the casual worker who has lost his job because he used to work for a crony company and now has to be a Grab driver.

So what needs to be done?

Well, for a start, abolishing tolls immediately on all the major highways would help. Sure, it is a complicated process but right now, the voter does not really care. That is the reality. This was a promise made in the PH manifesto.

Perhaps the government can issue bonds to buy up the concessions because the taxpayer is on the hook no matter what. At least if tolls are abolished many Malaysians would see their daily burdens eased immediately.

It would also buy the government much needed goodwill and time to fix other problems.

And how about fixing the country’s creaking infrastructure like roads? Just repaving the trunk roads around the country from Perlis to Johor, and from Kelantan to Sabah and Sarawak would see billions of ringgit injected into the economy through contractors and job creation.

Surely our political leaders have travelled on these roads, much of which are in a deplorable state.

Recently, the government launched a document entitled Shared Prosperity Vision. That would have been a good starting point for this government to shape the narrative as the document was predicated on creating a decent standard of living for all and to ensure a better distribution of wealth.

The Shared Prosperity Vision was a well-thought out and written document, but besides the efforts of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, very few Cabinet ministers or PH party leaders have campaigned for or tried to sell the ideas to voters.

Instead, what the public has been treated to in recent times has been a continuation of political posturing and internal rifts within the ruling parties of the PH coalition.

The collective leadership of the government has failed to make the case to the public for what the future holds for Malaysia.

Can you blame the public for becoming cynical?

Let’s face it. Neither the MCA or Umno can offer much of an alternative to the public right now, especially with many of the latter’s top leaders facing criminal trials and yet the people of Tanjung Piai chose to give the BN candidate the vote.

It’s not that issues like race relations, education and other complaints are not important. But if the economy is not growing and if wealth is not distributed equally the government can never hope to solve those problems.

Voters are far more open to the concept of patience and are even a forgiving lot when their pockets are relatively full and when they have decent jobs. It is not a far-fetched prediction to say that if the US economy is doing very well next year, Donald Trump will be re-elected as president, no matter what kind of a buffoon you may think he is.

The role of government in bad times is arguably to offer up a fiscal policy of spending, to open the taps if you like, and to ensure the economic engine roars into life.

Right now, it is sputtering.

And when the economy sputters, the public will blame the ruling government for everything and anything that is wrong.

Reacting to those criticisms in a defensive manner will not solve anything. But getting the economy moving can.

– Malay Mail