GE14 an analysis

Few could have predicted the result of the 14th Malaysian general election. Even fewer could have anticipated that the motley crew of hastily assembled opposition parties would win the federal seat along with 7 state seats. Most analyst were predicting that BN would comfortably retain the status quo, some in their camp even dare call for a 2/3 majority. But fell Barisan Nasional did after 61 continuous years in power. And here’s what I think why it happened.

First and foremost, the opposition parties with their disparate agendas and aspiration, set their differences aside and united in one common goal which was to topple the Najib and the BN government. After the long time ally PAS pulled out of the coalition in 2015, many including me concluded that that would be the end of the opposition and pave the way for another 5 years of BN hegemony. However, thanks to the Tun Dr Mahathir with his newly found party, PPBM, the opposition cooperated to maximize votes. An uphill task in Malaysia’s heavily gerrymandered, first-past-the-post electoral system. Seasoned political parties like DAP & PKR combined forces with newbies PPBM and Amanah to fight headlong against BN and even PAS in many constituents.

Second is the Mahathir factor. Tun Dr. Mahathir now very critical of his protege Najib Razak for his involvement with the 1MDB scandal, threw his weigh behind the opposition and became the glue that held them together. Even at 93 years old, Mahathir is a well-respected statesman and political giant that still command much respect and reverence by many Malaysians, especially the malays and even many UMNO members. Mahathir played a crucial role in influencing the conservative and rural folks, especially those who prospered and benefited from his 22 years rule. Without Mahathir and in extension his PPBM party, the opposition would have their work cut out for them in winning the Felda and Malay heartland votes. Mahathir with his typical straight-talking ways started calling Najib a thief rather than a kleptocrat with struck a chord with the man on the streets and the villagers. More importantly, he helped ordinary conservative and nationalistic oriented Malay-Muslim voters overcome their fear of voting for the opposition. And the way the Najib, BN-led government and mainstream media vilify and badmouth him almost daily, somewhat backfired with the majority of Malaysians.

The third factor is the myriad of critical issues that caused widespread dissatisfaction with Barisan Nasional. The removal of subsidies in late 2013 and the introduction of GST in April 2015 caused runaway inflation and general rise in living cost. Sure they introduced cash handouts in the form of BR1M but even that only benefited a small segment of the population and couldn’t complement the rising price of goods and services. Then there’s the 1MDB scandal. While one could argue that the multi-billion dollar scandal didn’t make much headway in the rural areas, the urban and semi-urban people followed it with much interest and disgust. 1MDB is like a cancer that’s destroying the country from inside out with the degradation and abuse of the judiciary and executive system along with the media and countless lives of others trying to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The fourth and final factor is the series of actions taken by the BN government and in extension several government agencies that did their bidding for them. After making DAP re-elect their central committee and top leadership, the Registrar of Society (ROS) made life difficult for the Pakatan Harapan coalition and party members in general. The PH registration as a coalition were purposely delayed and denied for various reasons. The PPBM party was even briefly deregistered for a month just weeks before the dissolution of the parliament. In a masterstroke by the PH leadership, they’ve agreed to contest the election under a single banner, the PKR flag thus presenting a unified front against the ruling coalition. It was a difficult yet brave decision by the opposition coalition, especially the DAP which had contested under the rocket flag since their inception. However by contesting under a single flag, the opposition coalition effectively nullified the sabotage by ROS and at the same time neutralize the negative connotation associated with DAP among the conservative Malay-Muslim voters. Add that to the gerrymandering of seats, the fake news law, calling a mid-week election day, an apparent bid to depress voter turnout - all but pushed undecided voters to the brink and brought them out in droves for a huge 82% voters turnout.

One simply cannot say the events leading to May 9, 2018 were contributed by a single person or factor. It was not just because of Mahathir or Anwar but the culmination of the efforts of many groups and individuals who made great sacrifices and suffered much hardship to bring about change. More importantly, it's the willpower and conviction of all Malaysians like you and me who would like to see this country climb out from the depth of despair, towards hope, unity, progress and prosperity.

GE14 - a Malaysian tsunami

It was supposed to be a straightforward and easy election for BN. People were fatigued by all the politicking. The 1MDB scandal was at the back of people’s mind. At least for the rural and simple folks. Support for Najib was at its peak within UMNO, it’s leaders as it seems were united behind him. The registrar of society (ROS) successfully delayed Pakatan Harapan coalition registration, even made Bersatu temporarily illegal along the way. BN winning the general election is not a matter of when but how much.

Like most politically woke Malaysian, I was looking forward for the dissolution of the Parliament. When Najib did on live TV, I was expecting polling day to be on the 5th of May since it’s the weekend and people will have ample time to go back to vote. Then suddenly the Election Commission dropped the bombshell by announcing polling day on May 9th instead. A Wednesday. My first though was “wow, they really don’t want people to go back to vote”. There was simply no justification for the weekday polling date and the EC chairman up until today never give any. The only logical explanation was that EC was in cahoots with BN to reduce voters turnout. Traditionally, low voters turnout has been associated with unfavorable result for the opposition.

Me, I didn’t care if the wanna hold election day on Wednesday at 3:00AM, nothing is gonna stop me from returning home to vote this time. However, some of my fellow Malaysians are not so lucky. Voters who come from Sabah and Sarawak especially and also those who work in Singapore have to come home to vote since there’s no postal voting for them. Within moments from the announcement of polling dates, airlines ticket shot through the roof and it didn’t take long for most of them to be sold out.

True enough, desperate times bring out the best or the worse in most people. This time though is the latter. In defiance of the EC’s decision, a section of the Malaysian public came together to crowd source for funds with the aim to get outstation voters to come back home and vote. Movements like #pulangmengundi, #undirabu & #carpoolge was launched and within days more than 200,00 ringgit were raised and disbursed. Carpool platform were set up and charted buses were sponsored by organizations. Campaign for cheaper flight tickets gained traction until Air Asia decided to cap their ticket price for a relatively affordable price to and from peninsular Malaysia to the Borneo states. Meanwhile, the government under pressure from the public outcry were forced to declare May 9 as a public holiday.

While polling day was set on Wednesday, nomination day was conveniently slotted for a Saturday. BN scored a few early albeit dubious victories when one opposition nominee were barred from entering nomination centre for supposedly not wearing an EC pass which is not compulsory in the first place. Later it was discovered that the EC officer was a former UMNO member and the nomination pass in dispute was purposely delayed by the EC officers. In downtown KL, PKR’s vice-president was prevented from standing as a candidate when his nomination was rejected by the returning officer supposedly for his previous court case a few years ago. The thing is, he was cleared to stand in the previous election since the fine was not more than 2,000 ringgit and the EC officer when out and over his head to interpret the law himself.

During the campaigning period, BN was in a confident and positive mood, downplaying the enormous crowd at opposition rallies, claiming they were shipped in by the busload or even photoshopped. In the meantime, in the BN camp, their talks and ceramah were sparsely attended even with generous gift or luck draws offered. BN bigwigs were largely confident of retaining their parliamentary majority, some even suggested they will get 2/3 majority this time. Najib confidently claimed he is sanguine that his party will win the general election hands down in an interview with a foreign press.

The exodus for GE14 started as early as Friday night that week. Highways started to be congested as city folks make their way back to their hometowns. As for me, I didn’t get to go back until the day before election day on Tuesday. I expected heavy traffic all the way home but surprisingly, traffic was pretty smooth that morning from KL to Gua Musang. The only bit of traffic we had was the usual crawl before Kuala Kerai towards Tanah Merah. If the election is decided by the numbers of flags and posters, BN or PAS would have won it by a landslide. Pakatan’s campaign material on the other hand was scarce in comparison. They didn’t have the financial firepower as BN or the devotion of supporters like PAS. And as I made my way slowly to my hometown, I came to the realization that PH is seriously the underdog in this general election, at least on the east coast states. It will take a miracle for them to win anything there.

That said, I did my best to convince and coerce some of my family members to vote for PH. While I have completely given up on my in laws who are staunch PAS supporters, I managed to convince my wife and grandma to at least give one parliamentary vote to Pakatan Harapan. It’s the least I could do. Apart from that, I wrote this heartfelt letter which was published in Malaysiakini to illustrate our uphill task of defeating the ruling government. It was posted on my blog (naturally) and shared on my Twitter and Facebook. I don’t know whether it made any major effect but at least I tried.

On polling day, my mother and I was amongst the first to line up at the polling centre. Like the previous years, it didn’t take long for me to finish casting my vote. Perhaps it was because there were only 25,000 voters in my constituency. Later I learned that in urban areas, people had to queue for hours to cast their votes, especially in super-large constituency in the cities. Some queued until well after polling centres were closed at 5:00PM and subsequently denied their right to vote. One thing for sure, long queues or hot sunny day didn’t stop these defiant voters from exercising their right to vote.

After casting my vote in Pasir Mas, I went straight back to Tanah Merah to pick up my family and head home since we had to work again the next day. There was a few minor congestion here and there along the east-west highway but the anticipated traffic jam didn’t start until after Tapah. We didn’t arrive in Selangor until later that evening and by this time some of the election results started to trickle in. In the beginning, both coalition were neck and neck in winning the parliamentary seats. We were both excited and anxious while the results were coming in since they were playing catch up with each other. When we finally made it home near midnight that day, the opposition coalition started to have a healthy lead against the incumbent. Still there were a considerable number of votes yet to count but we started to be optimistic of our chances.

By this time we learned that a few top BN leaders and party presidents were defeated in this election. Quite a number of BN ministers and deputy ministers were trounced at their respective constituents. Eventhough the caretaker prime minister and his deputy survived, the result started to look increasingly grim for the ruling coalition. On the opposition camp however it was a completely different story. Their top leaders defeated their respective opponents with ease, some with even bigger majority. Pakatan’s prime minister candidate - Tun Dr Mahathir easily overcame a 11,000 deficit to win in Langkawi. Things were really looking up for Pakatan Harapan.

As Malaysians were impatiently waiting for all the results to come in, suddenly they stopped coming in. Malaysiakini’s live result page were unceremoniously blocked by MCMC for no apparent reason. Rumours were adrift that EC officers were refusing to sign their forms where the opposition had won. Something was clearly amiss and many had feared for the worst. Finally, some time after midnight, Tun Mahathir declared at a press conference that PH had won a simple majority. This is despite the EC saying they were still waiting for the official results. As the morning drags on, I was too tired to stay awake but not before hearing the good news that more and more states had changed hands one by one to the opposition party. I fell asleep exhausted but elated at the prospect of a change of government by the time I woke up.

When I did, it was all but confirmed that the ruling BN government had finally fallen after a long 61 years. Despite controlling the media, machinery and money of the state, they failed to overcome what was essentially a Malaysian Tsunami. The people was fed up with the gross incompetence, negligence and criminal way the prime minister and his government had been running the country. Rising cost of living, GST, 1MDB and numerous other scandals are too big of an issue to ignore by the electorate. Overall, apart from winning a simple majority in parliament, Pakatan Harapan also won the state seats in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor and Sabah. The only states that BN retained power are Perlis, Pahang & Sarawak with rumours today that the Sarawak BN parties are about to leave the coalition. PAS although widely anticipated not to win many parliament seats, did held on to Kelantan and managed to wrestle back Terengganu from BN. While PAS is claiming they still command the trust of electorates, winning two conservative east coast states could be attributed to voters choosing anybody but BN. In the west coast, PH is stronger and more influential so people picked them. Likewise in the east coast, PAS is much more established than PH, especially Amanah so people just voted for the party with a more likely chance to beat BN, that’s all in my opinion.

One could write dozens of books, thesis and theories on how the BN government was defeated that fateful election day, May 9th 2018. Truth be told, it was a combination of many factors. On one side, the majority of Malaysian loathed the way the arrogant BN leadership ran the country. Allegations of Najib’s billion dollar scandal with regard to 1MDB which launched a multinational investigation were hard to ignore and swept aside. Over across the opposition camp, the 4 disparate parties were finally united under the charismatic leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir. Unlike Anwar before him, he managed to gel the opposition together and steered the coalition towards victory. Their decision to contest under a single PKR flag was a genius move to showcase unity amongst the opposition while at the same time silencing anti-DAP sentiments. But most importantly it was down to each and everyone of my fellow countrymen who wanted to change. Change the corrupt government, change for the better for themselves and the future generation.

20 days later, things were already looking good with the new government. Election manifesto and promises were being fulfilled slowly but surely. There is more transparency and accountability in governance. Media had been unshackled from their chains. You can feel it in the air, a new Malaysia. And for once, the country made global headlines all for the right reasons. I am extremely proud of my fellow Malaysians who made the change possible today. Children, this one is for you.