The prize of a nation
|Yusseri is an engineer by training, a consultant by accident and a company man by necessity. He wishes that people would stop calling him to sell life insurance. It's death insurance he's looking for. He writes rubbish at http://www.mentera.org/ and pretends to be an intellectual at http://www.othermalaysia.org/|
JULY 21 — According to the data available, in the past 12 general elections since the Federation of Malaya (then Malaysia) gained independence, the count of popular votes given to the opposition was never less than one-third of the total vote count. In fact, the percentage of votes given to the opposition has been less than 40 per cent only four times out of the 12.
The distribution of seats in Parliament has not, of course, reflected this. Throughout the history of elections in independent Malaysia, the ruling coalition has lost the seemingly magical two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats only twice. Once by a hair’s breadth in 1969, and the other time in the last general election of 2008.
1969 was, of course, a notable year for the country. It was the first GE after Singapore was partitioned off from the country. At the time, Gerakan was part of the opposition to the Alliance, and Barisan Nasional had yet to exist. It had the longest campaign period for an election, and the prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had stated that the five weeks given was to allow the people time to listen and digest what the politicians had to say.
That GE was the first time that the two-thirds majority was lost by the Alliance, and resulted in some rather untoward behaviour by all sides, culminating in the string of incidents so infamous we just call it May 13.
As for 2008, the loss of the two-thirds was down to several factors, apparently, but general consensus was that it was mainly due to broken promises. After gaining the highest number of seats in any GE so far in 2004, BN under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi simply lost the plot, and along with it 58 seats and 11.7 per cent of the votes.
What is interesting to note here is that, given the numbers gathered for the 12 GEs, even though Alliance/BN won every single one of them, they’ve had to work really hard for those victories.
What is even more interesting to note is that, given all the instruments available to them — the police, the civil service, the mainstream media, the gerrymandering, the other (alleged) irregular activities like ballot stuffing — the voting population of the country had been rather adamant in not particularly allowing them to have overwhelming majorities.
In fact, from a popular vote perspective, in 1969, less than half of the total voting public wanted them in power. If proportional representation was practised in Malaysia at the time, we would have had a change of government. If it was practised in 2008, another 2.3 per cent for the opposition would have achieved the same (and in fact, in the peninsula, that was exactly how the percentages turned out).
Even in 2004, when BN obtained 90.4 per cent of the 219 seats available, their share of the popular vote was “only” 63.9 per cent. In other words, they may have had the run of the House, but 36.1 per cent of the people would rather they didn’t.
Of course, listening to the politicians from BN, they make it sound like except for a very small number of deluded individuals, the whole of the nation backs them up all the way.
On the surface of it, they do seem to have the most viable formula for keeping things together. It is very much an unequal coalition, with Umno as the head, and every other party within subordinate. This unequal partnership, with a clear leader, meant that deciding on the party line and sticking to it a matter of fiat. Even when the official party line comes across as an insult to the lesser parties.
The MCA may dispute the assertion that Umno is the clear leader of the coalition, but the voting breakdown makes any argument they might deign to forward moot. Of the 140 seats obtained by BN in the last GE, Umno candidates returned more than half of that total, while MCA managed less than a quarter.
The opposition coalition, in its current guise as Pakatan Rakyat (disregarding the other parties which are not members of either coalition for the purpose of this discussion), on the other hand, portrays itself as an equal partnership. This meant that, in theory, the social democrats of the DAP would have an equal say in matters as the Islamists in PAS and the slightly (or enormously, depending on your view) right-of-centre PKR. However, the fact that PR has a leader of the opposition in the form of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim cannot hide the fact the three parties have orthogonal ideologies and are united only in the face of a common enemy.
However, their vote division in the last GE does tend to support their equal partners stance. The gap between the percentage of votes between the three of them is not much more than two per cent (as of now, taking into account defections from their previously party-faithful candidates).
And therein lies the state of politics in the country. The ruling coalition, rightly or wrongly, seems to have the most workable formula to rule, with no particular reluctance to use every available tool at its disposal to keep ruling. The opposition is strangely united, in spite of them seemingly being their own worst enemies, and near enough desperate to break the ruling coalition’s iron grip on the seat of power.
As for the voting public… well, some of us moan, complain, march and/or rally. Those who do that get showered, gassed, incarcerated, hijacked, pawned and played out. Those who don’t, which is most of us, stay on the sidelines, either cheering those who do or jeering them.
The bulk of us will always vote for one side or the other, each time, every time, come what may. But there’s a sizeable minority that slides from one to the other. The swingers. The ones who decide whether a seat would fall on this side or that side.
And the politicians from both sides want these swingers. They want these “kingmakers”, if you like. Because every few years or so, as we go out to the polling booths, we will put our X in the box, and the swingers will be the ones who decide who takes the prize.
The prize? The prize is our country. Yours, mine and ours. And so far, there’s only ever been one winner.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.