Malaysians are poised to create history tomorrow. All the surveys have been done, but I will still stick my neck out and make a prediction (for what it is worth).
I will keep it simple.
Let’s look at the share of the popular vote won by the opposition (and the percentage number of parliamentary seats they have collected) since the 1995 general election:
1995 – 35% of votes (16% of seats)
1999 – 44% (23%)
2004 – 36% (10%)
2008 – 47% (37%)
2013 – 53% (40%)
2018 – ? ?
In the 2008 general election, the opposition’s share rose by 11 percentage points from 2004.
In the 2013 election, the popular vote rose by six percentage points since 2008.
Given the wave of discontent sweeping across the country in this Whatsapp general election (I have 600 unread messages!), galvanised by the Mahathir factor, I expect the popular vote to rise from 53% in 2013 to around 60% (call it a hunch), which would be roughly the proportion needed to win a simple majority of seats in Parliament (given the extent of gerrymandering and malapportionment we have witnessed).
But much depends on where the 60% is secured. In the first-past-the-post system, a simple majority is all that is needed to win a particular seat. So if the opposition parties win in rural seats even by 51%, that is a seat lost by BN. With 60% average support by Pakatan, many rural seats could fall to opposition hands by slim majorities.
I always felt that for the opposition parties to capture federal power (close to 60% of the popular vote), they would need to attract many BN supporters to change their affiliation.
The short-cut way to do this would be to draw in many (former) BN leaders to the opposition side: this Pakatan have done by roping in Rafidah, Daim, Rais Yatim and none more so than Mahathir and before him, Anwar. (The risk is, will these ex-BN types have the stomach or ideological inclination to push through all the far-reaching reforms that are needed.)
So here’s my prediction:
With 60% of the popular vote, the opposition could perhaps win 55% of parliamentary seats (less than 60% because of all the gerrymandering and malapportionment). This 55% translates to 122 parliamentary seats – 10 seats more than the minimum simple majority of 112 in the 222-seat Parliament.
That said, there are several uncertainties and variables, which make this election difficult to call:
- How many seats can Warisan and PKR win in Sabah?
- Will opposition parties be able to win 51% of the popular vote in rural areas in the West Coast of the peninsula.
- Will the increase in postal votes influence the outcome? Did early voters feel free to vote according to their conscience?
- What impact will the considerable BN handouts in rural areas have?
- How many voters from overseas and out-of-town will be able to return home to vote?
- What kind of impact will BN’s social media advertising blitz have? BN may have the advantage in social media advertising over Facebook and the irritating and perhaps counterproductive YouTube ads.
- But that spending blitz is up against many ordinary people each sifting through hundreds of messages on WhatsApp forwarded to them by friends and family every day. No amount of money can buy that. So BN is still behind online. In 2008, BN relied on traditional media, but people had turned to SMS and blogs. By the time BN moved fully to social media, many had moved on to WhatsApp. To what extent will WhatsApp and larger broadband penetration influence rural votes? Areas with larger penetration – the entire West Coast of the peninsula, for instance – are likely to fall to the opposition.
- What kind of impact will the emergence of Nik Omar Nik Abdul Aziz have among Muslim voters in the East Coast and beyond?
On a personal note, I will be watching a couple of seats closely as two outstanding parliamentarians are involved in the fight of their lives.
In Parit Buntar, Mujahid Yusof Rawa of Amanah is involved in a three-way fight with BN and Pas. From what I hear, there is a jump in the number of postal voters there.
In Sungai Siput, two-term MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj of PSM is up against BN (MIC), PKR and Pas in a tough four-way contest.
Other seats to watch out for are Lembah Pantai (Fahmi Fadzil vs Raja Nong Chik), Bentong (Wong Tack vs Liow Tiong Lai), and Petaling Jaya, where activist Maria Chin Abdullah is contesting.
Whichever side wins, the struggle is by no means over – not until all the reforms civil society has been seeking have been realised and everyone is able to live in peace and solidarity with social, economic and environmental justice.
We cannot afford to relax the morning after. We cannot rely on politicians alone to bring about the change we want. We too should be vigilant and get involved.