‘Barisan Nasional (BN) will not put an age limit on the candidates in the coming 13th general election, no matter how many terms he has been serving, as long as the candidate can win(calon boleh menang). ‘ Datuk Seri Najib declared recently.
At first impression it appears that Datuk Seri Najib has come out with fair and excellent criteria in the selection of candidates for the coming general elections. This contrasts with the approach that Pak Lah adopted in last 12th General Election in which special focus was on change, including extensive changes in the candidates line up. The Najib approach may even appear to be similar to that adopted in the recent Sarawak State Election.
In Sarawak, BN generally fielded not more than 25% new faces to contest in the election to ensure continuity of party policy as well as to prevent sabotage by any disgruntled incumbent left out in the election.
In spite of the above, the recent Sarawak State Election was not free from sabotage, though in a limited way. For example a new BN candidate almost lost to PAS in one DUN area because of sabotage from the previous YB who was not selected to defend his seat.
A defective strategy was adopted by Pak Lah in the last general election. At the 12th General Election held in 2008, he replaced too many incumbents in favour of new faces. This affected party untiy and resulted in sabotages in many constituencies. For example, in the states which were lost to the opposition, BN introduced 41% new faces in Perak and 62% in the Kedah DUN elections. A similar situation occurred in Selangor.
In the above cases, it all seemed too obvious that Pak Lah and his men were too eager to eliminate Dr Mahathir’s influence in BN, but failed badly because of this erroneous strategy. In contrast, Tan Sri Taib in Sarawak was more practical and avoided to antoganise the ex Prime Minister while at the same time still maintaining loyalty to the current Prime Minister.
It is really difficult to decipher Najib’s real intention in overemphasizing the need for winnable candidates. It is hoped that as a leader of caliber, he will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor and looking for excuses to put up his men in places too rapidly. Moreover, it is really difficult to find out whether a person is a winnable candidate before the election, unless he has been a popular incumbent at least in the last two elections. Other factors like a person’s capability and popularity can be too subjective to assess, let alone in an environment full of interested parties lobbying for their candidates.
In the run up to the 13th general election, the issue of winnable candidates may need a greater focus only because there are too many seats now occupied by the opposition, to be exact more than 1/3, most of which were BN seats before. These are the seats that BN need to pay more attention to win back through the so called winnable candidates.
Actually, I have made an empirical analysis shortly after the 12th general election in 2008 on this matter, making use of data from Parliamentary Elections 2008 and 2004 and analyzed by multiple regression method. Findings from this study confirm that incumbency is a significant factor in votes obtained by a candidate in the elections. On average, a fresh candidate for Parliament in Peninsular Malaysia brings in zero votes on his personal influence and up to 1400 votes if he is an an incumbent for four times.
This Finding is important and should be very relevant in determining the candidates, especially in hotly contested areas.