Even before the most recent debacle of Barisan Nasional and UMNO, it was trendy for the Malay community to question the party’s future relevance in the Malaysian political landscape. They started to wonder about this in the aftermath of the 2008 General Election when BN lost its 2/3 parliamentary majority for the first time. This was followed after the 2013 General Election when BN suffered a worse result and now, with its first major defeat in 2018, the level of confidence in UMNO and the Malay community has sunk down further. It is as if a ruling political party should never lose an election, and as if this leads to definite self-destruction.
Yet this is something normal in a western form of two party system. Take UK for instance, the Conservative party may win this general election, but it may lose in the next round when Labour Party takes over the government. But such defeat never happened in Malaysia except after the recently concluded general election. It was a real shocker when the margin of defeat was so wide as to demoralize all the BN supporters and most in the Malay community.
It is well known to Malaysians that Felda areas form the bedrock of UMNO’s strength. Altogether there are 54 Parliamentary constituencies where Felda schemes exist in different sizes and numbers and these form the lynchpin of UMNO power. In 1/2 of these constituencies, Malays make up more than 80% of total voters. Attempts have been made to penetrate these areas for decades without success by various opposition parties, notably PAS and now by Tun Mahathir party PPBM. Political analysts believe that to defeat UMNO, opposition parties need to defeat UMNO in these constituencies by drawing away Malay voters.
Mahathir has succeeded to become the seventh Prime Minister yet has failed to win enough parliamentary seats for his own PPBM party. He only managed to win 12 seats in all and this is miniscule compared to those won by PKR or DAP. The problem lies in the Felda areas. PPBM, being the youngest partner of Pakatan Harapan and as a Malay party had little choice but to contest head on with UMNO in the latter’s stronghold.
The result is now history. UMNO won 25 seats, PAS 6 and PPBM, 5 (although PH won 22 seats in all). If not for the mixed seats with overwhelming Chinese support, PH couldn’t have won more than 10 seats in these areas. It should be worth to note that in the 13th General Election BN won 46 out of 54 Felda seats.
Felda areas are indeed difficult to crack. Prior to the 14th GE, I wrote an article on whether Mahathir’s onslought could succeed. I was proven wrong to suggest that Tun Mahathir could not change the GE results, but I was right in that he could only make a dent in the Malay heartland, much of which lie in the Felda areas. As a result UMNO, though having lost power, proved to be too strong to beat in its stronghold and still has 47 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia with the largest chunk of Malay voter support of 46.2%. By comparison PH only has 25% and PAS, 28%.
The past voting trend in Felda areas has proven to be the most reliable for BN. Details are given below:
Malay support for BN in Felda Areas
GE 2004. . 59.1%
GE 2008. . 58.1%
GE 2013. . 60.7%
GE 2018. . 46.2%
My analysis findings indicate that Malay support in Felda areas was stable during the study period but dropped significantly by 14.5 percentage points in this year’s GE, similar to the average figures for Peninsular Malaysia as a whole. It further indicates that race profile played less significant role in voting pattern in GE 2018, probably caused by unusual or confused reaction of Malay voters during the heated campaign period spearheaded byTun Mahathir.
The above however revealed an important finding that the Felda areas are still proven to be the most significant for UMNO. Even with unusually intense assault by Tun Mahathir, UMNO still managed to retain 25 predominantly Malay seats in Felda areas. The lost seats are actually mixed seats mostly won by PKR and a few by DAP.
It is sad to see that most UMNO members failed to see the above strength in the party. Instead, they were disheartened and questioned the party’s future viability and start entertaining ideas to turn it multiracial. The question is if it does, could UMNO retain its appeal in these traditional areas? Wouln’t Malay voters find PPBM and even PAS becoming even more attrative? Once you lose your heartland you are forever gone.
This general election was indeed the most trying time for Felda areas. As if 1MDB case was not enough, Felda’s own problems added to the debacle. One just can’t help but wonder how Najib as Prime Minister could be so reckless and stupid in choosing his lieutenants in key government institutions, including Felda. Tun Mahathir is right, now Najib has to face the law and pay for it.
UMNO members apparently lost their compass and failed to see their intrinsic strength in the aftermath of the general election. It is shocking to see its surviving leader Zahid Hamidi going as far as to bow before Tun Mahathir for advice. It looked so awkward. The dragon has just mowed you down and you still looked for his advice? What advice can you expect?
A Good Leader can Instill the much needed Confidence
To revive UMNO is not as difficult as starting a struggle from scratch, moreover Tun Mahathir has proven that it does not need a miracle to accomplish the latter successfully. If so, and given that that UMNO still retains the bulk of Malay support, the original party’s ideal should provide the best drawing power. Then, to revive UMNO should’t be too much of a task, provided that a good and inspiring leader is selected for the job. UMNO is not short of leaders who can be drawn from among its existing leaders or from the rank and file who can rise out of open competition, provided of course, there is open competition.
Since UMNO is set to allow open competition in the coming party election, the members should make full use of these unusual opportunities. They should then be able to spot right leaders who are committed to the party struggle, honest, untainted with corruption and at least having potential capacity to run an effective political organisation and the government.
For the party president post, it is important that the candidates must also possess charisma that can inspire the public. Both Zahid Hamidi and, more so Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah possess those characteristics. If UMNO needs one who has been well tested,Tengku Razaleigh may be the right one looking at his earlier experience as the Minister of Finance and subsequent struggles against Mahathir.
As for Khairi Jamaluddin, he belongs to the younger generation, possesses the required qualities, but should be willing to take more risks and aim higher at least for the Deputy President post. With anything lesser, he might miss the opportunity to become Prime Minister one day.
UMNO is now the underdog short of financial resources, so it will not be able to distribute power or lucrative deals among its power brokers. Under these circumstances, devoid of patronizing politics, the best leaders are likely to emerge. Such leaders are much needed to revive the party to its former glory.
- ISEAS Yusuf Ishak Institute: Voting behaviour in Felda Parliamentary Constituencies since 2004
- The Star: GE 14 List of Parliamentary Candidates.
- SPR: Keputusan PRU 14.