14th General Election: Felda Areas and the future of UMNO

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.

Wallahu a’lam..

 

DAH IKHWAN

Reference:

  1. ISEAS Yusuf Ishak Institute: Voting behaviour in Felda Parliamentary Constituencies since 2004
  2. The Star: GE 14 List of Parliamentary Candidates.
  3. SPR: Keputusan PRU 14.
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