On Elections: Where’s Malaysia’s Magnificent One Third? (I)

Every democrat in Malaysia would tell you that we need to at least deny BN its two-third majority in the Parliament. Now, where is the Magnificent One Third which will defend democracy?

How many voters need to vote against BN to deliver that one-third? Have the Lingam tape, unclean and unfair elections and the plight of Indian Malaysians, triggered anger and desire for change in enough voters?

The answer is not how many, but where. Never mind many Malays deserted him thanks to BN’s media smearing, Tengku Razaleigh in 1990 was still more effective in weakening BN than Anwar Ibrahim in 1999. Here’s the evidence.

Alliance-BN vote and seat shares

When Tengku Razaleigh brought the opposition parties together in his one-in-two coalitions (the multi-ethnic Gagasan Rakyat and the Islamic Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah), BN’s vote share dropped only mildly 57.28% in 1986 to 53.38% in 1990. The swing from BN, 3.90%, was nearly as small as in 1978 when Tun Razak won the mandate for his second term. It was nevertheless enough to slash BN’s seat share from 83.62% to 70.56%, resulting in a fall of 13.06% or about three times the fall in vote share.

Now look at the 1999 elections. The Anwar Ibrahim factor saw a much greater decline of BN vote share by 8.63%, from 65.16% in 1995 to 56.53% in 1999. BN’s drop in seat was however much smaller, only 7.70%, from 84.38% in 1995 to 76.68%. The euphoria then that the opposition had achieved the best performance (in terms of absolute number of seats) ignored the fact that the total size of parliament had increased by 13 seats or 7.2% from 1990.

Why was the Opposition’s seat gain in 1999 was only about half that in 1990 when its vote gain more than doubled?

Greater vote loss, lesser seat loss

The answer is in the electoral system, the first-past-the-post with heavy gerrymandering and mal-apportionment ala Malaysian. It works in two parts.

The first part has to do with the constituency re-delineation. The SPR re-delineated constituencies in West Malaysia in 1994 in ways which clearly had benefited BN even despite the Anwar factor. In 1990, BN received 1.32% of seats for every 1% of votes. In 1999, this ratio rose to 1.36.

The second part has to do with the distribution of party support. In 1990, even though Tengku Razaleigh lost much of the Malay support because of BN’s smearing campaign with the Kadazan headwear photo, the support for APU was watertight in Kelantan and Terengganu. This translated into their victory in all nine seats in Kelantan and two other seats in Terengganu.

In comparison, Dr Mahathir failed to restrict Anwar Ibrahim’s support to a few states. His nationally widespread support however becomes his weakness under the current electoral system. While PAS won handsomely in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, returning 25 parliamentarians, most of Reformasi votes in the West Coast failed to translate into seats. Only 13 opposition MPs (10 DAP, 2 PAS and 1 Keadilan) came from West Coast constituencies south of Kedah. Electorally, Reformasi votes in Selangor, Johor and Negeri Sembilan were all wasted.

History may repeat itself. If we are happy with talking about denying BN’s two-third, but have no idea where the one third should be and cannot ensure good battles, the hearts wanting changes in those rallies organized by the Bar Council, BERSIH and HINDRAF will be let down again. And this time around, BN will claim even moral victory because they have given in on indelible ink.

The point is: the electoral system sucks; it needs to be changed and not just repaired; but until you can change the system, you’d better know how it works to beat it.


A belated Selamat Hari Raya Haji wish to all Muslim friends and others who celebrate together. This is my surrogate yellow banana for last yellow Saturday.

Facts and Views on Malaysian Elections by Wong Chin Huat


On Elections: Same Votes, Different Values



On Elections: A Dummy’s Guide on Poll Rigging



On Elections: Where’s Malaysia’s Magnificent One-Third? (II)



On Elections: Where’s Malaysia’s Magnificent One-Third? (I)



On Elections: Did MIC need Indians?



On Elections: Splits in UMNO and Opposition Unity (TheSun)



On Elections: Splits Watershed Elections of 1969 (TheSun)



On Elections: Weakened Federalism in the New Federation (TheSun)



On Elections: Electing the Government (TheSun)



3 responses to “On Elections: Where’s Malaysia’s Magnificent One Third? (I)

  1. Pingback: 10 Years since Reformasi - Taking Stock « People are the boss

  2. Pingback: Malaysia Votes » Wanted: an imaginative opposition

  3. Pingback: Wanted: An Imaginative Opposition (full text) « People are the boss

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