On Elections: why ethnic tension will not get out of hand if UMNO is still rationale

Granted, this is nothing new. Post-election BN is practically a coalition of UMNO and East Malaysian Parties.

People do ask about BN’s share of total valid votes (excluding spoiled/rejected votes) and below is what I have calculated from the SPR data compiled by my friend Tze Min.

State Seats Turnout % BN/TVV Malay %
Perlis 3 81.01% 60.15% 83.04%
Kedah 15 80.30% 46.84% 77.58%
Kelantan 14 82.29% 44.71% 94.27%
Terengganu 8 84.74% 55.11% 95.42%
Pulau Pinang 13 78.00% 38.72% 34.49%
Perak 24 72.32% 46.47% 46.98%
Pahang 14 76.68% 59.47% 70.45%
Selangor 22 76.88% 44.30% 50.74%
FT KL 11 73.06% 37.95% 34.68%
FT Putrajaya 1 81.42% 75.59% 94.60%
Negeri Sembilan 8 75.94% 54.73% 51.90%
Melaka 6 79.11% 57.42% 57.86%
Johor 26 73.85% 65.27% 53.29%
Total West Malaysia 165 76.95% 49.79%
FT Labuan 1 66.89% 77.04%  
Sabah 25 63.97% 61.18%  
Sarawak 31 58.16% 64.20%  
Total East Malaysia 57 60.96% 62.91%
Total Malaysia 222 74.40% 51.50%

In terms of valid vote share, the two single-constituency federal colonies (Labuan, 77% and Putrajaya, 76%) are now BN’s top fortresses, followed by Johor (65%), Sarawak (64%), Sabah (61%), Perlis (60%), Pahang (59%), Melaka (57%), Terengganu (55%).

Negeri Sembilan is the coalition’s weakest link with less than 55% of support, returning it with less than a two-third in the state. If the opposition can run the five states well, I believe this will be the next state to change hand in the 13th general elections. And Khairy’s enemy in UMNO will need not to worry about him.

If I am a BN/UMNO warlord, I will be worried also about Melaka and Johor alongside Negeri Sembilan. For if there will be a further non-Malay swing in these states where Malay voters make up less than 60% in the next elections, MCA, Gerakan and MIC will be practically wiped out throughout the Peninsula, and not only in Penang.

Even winning more Malay votes then cannot make UMNO/BN more electable. UMNO may obtain simple majority with East Malaysian parties, with a little help from the constituency redelineation due in 2010 the earliest.

This however cannot provide UMNO the legitimacy to rule if it does not have non-Malay partners from the Peninsula. You expect the East Malaysians, if not UMNO’s own leaders, to jump ship.

Therefore, I am not worried that UMNO will let the ethnic tension – as how people worries about the UMNO demonstration in Penang – goes out of hand so far as it remains rational and calculative.

I have never believed that May 13 tragedy, at elite level, was the result of emotional outburst. As long as it is not rational for disasters to happen, rational agents will see through that disasters – within their control – do not happen.

Does this electoral pivotality mean the non-Malays have a free hand to push for their interests at the expense of the Malays? No.

If the post-election changes are perceived to be too radical, UMNO will use these to shore up its Malay support to the extent it may seriously weaken PKR or PAS. If the Malays solidly rally behind UMNO, UMNO can then afford losing all the non-Malay votes. For it can easily force DAP into a national unity government, hence obtaining its minority token representative, at UMNO’s terms. I am sure Lim Guan Eng is too smart to let himself to be the second Lim Chong Eu (after 1969).

As much as NEP is archaic for today’s globalized world, it cannot be done away without a clearly defined alternative that protect the interest of the middle-lower-class Malays. DAP will need something like PKR’s New Economic Agenda or PAS’s Welfare State to assure Penang Malays that they are not the losers to regime change.

You may sideline Malay (and non-Malay) cronies but no government in Malaysia can survive if they ignore the grass-root Malays. That’s the political reality in Malaysia.

Expect DAP to come out some explicitly pro-Malay measures in near future. Just as BN needs to woo the non-Malays to remain electable nationwide, DAP needs to court the Malays to consolidate its power in Penang.

I will not claim that the de-ethnicization of Malaysian politics has completed. That would sound too much like the immature declaration of new politics’s ascendancy in 1999. But the old form of ethnic politics has certainly become obsolete.

UMNO and DAP are not becoming colour blind. They however now have to learn to bend over to court its non-traditional constituents.

That’s the beauty of a watershed election which increases the stakes of both the strong and the weak players.

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