The Peninsula dominoes
by Liew Chin Tong
Let’s be clear, elections are won or lost in marginal seats. For the new Opposition coalition to form the next government which is stable and with a strong legitimacy, defeating UMNO in the Peninsula has to be the priority.
But to cause UMNO to fall like dominoes, we should not set our sights on its strongholds but work on where it is weakest: the marginal seats.
UMNO won 88 seats nationally, of which 14 are in Sabah and one in Labuan. The rest of the 73 seats are in the Peninsula.
Of these 73 Peninsula seats, UMNO would win at least 30 rural seats, which were “tailored-made” for UMNO in the first place anyway, with the “built-in” FELDA votes, postal votes and government machineries assisting UMNO in campaign. The Opposition should forget about these 30 seats.
But the rest of the seats, which are mostly multi-ethnic, are ready to fall on the back of antipathy against UMNO since 2008 among non-Malay voters and a Malay tsunami against the economic hardships imposed by the UMNO Government.
Of the 38 marginal seats which Barisan Nasional won with less than 10 percent margin in the last election, 32 are UMNO seats. This is the battleground where the next election will be fought.
Focusing on the middle ground with strong leadership, clarity in policy and a convincing message to unite all ethnic groups while riding on the wave of a brewing Malay revolt could just tilt the balance.
The 6% line
The balance is not difficult to tilt if one looks at the 37 parliamentary seats that Barisan Nasional won with a margin of less than 10% in the 2013 general election. On top of the 37 seats, BN won Teluk Intan in a by-election in 2014 with a 0.6% margin.
Indeed a 6% uniform swing would wipe out 27 marginal seats and send Barisan Nasional to the opposition bench.
Of the 38 marginal seats, 10 were won with a margin of less than 2%, namely P76 Teluk Intan (0.6%), P89 Bentong (0.7%), P96 Kuala Selangor (0.8%), P159 Pasir Gudang (1.1%), P93 Sungai Besar (1.1%), P142 Labis (1.1%), P29 Machang (1.6%), P26 Ketereh (1.8%), P12 Jerai (1.9%) and P119 Titiwangsa (1.9%).
Another 11 were won with a margin between 2% and 4%, namely P78 Cameron Highlands (2.1%), P158 Terbrau (2.3%), P58 Bagan Serai (2.5%), P118 Setiawangsa (2.7%), P140 Segamat (3.1%), P144 Ledang (3.3%), P53 Balik Pulau (3.6%), P18 Kulim Bandar-Baharu (3.6%), P3 Arau (3.6%), P161 Pulai (3.8%) and P67 Kuala Kangsar (3.9%).
A further six were won with a margin between 4% and 6%, namely P146 Muar (4.1%), P11 Pendang (4.3%), P94 Hulu Selangor (4.6%), P90 Bera (5.1%), P92 Sabak Bernam (5.3%) and P14 Merbok (5.7%).
The 6% line is significant. UMNO retained the very safe seat of Rompin in a by-election in May 2015 but its vote share declined from 67% to 61%, a 6% drop.
If the Rompin by-election result is a gauge of the potential Malay swing to the Opposition nationwide, UMNO would have lost 27 marginal parliamentary seats.
A further 12 seats were won with a margin between 6% and 10%, namely P16 Baling (6.3%), P42 Tasek Gelugor (6.4%), P75 Bagan Datok (6.5%), P13 Sik (6.8%), P5 Jerlun (7.3%), P141 Sekijang (8.2%), P77 Tanjong Malim (8.3%), P27 Tanah Merah (8.6%), P41 Kepala Batas (9.1%), P81 Jerantut (9.3%), P61 Padang Rengas (9.4%) and P2 Kangar (9.5%).
Battles in mixed seats
Of the 38 seats, 5 seats have more than 90% Malay voters, 6 seats with between 80% and 90% Malay voters, and 5 with between 70% and 80% Malay voters.
Another 8 seats have between 60% and 70% Malay voters, 7 seats with between 50% and 60% Malay voters, and 8 additional seats with Malay voters below 50%.
In other words, of the 38 seats, there are 16 seats, which have Malay composition of more than 70%, while the remaining 22 seats are mixed in nature with less than 70% Malay voters.
West Coast battles
If one looks at the states of which the marginal seats are from, apart from the 3 Parti KeADILan Rakyat seats in Kelantan, which were allegedly lost due to sabotage by local PAS branches, and the 7 seats from Kedah, there rest are essentially West Coast Peninsula, semi-urban, multiethnic seats, most of them with a small Malay majority in ethnic composition.
Perlis – 2 seats – P2 Kangar (PAS); P3 Arau (PAS)
Kedah – 7 seats – P5 Jerlun (PAS), P11 Pendang (PAS), P 12 Jerai (PAS), P13 Sik (PAS), P14 Merbok (PKR), P16 Baling (PAS), P18 Kulim Bandar Baru (PKR)
Kelantan – 3 seats – P26 Ketereh (PKR), P27 Tanah Merah (PKR), P29 Machang (PKR)
Penang – 3 seats – P41 Kepala Batas (PAS), P42 Tasik Gelugor (PAS), P53 Balik Pulau (PKR)
Perak – 6 seats – P58 Bagan Serai (PKR), P61 Padang Rengas (PKR), P67 Kuala Kangsar (PAS), P75 Bagan Datok (PKR), P76 Teluk Intan (DAP) P77 Tanjong Malim (PKR).
Pahang – 4 seats – P78 Cameron Highlands (DAP), P81 Jerantut (PAS), P89 Bentong (DAP), P90 Bera (PKR)
Selangor – 4 seats – P92 Sabak Bernam (PKR), P93 Sungai Besar (PAS), P94 Hulu Selangor (PKR), P96 Kuala Selangor (PAS)
KL FT – 2 seats – P118 Setiawangsa (PKR), P119 Titiwangsa (PAS)
Johor – 8 seats – P140 Segamat (PKR), P141 Sekijang (PKR), P142 Labis (DAP), P144 Ledang (PKR), P146 Muar (PKR), P158 Tebrau (PKR), P159 Pasir Gudang (PKR), P161 Pulai (PAS)
There needs to be a separate set of strategies to win the Kedah seats that were actually won by the Opposition in 2008 but lost in 2013 due to a swing against the Azizan Razak State Government.
Beyond that, the characteristics of most other seats are relatively uniform: mixed, mostly semi-urban, West Coast.
In short, for the Opposition, the Peninsula battle is crucial in winning the next government and the legitimacy to govern. And to win in the Peninsula is to first concede about 30 of those “tailored-made” small rural UMNO seats to UMNO but to focus on the 38 swing marginal seats.
In the Malay economic tsunami that is to come, UMNO will be buried in these mixed, semi-urban constituencies.