Barisan National (BN), the ruling coalition in Malaysia, might have returned to power at the recent national elections, but the response from UMNO is far from celebratory. The Prime Minister, Najib Razak, led the outbursts of anger by blaming UMNO’s poor showing on a “Chinese tsunami”. Mohd. Noor Abdullah, former Appeals Court Judge, took it a step further by warning Chinese to prepare for a “Malay backlash” for their “betrayal” in voting for opposition parties. New Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, joined the attacks by saying that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition can “migrate elsewhere” if it is not satisfied with the country’s electoral system. The tone became even more jarring when UMNO information chief Ahmad Maslan, called on the opposition PR coalition to stop “sodomising” the people’s minds in questioning the legitimacy of BN election victory. At time of writing, news has emerged of arrests of senior opposition leaders as UMNO hardens its position.
There is no doubt that UMNO is trying to find a scapegoat for their poor showing and using race to create division is an old UMNO favourite. The upcoming party election is another reason for the shrill tones as UMNO leaders scramble for leadership positions. However, UMNO is also hurting and feeling the loss of majority support in the recent elections. Despite the vast sums of money expended during the lead up to the election, the majority voted for the Opposition. UMNO feels rejected and the strident tone of the post-election debate betrays their bitter realisation that their legitimacy has been seriously compromised.
There is no doubt that the ruling BN coalition took a hammering in the elections, despite a fraudulent electoral process. For example, the electoral roll had tens of thousands of phantom voters that could not be challenged in the courts. BN also benefitted from ballot boxes that appeared out of nowhere in the midst of synchronised blackouts in key seats. The Election Commission engaged in a deliberate deception in the washable indelible ink saga. Despite all this, BN lost 7 seats and saw their national vote drop to 47.4% of total votes cast. BN’s situation was worse on the Peninsula as its vote dropped to 45.7% against the opposition’s 53.3%. The only thing that kept them in power was a wicked gerrymander which enabled the BN coalition to take a parliamentary seat for an average of 39,400 votes while the opposition PR coalition had to win 63,200 votes for every seat. The underlying demographic analysis was telling a different story to the UMNO racial analysis. Large numbers of Malays had rejected UMNO. For example, in Kelantan and Terengganu where Malays make up 90% of the voter population, nearly half the votes went to the opposition. Further, the ruling BN coalition has lost the urban and youth vote, making their future prospects even bleaker. Holding uninterrupted power for nearly six decades had bred intolerance that cannot accept rejection.
UMNO leaders don’t seem to realise the absurdity of their position. Why have an election in the name of democracy and attack the voters for betrayal if they vote for the other side? Telling people to leave the country if they are unhappy about electoral fraud is not exactly the recommended way to win friends. After all, most of these people whom UMNO is savaging are likely to vote again in the next election. UMNO leaders are not thinking straight and are behaving like little school boys who lost a game of football and want to beat up their opponents after the game. The race rhetoric is not getting traction as it did in the old days as prominent Malays rise to the occasion to condemn UMNO’s crude attempts to stir racial animosity.
No doubt UMNO leaders will come to their senses once their anger subsides but then the grim outlook will be no cause for cheer. The loss of majority support for UMNO crystallised people’s understanding of how the electoral process is rigged. The constituency map is due to be redrawn, a task that needs PR backing to pass muster at parliament. The dubious voters on the electoral roll will face a political challenge that UMNO cannot resist. UMNO is also likely to face international diplomatic pressure and despite all the bluster, such blatant electoral fraud is indefensible. Some in UMNO may feel that democratic elections are unwinnable and are contemplating doing away with the charade of elections. The arrests of opposition leaders are probably a sign of UMNO’s hardline leaders pushing for a more extreme position.
If things are bad now, UMNO leaders will come to realise that things will only get worse. There is going to be no rest for the wicked.