A humiliating and incredibly devastating defeat for Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the Rantau, Negeri Sembilan by-elections yesterday should be one that should cause a shake-up of the current government led by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad before it turns into a sinking vessel.
It should be noted that all this is happening when justice is almost certain to catch-up with a rejuvenated Najib Razak, the fallen prime minister who took the political coaliton Barisan Nasional (BN) down with him in last year’s shock election loss.
So, what really contributed to the massive defeat of PH in the Apr 13 by-election?
Mired with internal rift, the lack of coordination among component parties that seem more interested in their own agendas and attacked in the flanks by a revived BN allied to the Islamists Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), PH is facing a crucial voter swing.
The aftermath of the election in Rantau was an ugly fight between current government coalition component Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) members who turned against each other in a blame game.
In contrast, the strategy of the BN coalition component UMNO working with PAS gave the new opposition alliance an extra boost against the ailing PH. The opposition alliance won a crucial election in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, and defeated PH in Semenyih, Selangor.
This does not augur well for the ruling coalition that will celebrate its first year in power next month. Bleeding from the three defeats, the PH which was so close to the people prior to the May 2018 polls now looks weak and cut off from the population.
The Apr 13 by-election results show PH facing a deeper problem; there has been a massive shift in Malay voters from the ruling coalition and a dangerous shift in Indian and Chinese support.
With 79% voter turnout — a large number for a by-election — the opposition candidate won massively with 10,397 votes against PKR’s 5,887 votes.
PH threw every single piece of dirt they had on their opponents in the follow-up to the Rantau by-elections. It did not work. Najib’s losing streak at the courts also did not help the PH.
Anwar Ibrahim who is to be the next Malaysian prime minister has made the battleground. He has been present in all the major talks and rallies during the Rantau campaign but it was clear that the UMNO BN-PAS alliance drew the larger crowd.
And, in 2019, like in 2018, the party that draws more people to their rallies wins. This has not changed in Malaysia.
We can say the same of the influence of social media networks in Malaysia. Prior to the shock win in May last year, PH enjoyed huge popularity on Facebook in particular. The hue and cry of disapproval of netizens on Facebook was a sign of Najib’s downfall.
This time around, it is PH on the other end of the stick. The incidences of anti-PH rhetoric and criticism have risen a notch on social media. There was little Anwar could do to prevent the defeat, albeit securing the maximum vote for his choice of candidate.
It also appears that the revelation of the massive losses of the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) and the government’s intention to bail it out, plus the ongoing fight between Mahathir and the Johor crown prince did not weigh in favour of the PKR hence of the Pakatan.