Low voter turnout: A sign that democracy still needs work?

Mohd Nasaruddin Parzi

KUALA LUMPUR: With the twin by-elections of Balakong and Seri Setia drawing to a conclusion, the key takeaway appear to be that the opposition has yet to be able to offer a credible fight in the seats, previously held by DAP and PKR.

Although the voter turnout dropped drastically to 43 per cent in Balakong and 44 per cent in Seri Setia, it did not in any way provide an advantage to the opposition.

The opposition, it was believed, could have capitalised on the situation by making up ground on the number of votes, if the overwhelming majority gained by Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the two seats during the 14th general election is anything to go by. But this didn’t happen.

In GE14, PH, via its candidate, the late Prof Dr Shaharuddin Badaruddin, had won with a 19,372 vote-majority in Seri Setia while the late Eddie Ng Tien Chee captured a 35,538-vote majority in Balakong.

In Balakong, MCA employed a different strategy when for the first time ever, it used its own logo. The outcome yesterday, however, proved catastrophic for the party when compared to what Barisan Nasional obtained in GE14.


With the twin by-elections of Balakong and Seri Setia drawing to a conclusion, the key takeaway appear to be that the opposition has yet to be able to offer a credible fight in the seats, previously held by DAP and PKR. Pic by NSTP/MOHAMAD SHAHRIL BADRI SAALI

Pakatan Harapan candidate Wong Siew Ki won with a 18,533-vote majority. She obtained 22,508 votes while her opponent, MCA’s Tan Chee Teong, only managed to capture 3,975 votes.

This raises the question on whether MCA’s strategy of going it alone had inadvertently alienated the Malay community, which makes up 30 per cent of the Balakong voter base, and led to them boycotting the party.

The strategy clearly failed MCA, which was previously rumoured to be on its way to leave BN following its disastrous GE14 results.

MCA now has to reevaluate its own ability in facing the country’s political climate. If it wishes to remain relevant, it needs to strike a cooperation with Malay parties, be it Umno or others.

Meanwhile, in Seri Setia, Umno’s willingness to work with Pas was on display for all to see. Various Umno leaders including its president, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, had gone down to the ground to aid the Pas campaign.

At each Pas ceramah, Umno leaders, either from the division or state-level, would also be present. The warm ties between Umno and Pas was more evident compared to the previous by-elections.

However, Umno’s cooperation and commitment to working with Pas to drive the politics of Islam and Malays have yet to generate enough confidence to draw not just those on the fence, but also some Umno members themselves.

Pas candidate Dr Halimah Ali may have obtained 9,698 votes, an improvement from the 4,563 votes the Islamist party obtained in GE13, but it wasn’t enough to secure a victory.

In terms of effectiveness, Umno’s efforts to encourage its members to vote for Pas has had a bigger impact than Pas’ efforts to sway its members into voting for BN in the Sungai Kandis by-election.

Logically, Umno and Pas, as members of the opposition, should after this display a more prominent political cooperation to enable them to compete against PH, with an emphasis on drawing the younger voters and those on the fence.

Another opportunity which opened up an advantage to the opposition in the by-election this time was PH’s performance in meeting its 100-day election manifesto. The opposition had used the lengthy 21-day campaign period as a staging ground to question the government’s sincerity in fulfilling the pledges.

Although this appeared to be the crux of the campaigning, its impact remained unclear. Although social media is rife with comments from the public demanding that the government fulfil its GE14 manifesto, this displeasure did not translate into a lack of votes for PH in the two by-elections.

On the contrary, it would appear that the public paid no attention to the two by-elections and chose not to go out and vote. The absence of voters happened despite the fact that polling day was held on a Saturday, coupled with the additional public holiday.

As a whole, the results of Saturday night showed that PH, which used its official logo

for the first time in an election, still has a place in the hearts of voters.

It is also evident that the low voter turnout drama which first occurred in Sungai Kandis had snaked its way to the twin by-elections. This does not bode well for the state of democracy in the country, especially with regards to voters’ willingness to take the trouble to cast their votes for their elected representatives.

The Election Commission may have pulled out all the stops on informing the voters of polling day, but these initiatives need to be doubled in the event a by-election appears in the near future. The low voter turnout, unfortunately, shows that we have a long way to go before democracy is at a level we can all be proud of. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd