Three things we learnt about: The Tanjung Piai by-election

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Barisan Nasional hopeful Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng is all smiles after casting his ballot during the Tanjung Piai by-election at SJK(C) Yu Ming in Pontian November 16, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — There have been nine by-elections since GE14 in May 2018 and never has a Pakatan Harapan (PH) loss been predicted as early as the Tanjung Piai poll held yesterday.

The parliamentary by-election, triggered by the death of its popular MP Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, was predicted by some to be a referendum on not only the PH federal government, but also Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The loss by over 15,000 votes yesterday should serve not so much as a wake-up call, but a trumpet for a ruling coalition that many felt has pushed the snooze button too frequently.

Voters queue to cast their ballots during the Tanjung Piai by-election at SJK(C) Yu Ming in Pontian November 16, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Here are three things Malay Mail observed in the latest by-election:

1. The protest vote is real

For a party that many wrote off for only retaining one parliamentary seat in the 14th general election, MCA has delivered a massive shock with a whopping majority of 15,086 votes.

Winner Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng has never received that many votes ever since taking over the federal seat from MCA’s Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting in 2008. The fact that he has managed it this time is astounding, and a clear reminder that the late Dr Md Farid won by a very slim margin of just over 500 votes as a protest against the then ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

This time around, the voters seemed to be protesting yet again, but against PH. And so BN got its fourth by-election victory out of nine since the GE14.

Although over 6,000 voters did not bother to vote compared to GE14, indicating possible voter fatigue, the votes for PH runner this race Karmaine Sardini were less than half what Dr Md Farid got.

So what are voters protesting about? Take your pick from the laundry list, but considering that yesterday’s impressive majority is BN’s biggest ever in all of its by-elections, this perhaps indicates a rising momentum towards the colour blue.


2. Bersatu’s sway to the right is alienating Malaysians

After the Semenyih state by-election, this was Bersatu’s second time unlucky — which means the last time its candidate had won an election was back in GE14.

The fact that Johor DAP chairman Liew Chin Tong had to double up as Karmaine’s liaison with the Chinese community not only showed the candidate’s disconnect, but perhaps a sign that Bersatu has lost its influence with the demography.

In its goal to ultimately replace ethno-nationalists Umno, from which it broke away, Bersatu leaders have committed many missteps in trying to pander to the Malay community — chief among them chairman Dr Mahathir’s attendance in, and apparent endorsement of, the controversial Malay Dignity Congress.

There was also the khat and jawi kerfuffle that was handled badly by Education Minister Maszlee Malik, the Bersatu Youth wing’s call to ban Chinese educationist group Dong Zong, and Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu’s remark of “waging a solo battle” against DAP, among others.

3. Pluralism loses but also wins?

BN has been touting its candidate choice from the Chinese-based MCA rather than a Malay-Muslim — as lobbied by the Umno grassroots — as proof of its respect for pluralism. And sure enough, having another ethnic Chinese MP is one more step towards a more inclusive Opposition.


However, the notion rings less true when some Umno leaders continued to peddle racial remarks, such as president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s suggestion that a woman who was acquitted of a reckless driving charge due to her Chinese ethnicity, and former president Datuk Seri Najib Razak questioning Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s commitment towards the “Malay agenda”.

If anything, MCA’s candidacy had somehow shown Islamist party PAS that a shot at political power is impossible without a multi-ethnic give-and-take, to the point that it has conveniently ignored the MCA’s rejection of hudud.

Nothing illustrates this point better than fellow Islamist party Berjasa, who nominated its own president Datuk Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz, in defiance of Gagasan Sejahtera ally PAS which backed the BN’s non-Muslim candidate.

All the endorsement of Islamist hardliners Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, better known as Isma, and the Ummah coalition failed to do Berjasa any good, after it was publicly snubbed by PAS. Badhrulhisham only got 850 votes, and lost his deposit.

Dr Md Farid’s death was a loss for pluralism, being the deputy minister for unity and national integration. Having the Tanjung Piai by-election as a tipping point away from racial politics would be a great way to honour him.

Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng together with BN leaders are pictured after he was announced as winner of the Tanjung Piai parliamentary by-election, at Dewan Jubli Intan Pontian, November 16, 2019 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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