Lessons from Malacca state elections 2021

How can Malacca help us plan for GE 15 and beyond? There are some commentators who have theorized that the electoral reversal that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) suffered in the recently concluded Malacca State Elections is due to the decision to accept several political “frogs” as PH candidates. Others ascribe PH’s electoral debacle to the MOU signed with DS Ismail Sabri in September 2021. I beg to disagree with both these views. The Malacca state elections holds important lessons for us all. But we need to discern these through a rational evaluation of the facts and abstain from projecting our disagreements with the PH leadership over certain issues as the cause of PH’s dismal performance.

The undeniable fact is that Pakatan Harapan share of the popular vote in Malacca state dropped from 50.8% in May 2018 to 35% in the latest elections. About a third of the voters who voted for PH in 2018, withheld their support in 2021. A significant number! Interestingly, most of these “defecting” voters did not swing to the BN – BN’s share of the popular vote only went up marginally from 37.5% in 2018 to 38% in 2021. Most of the 16% who abandoned PH voted for Bersatu instead, and Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) share of the popular vote was 24%, up from the 11.6% that PAS obtained in 2018 (in 2018, Bersatu was part of PH).

The drop in electoral support for PH candidates comparing 2021 with 2018 was most pronounced in seats with a large percentage of Malay voters, indicating that the exodus from PH comprised mainly of Malay voters. The Table below gives a snap-shot of this phenomenon.

Table One: 2018 and 2021 Election Results in Selected Constituencies


% of Malay voters

Share received in 2018 (%) BN PH PAS

Share received in 2021 (%) BN PH PN

Change in PH votes

N2. Tanjung Bidara


58.2 23.9 17.9

49.1 6.75 44.111

– 17.15

N3. Ayer Limau


51.6 35.4 13.0

51.9 10.8 37.31

– 24.6

N11. Sungai Udang


56.2 43.8 –

40.2 13.1 43.71

– 30.7

N20. Kota Laksamana


16.2 81.7 –

12.12 80.8 7.13

– 0.9

N22. Bandar Hilir


16.1 83.1 –

11.72 81.2 5.73

– 1.9

1 = Bersatu candidate; 2 = MCA; 3 = Gerakan candidate

The results for N20 and N22, urban seats with huge non-Malay majorities, gives strong evidence that support for the PH among the Chinese and Indian voters remained at about the same level as it was in 2018 – at about 90%a. So arguments that PH did badly in Malacca because of disappointment in its non-Malay voter base is not borne out by the electoral statistics. This is not to say that the PH supporters in N20 and 22 were not disappointed with some of PH’s decisions, but even if they were, they still voted for the DAP.

The figures pertaining to N2, N3 and N11 in the table above throws up two important questions – First, what led to such a large exodus of Malay voters from the PH between 2018 and 2021? Second, why did they choose to vote for Bersatu instead of UMNO despite the fact that the latter has a much better grassroots machinery, and more money to throw around?

I have dealt with the first question at length in several analyses where I have argued that, in essence, it is because of their perception that Pakatan Harapan, being too influenced by the DAP, cannot be trusted to look after the economic well-being of the Malay community. Some of the measures taken in the 22 months that the PH was in power at the Federal level did seem to support such a perception.

The second question is even more interesting. In N2, the Bersatu candidate, a Federal deputy minister managed to reduce UMNO’s support (represented by the UMNO State Chairman in the 2021 elections) quite significantly – from 58% to 49%. And in N11, the Bersatu candidate defeated the UMNO incumbent – the only seat that BN lost in 2021 after winning it in 2018. This seems to indicate, that there are a significant number of Malay voters in Malacca who are concerned about the level of nepotism and corruption in UMNO and therefore are prepared to cast their vote for Bersatu. TS Muhiyiddin has, to his credit, taken a firm position with regards to the UMNO politicians facing corruption charges – and he has been more resolute in upholding this in comparison to some PH leaders.

Diehard PH supporters who have been portraying Bersatu as a collection of treacherous opportunists will not like me saying this, but it seems quite clear, that Bersatu’s voter base – Malays who are somewhat critical of the level of corruption, elitism and nepotism in UMNO – does not share a similarly negative perception of Bersatu. If they did, they would not have voted in such large numbers for Bersatu candidates.

The figures from Malacca reveal that at this point in time, Bersatu is a more dangerous electoral opponent to UMNO in Malay majority seatsb than either PKR or Amanah, pulling between 20% to 40% of the Malay voters. And this is in a state where Bersatu’s principal ally, PAS, is weak. Imagine how formidable a PAS-Bersatu alliance would be in the northern states where PAS has much stronger grassroot support. Just as MCA and MIC lost the support of the Chinese and Indian communities because of their close collaboration with UMNO, PKR and Amanah seem to have lost the support of the Malay electorate because of the perception that DAP is not sympathetic to the “Malay agenda” and is the dominant partner of the PH coalition. Table Two presents data that defines the extent of this problem.

Table 2: Malay support for UMNO, PH and Bersatu in Constituencies with more than 75% Malay voters


% of Malay voters

Share received in 2021 (%) BN PH Bersatu

% of Malay voters voting Bersatu (See assumptions4)

N2. Tanjung Bidara


49.1 6.75 (PKR)b 44.11


N3 Ayer Limau


51.9 10.8 (Amanah) 37.3


N26 Serkam


43.3 13.2 (Amanah) 42.6 (PAS)

N18 Ayer Molek


51.1 19.7(PKR) 28.5


N28. Sg Rambai


48.1 17.2 (PKR) 33.7


N12 Pantai Kundor


40.3 28.3 (Amanah) 31.7


N11. Sungai Udang


40.2 13.1 (PKR) 43.7


N5. Taboh Naning


57.2 18.5 (Amanah) 21.3 (PAS)

N4 Lendu


63.9 16.2 (PKR) 19.7


4). The estimates of Malay support for Bersatu as given in the column on the right are based on the assumptions that voter turn out was equal in all ethnic groups and that a third of the non Malay voters in that constituency voted Bersatu (an assumption that tends to under-estimate Malay support for Bersatu).

It appears that many of the Malay voters who voted PH in 2018 but withdrew support subsequently, are still concerned about proper governance of the country. But they are anxious that the efforts to address the economic backwardness of certain sections of the Malay community are not compromised. If this is true, it is certainly good news for those amongst us who wish to see better governance of the nation’s finances. But it also highlights the crucial importance of taking on their concerns about the economic issues affecting the Bumiputra communities and integrating these into a program that is fair to all Malaysians.

Do we have time to do this before PRU 15? Time is short, and the perception among the Malay electorate is that PH cannot be depended upon to look out for the interest of the Malay community. Given this perception, it would be suicidal for Bersatu to form any electoral coalition with the PH. PH too, would find it hard to convince its supporters that some form of electoral cooperation with Bersatu is necessary to strengthen anti-BN forces, after feeding them the line that the PN government was a hopelessly incompetent and illegitimate government.

If we had statesmen (and women) in the PH they might be able to meet the deadline of PRU 15. But it would not be easy, for it would entail three important steps. The first would be re-interpreting the Sheraton move so as to incorporate the viewpoint of the voters who moved out of the PH with Bersatu. Second would be the initiation of an honest discussion of how the under-performance of the Malay community in certain economic sectors can be addressed, and in ways that are just to all communities. And, finally it will require a massive publicity campaign on how this new deal for Malaysians will be rolled out by the PH and its allies if they re-take federal power. This would amount to a “re-set” of the political equation in the country.

Unfortunately, statesmen and stateswomen are in short supply, not only in Malaysia but all over the world. It is probable that this “re-set” cannot be brought about rapidly from the top, but will have to be built patiently from below through grass-root activism that reaches across ethnic divisions to build a more just and nuanced approach to the challenges that we face as a nation.

Jeyakumar Devaraj

24th November 2021

a) From the statistics in Table One, one can surmise that 87.2% of the voters in Bandar Hilir (BH) are non Malays. If we make the generous assumption that 1/3 of the Malay voters voted DAP, then 76.9 (81.2 – 4.3) out of every 87.2 non Malays in BH oted DAP. This works out to 88.2%

b) If we assume that worker turn out was equal for all ethnic groups and that 1/3 of the non Malays voted PH in Tanjung Bidara, it would mean that 4.75 out of every 93.9 Malays in TB voted PH. That works out to support for PH from 5.1% of the Malay electorate in TB. Calculation based on the same assumptions lead to an estimation that Malay support for PH is 8.5% in Ayer Limau.

Dr. Jeyakumar Devaraj
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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