I ran for the recent Selangor state elections as the Parti Sosialis Malaysia candidate for Dengkil. We received 1782 votes, while the PN-Bersatu candidate received 33587 votes and the BN-UMNO candidate received 33154 votes, for a majority of 407. It is thus likely that I was a “spoiler candidate” – my candidacy resulted in PN winning the Dengkil state seat.
I am proud of the efforts of our campaign team, they worked hard and were very dedicated. Some of our volunteers traveled from as far as Perak and Johor! Given that this was the first time PSM stood in Dengkil, I think this was a solid performance on our part. I am really happy that the people of Dengkil had the opportunity to voice out their desire for a new kind politics that PSM espouses, a politics that favours the poor and working-class people over the rich and well-connected.
But understandably many others a skeptical. We were nowhere close to winning, we lost our deposit, and Bersatu ended up gaining our seat. So what exactly did our efforts accomplish? What exactly did the support of our 1782 voters accomplish?
In my opinion, we accomplished a great deal. I am not perturbed that we were possibly a spoiler. If BN had won the Dengkil seat the composition of the Selangor assemby would be 35-21. There is no practical difference between PH/BN winning the Selangor state assembly 34-22 or 35-21. However PSM and our friends in MUDA have shown that while we do not have enough support to win seats on our own, we do have enough support that PH/BN will lose seats if they ignore the concerns of reform-minded voters.
This is significant, because PH/BN have thus far been taking for granted the concerns of Malaysians who desire reform. Key promised reforms that PH/BN have ignored include the return of local government elections, the abolishment of oppressive laws like Sosma, and applying needs-based rather than raced-based policies in government assistance. Consider the arrogance that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim showed to the student in Kolej Matrikulasi Pulau Pinang who questioned the race-based quota system! This event reveals the Madani government’s expectation that their core constituencies will be forced to vote for PH and BN out of fear of PN, even if none of the promised reforms have been delivered.
The PH/BN government has also been pandering to conservatives by ludicrous and damaging measures like banning rainbow-coloured Swatch watches. The reason they do this is that they calculate that they may gain some votes from PN’s base, while upsetting progressive voters will make no difference because fear of PN will force them to vote for PH/BN anyway.
The third-party vote in the recent elections proved that their calculation is wrong. There is a significant segment of the Malaysian electorate whose desire for reform is strong enough that they are willing to vote third-party and risk PH/BN losing seats. These voters have sent a clear message, that if PH/BN wants to gain back those seats, they have to implement the policies that PSM and MUDA have championed. These are policies that PH themselves have promised in the past but have now ignored. The performance of PSM and MUDA also shows that there is danger if PH/BN goes overboard in pandering to the conservative electorate. Pander to them too much, and you will lose more votes to third parties!
In the United Kingdom there was a small party known as the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a right-wing party who wanted the UK to leave the European Union. They were a small mosquito party, never having more than one or two seats in parliament and frequently losing deposits in elections. However UKIP won enough votes that the ruling Conservative Party was forced to adopt their platform, because they feared the spoiler effect – enough Conservative voters were voting UKIP that the opposition Labour party might win in some seats. This resulted in Conservative Party Prime Minster David Cameron approving a referendum to leave the EU, which was successful. In this way UKIP, a small third-party was able to implement its policies for Britain.
UKIP’s example gives us a roadmap to fight for reforms in Malaysia. The lesson for supporters of PSM and MUDA is to keep fighting. Our performance in the state elections has served as a wake-up call to the PH/BN government. Hopefully they will take heed and implement the reforms that Malaysia so badly needs. If they do not, this will only ensure that the third-party vote will be larger next time, when we run again in the next elections.
Darren Ong Chung Lee
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (Dengkil Branch)
Prof. Darren Ong was PSM’s candidate for Dengkil in the recent Selangor state election