Does the Chinese vote really matter?

With there being only 30 Chinese-majority seats in the 13th general elections, how important are the votes of the ethnic Chinese community? — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
With there being only 30 Chinese-majority seats in the 13th general elections, how important are the votes of the ethnic Chinese community? — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — Barisan Nasional (BN) blamed a “Chinese tsunami” during Election 2013 for its poorest showing ever, but how much do Chinese seats really matter in the quest to win federal government?

Here's a quick look at all the facts and figures based on the 13th general election (GE13) and an analysis of the value of the Chinese vote for the 14th general election and future polls.

With 222 federal seats in Malaysia, all that is needed to form the government is a simple majority of 112 seats.

According to GE13 figures compiled by social media analytics firm Politweet:

Chinese-majority seats (seats where Chinese make up more than half of the electorate) accounted for 30 out of the 222 seats, or just 13.5 per cent of the parliamentary seats that were up for grabs during GE13.

The proportion of ethnic Chinese voters in these seats ranged from 52.27 per cent (Beruas) to as high as 90.94 per cent (Bandar Kuching).

These seats can be found in Penang (7 seats), Perak (5), Kuala Lumpur (5), Selangor (1), Melaka (1), Johor (3), Sarawak (6) and Sabah (2).

These Chinese-majority seats are mostly urban (16), while 12 seats are semi-urban and the remaining two are rural seats, according to Politweet's definition.

So what was the record like in GE13?

The federal Opposition won all 30 Chinese-majority seats nationwide in GE13, scoring a huge vote-majority even in multi-corner fights. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
The federal Opposition won all 30 Chinese-majority seats nationwide in GE13, scoring a huge vote-majority even in multi-corner fights. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

From the 30 Chinese-majority seats, 29 were won by DAP and one by ally PKR, data from the website undi.info showed.

A total of 22 seats were won with a whopping majority of votes in five figures — ranging from 14,762 in Gelang Patah to 51,552 in Seputeh — even when DAP was sometimes pitted against two or three candidates in multi-corner fights.

In the eight other seats that were all either rural or semi-urban, the then-Pakatan Rakyat mostly won with four-figure vote majority ranging from 1,088 votes (Sandakan) to 5,400 votes (Kampar), and with the lowest in Sarikei at 505, undi.info's data showed.

But at the end of the day, winning Putrajaya is all about making up the 112 seats.

So in GE13, BN lost in all Chinese-majority seats but retained power with its haul of 133 seats, while then-Pakatan Rakyat won 89 seats (of which one-third was Chinese seats).

Out of the 222 seats nationwide in GE13, 119 are Malay-majority seats, 35 are mixed seats, while there are 19 seats each in Sabah and Sarawak where the Bumiputera community is dominant.

Does the redelination change anything?

The Election Commission’s (EC) redelineation of electoral boundaries that came into force on March 29 is not expected to change the number of Chinese-majority seats significantly.

Election watchdog Tindak Malaysia told Malay Mail that its tally of pre-redelineation federal seats in Peninsular Malaysia showed that there were 115 Malay-majority seats, 21 Chinese-majority seats and 29 mixed seats in 2017 prior to the redelineation, noting that redelineation would reduce the number of mixed seats and boost the numbers of Malay-majority seats to 117 and Chinese-majority seats to 24.

“Only Selangor experienced dramatic change/ switchover of ethnicity. Puchong (newly reconstituted), Kelana Jaya (renamed Subang) and Klang were the ones that got switched from mixed to Chinese majority,” Tindak Malaysia said when describing the post-redelineation reduction of mixed seats.

Two of the mixed seats in Peninsular Malaysia which became new Malay-majority seats after the redelineation are Selayang and Subang, which is now renamed as Sungai Buloh.

The seat of Gelang Patah (now renamed as Iskandar Puteri) was not included in Tindak Malaysia's tally of 21 seats as it had gradually changed from being a Chinese-majority seat in 2013 to a mixed seat by the third quarter of 2015.

Out of the initial 21 Chinese-majority seats, the seven seats in Penang were not affected by the redelineation.

Four of the 21 seats, including Ipoh Timor, Kampar and Seputeh, experienced a decline in Chinese voter population of between two and eight per cent owing to the redelineation, while Bakri had less than one per cent of such decline, Tindak Malaysia said.

Nine Chinese-majority seats that are also safe DAP seats — Ipoh Barat, Batu Gajah, Beruas, the newly reconstituted Puchong, Kelana Jaya (now Subang), Klang, Segambut, Cheras and Kota Melaka — experienced the "biggest boom" in Chinese voters, Tindak Malaysia said.

Tindak Malaysia had based its analysis on the electoral roll as of the fourth quarter of 2017.

Does the Chinese vote still matter?

The size of the ethnic minority Chinese community in Malaysia grows at a slower rate  compared to the Bumiputera community which has a higher crude birth rate. — Foto Bernama
The size of the ethnic minority Chinese community in Malaysia grows at a slower rate compared to the Bumiputera community which has a higher crude birth rate. — Foto Bernama

In GE13, there were 3,937,664 or close to four million Chinese voters out of the total 13,268,002 or close to 13.3 million registered voters in Malaysia, Politweet’s data showed.

This translates to almost 30 per cent of total voters, but the actual value of the ethnic Chinese vote that is seen as pro-Opposition may be diluted when there is malapportionment. For example, a seat with a high number of voters who are also predominantly Chinese vote in only one candidate, while a high number of voters that are placed in multiple smaller seats will have higher vote value as their votes would see more than one candidate elected.

In GE13, Malaysia had its highest voter turnout rate at 84.84 per cent, with 11,257,147 of the almost 13.3 million voters coming out to vote. It is unclear how many of those who cast their votes were Chinese voters.

According to the supplementary electoral roll for the fourth quarter of 2017, the total number of registered voters nationwide is 14,968,229, which is close to 15 million.

It is uncertain how many of those registered to vote for GE14 are from the ethnic Chinese community, as the latest electoral roll has yet to be released.

Politweet founder Ahmed Kamal Nava told Malay Mail that the Chinese vote "is going to become less relevant" over time, perhaps even by the 15th general election.

"Population growth rate is the reason that the Chinese vote will become less relevant (to both BN/ Pakatan Harapan (PH) over time because Chinese-majority seats are going to become mixed seats, and eventually become Malay-majority seats," he said.

Although the ethnic Chinese community is the largest minority in Malaysia, it only accounted for an estimated 23.2 per cent of the 28.7 million Malaysian citizens in 2017, against an estimated 68.8 per cent of Bumiputera, seven per cent of Indians and one per cent of those in other ethnic groups, official statistics show.

The Department of Statistics Malaysia's (DOSM) statistics also showed Malaysia's crude birth rate (or the number of live births during a year to the mid-year population in a year per 1,000 population) dropping from 18.5 in 2009 to 16.1 in 2016, which meant the country’s population growth rate has slowed.

Although there was a general decline over the past few years in crude birth rate across the board for all ethnic groups, the Bumiputera community's crude birth rate of around 20 to 21 per cent remained double that of the ethnic Chinese community, which fell to 9.9 as of 2016.

This means that the Bumiputera community gives birth to more babies annually and grows at a faster annual rate.

What lies ahead?

Politweet's prediction of Chinese voters' dwindling significance in future elections would match with the DOSM's November 2016 projections of Malaysia's population size for the years 2010-2040.

In DOSM's projections, Malaysia's annual population growth rate is expected to slow from 1.8 per cent in 2010 to 0.8 per cent by 2040. But the proportion of the Bumiputera community is expected to continue to grow as the proportion of the Chinese and Indian community shrinks, while the other ethnic groups' proportion is expected to grow marginally.

In the projected data, the Bumiputera community is expected to account for 68.8 per cent of the Malaysian population numbering almost 29.66 million in 2018 and 72.1 per cent of the projected 37.35 million by 2040, while the ethnic Chinese community will fall from an estimated 23.1 per cent in 2018 to 20 per cent in 2040.

In numbers, Malaysia would see its Bumiputera population add on a projected six million over the course of 22 years, with 20.4 million in 2018 to over 26.9 million in 2040; while the Chinese population is only predicted to add just around 619,600 over the same period, with 6.85 million in 2018 expected to grow to 7.47 million in 2040, DOSM's projection showed.

In data provided by Politweet, a comparison between the GE13 electoral roll and the electoral roll for 2017's first quarter showed that the Chinese voters' proportion has already fallen by over one percentage point in seven states and in 79 out of 165 seats in Peninsular Malaysia.

Part II of the story deals with where the true value of the Chinese vote lies.

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