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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 ― Cameron Highlands is the venue for Malaysia's first by-election this year, but what do we know about this Pahang constituency other than its fame as a tourist hotspot with vegetable farms and tea plantations?
One way to look at Cameron Highlands is its highly diverse ethnic composition of Malays (33.5 per cent), ethnic Chinese (29.48 per cent), mainly Orang Asli at 21.56 per cent with minute portions of Bumiputera from Sabah and Sarawak and others at 0.55 per cent (cumulatively 22.11 per cent), and ethnic Indians (14.91 per cent).
They made up the 32,048 registered voters in Cameron Highlands in the 14th general election (GE14), according to the Election Commission's (EC) figures.
Using the latest electoral roll which he obtained from the EC on January 8, DAP assistant national director for political education Ong Kian Ming had recently said the registered voters there are now slightly lower at 32,008 ― which is only about 40 voters fewer.
Look up the geography
The Cameron Highlands federal seat covers the two state seats of Pakatan Harapan-held Tanah Rata whose voter population is mainly Chinese (48.12 per cent) and Indian (23.69 per cent), and Barisan Nasional-held Jelai which is virtually just made up of Malays (64.14 per cent) and Orang Asli (33.82 per cent), based on EC's GE14 figures.
Zooming into the 29 polling districts in Cameron Highlands where the bulk of it is in Tanah Rata (17) and the rest in Jelai (12), each of these polling districts either have voters that predominantly come from one ethnic group or are considered “mixed” polling districts where none dominate.
Bear in mind that GE14 had a five-corner fight involving BN, its former-rival-now-ally PAS, PH, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), and PAS splinter Islamist party Berjasa, with BN continuing its unbroken three-win streak since the seat was created in 2003.
In GE14, BN narrowly won 41 per cent of the votes (10,307 votes) against PH's 38.6 per cent (9,710 votes), PAS 14.3 per cent (3,587 votes), PSM's 2.7 per cent (680 votes) and Berjasa's 0.3 per cent, according to Ong. These results were invalidated last year by the courts due to alleged vote-buying by BN in GE14.
And also note that the 2019 by-election today involves a four-corner fight involving BN, PH component party DAP, and two independent candidates.
Here's a quick look at how Cameron Highland voters cast their ballots in GE14 based on Ong's analysis on January 12, and also what independent research firm Ilham Centre predicted yesterday based on its survey this week of 402 Cameron Highlands voters:
1. Malay-majority polling districts (The biggest chunk)
An average of 93 per cent of Malay voters accounted for the 8,570 voters in the Malay-majority polling districts in GE14.
Out of the 6,892 who actually voted in these areas, 46.9 per cent and 41.9 per cent of them voted for BN and PAS respectively, leaving PH just a mere nine per cent then, Ong's analysis showed.
What Ong had said: “Given the close cooperation between PAS and the BN, it may not be so easy for PH to win over a significant proportion of these Malay voters”.
“The choice of a Muslim Orang Asli former high-ranking police officer as a candidate may put also a limit to how much support PH can increase among the Malay and Orang Asli voters.” (in reference to BN candidate)
What Ilham Centre said:
― Amid BN's manipulation of PH's perceived weakness in dealing with Malay-Muslim issues and Felda settlers' economic and housing concerns, Malay votes will split three ways: BN, the independent Malay candidate, or no-show.
― Ilham Centre said surprisingly most PAS voters it met will not hesitate to vote BN, with PAS machinery aggressively doing door-to-door visits to remind voters to vote BN.
2. Orang Asli-majority polling districts (Firm BN support?)
An average of 91 per cent of the 5,642 voters here are Orang Asli, according to Ong's analysis of GE14 figures.
Out of the 4,749 who actually voted in these Orang Asli-majority polling districts, an overwhelming 74 per cent voted BN, while only 10.1 per cent voted PH and 2.7 per cent voted PAS.
What Ong said on January 12: “Increasing support among the Orang Asli will be key in increasing the chances for PH to win this seat.”
What Ilham Centre said: Orang Asli votes are no longer “fixed deposits” for BN since it now has to go on level-playing field instead of offering promises, while PH has federal power. There may be some small-scale switch in support to PH, but still not enough for a win for PH who will need at least 30 per cent of Orang Asli votes.
3. Chinese-majority polling districts
An average of 79.9 per cent of the 8,295 voters here at Tanah Rata are ethnic Chinese, based on Ong's analysis of GE14 figures.
Out of the 6,670 who voted in these polling districts, PH won the bulk at 76.9 per cent compared to BN's mere 18.1 per cent and PAS's 1.5 per cent.
4. Indian-majority polling districts
An average of 59.9 per cent of the 2,613 voters here in Tanah Rata are Indians, according to GE14 statistics analysed by Ong.
Out of the 1,775 voters who turned up in these polling stations, they are mostly PH supporters at 61.4 per cent, compared to BN's 26.8 per cent and PAS's 2.1 per cent.
5. ‘Mixed’ polling districts
The ethnic breakdown in these polling stations in Tanah Rata are on average: Malays (30 per cent), Chinese (30 per cent), Indian (31 per cent), Orang Asli (10 per cent) for the 6,888 voters there.
Out of the 4,646 voters who showed up, PH won 50.9 per cent, while BN won 33.9 per cent and PAS 8.3 per cent.
The 'balik kampung' factor
Ok, so are the GE14 results a sufficient guide for how the by-election today will turn out?
Not so fast.
According to Ong's analysis of GE14, the voter turnout according to polling districts were Orang Asli-majority polling districts at 84.1 per cent, Chinese-majority (80.7 per cent), Malay-majority polling districts (79.9 per cent), Mixed (67.9 per cent) and Indian majority (66.6 per cent).
Ong predicted: Orang Asli's voter turnout to have lowest decrease since they make up highest percentage of those staying in Cameron Highlands, while Chinese voter turnout will have biggest fall since more of them are outstation and less likely to come back.
Others have speculated that the proximity of the January 26 by-election to the Chinese New Year celebrations which kick off just around a week away on either February 4 or February 5 (Chinese New Year eve and the actual Chinese New Year day) means that Chinese voters would be unlikely to return home twice in such a short period of time.
Why is this important to PH?
For PH to have a shot at winning Cameron Highlands today, Ong said the coalition needed to ensure voter turnout especially among its core supporters does not fall below 55 per cent.
This is on top of getting at least 70 per cent of Chinese and Indian votes, boosting support from Malay and Orang Asli voters to at least 30 per cent, as well as increasing early and postal voter support to 40 per cent.
Ilham Centre noted that non-Malays' voter turnout rates in the by-elections after GE14 have tended to be quite low, saying that PH's winning chances would be dim if this trend continues.
Today, Cameron Highlands' voters will choose between four candidates that coincidentally come from four different professions and different ethnic groups: BN's retired senior policeman Ramli Mohd Noor who is an Orang Asli; PH's lawyer-cum-politician M. Manogaran as an Indian who is an Indian; independents Institut Aminuddin Baki senior lecturer Sallehudin Ab Talib who is a local Malay resident and Cameron Highlands farmer Wong Seng Yee who is a Chinese.
But some Orang Asli and Malay residents in Cameron Highlands had recently told Malay Mail that ethnicity is not the primary consideration.
For now, there's only Ilham Centre's prediction yesterday that BN will retain its seat with majority support from the Malays and Orang Asli, as well as due to the expected lower turnout rates from Chinese and Indian voters.
And the hours-long wait for the decision tonight.