In Tanjung Piai, analysts see voters punishing Pakatan for incompetence

BN’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng celebrate after winning the Tanjung Piai by-election, November 16, 2016. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
BN’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng celebrate after winning the Tanjung Piai by-election, November 16, 2016. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — Voters in Tanjung Piai vented against what is likely seen as a dysfunctional government dogged by contradictions and tiresome infighting when they voted out incumbent Pakatan Harapan (PH) in yesterday’s by-election, political analysts said.

The ruling coalition’s crushing defeat underscored the boiling frustration felt by voters angered by the new government’s failure to fulfil many of its key election pledges, they said, adding that PH’s penchant for political squabbling may have also alienated its own supporters.

“People are rejecting the PH government that is seen as dysfunctional in so many ways,” said Arnold Puyok, a political analyst with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

“From the lethargic governing system to handicap in delivering the promises.”

The Tanjung Piai parliamentary seat was returned to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) fold in yesterday’s by-election in a result most political pundits saw coming, with the former ruling coalition securing up to 75 per cent of votes, including from several Chinese-majority voting streams.

In the final tally, BN’s candidate Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng from MCA received 25,466 votes to bag a majority of 15,086 over PH’s Karmaine Sardini from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, who received 10,380 votes, confirming pundits’ forecast.


The receding Chinese votes provided an early warning to the ruling coalition that its minority power base is not as secure as it would like to believe, Puyok said.

This point was made clear by the fact that many Chinese voters still rooted for Wee even as efforts were taken to paint Muafakat Nasional — the Umno-PAS alliance — as a grave threat to minority rights.

According to Puyok, it would seem that frustration over PH’s perceived incompetence had trumped Chinese fear of the Umno-PAS union, which underlined the community’s scepticism of the frail power-sharing formula that holds the ideologically opposing ruling parties.

“Power-sharing is very important in maintaining order and influence, but PH is unable to convince the people of such power-sharing when sloppy leaders of DAP members keep provoking the political stability,” he said.

But from the get-go, PH leaders were already doubtful about retaining Tanjung Piai, a constituency where the Malay and Chinese electorates are almost equally split. 

In the 14th general election, the late Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik of Bersatu had won with a slim majority of 524 votes only because PAS had split BN’s Malay votes.


The candidate factor was also pivotal in BN’s victory. MCA’s Wee was already a popular candidate having served the seat as its MP since the 90s, giving him the upper hand against the low-key Karmaine.

“The BN candidate is more credible,” said Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Sivamurugan Pandian.

“The PH internal factor may also have become the push factor including the choice of candidate, machinery and failure to attract crowds during the campaign.”

Ibrahim Suffian, director of pollster Merdeka Center, concurred but said Chinese voters were also likely to have been angered by the many bizarre policies of the ruling coalition, like the khat controversy.

“I think open political bickering within the PH coalition, instituting policies that voters didn’t ask for (for example, Jawi lessons in vernacular schools) and increased ethnic posturing have contributed to a swing among Chinese voters,” he said.

As for Malay votes, BN won them overwhelmingly. Analysts said this underpinned the success of Muafakat Nasional in galvanising conservative Malay support.

“The Umno-PAS alliance is clearly working,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

“It brought out their combined Malay votes.”

*A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Oh Ei Sun as part of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, when he is a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. The error has since been amended.

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