KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 — Cheah CY, a 62-year-old retiree, has been a staunch supporter of Opposition party DAP for the past four decades and has never hesitated to vote for the party in past elections.
Since the fall of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government two years ago though, things have changed.
“Why should I go out and vote? When it turns out those in power are not the ones I voted for?” he told Malay Mail recently.
“It’s also quite disappointing to see that after GE14, DAP and PKR aren’t much to shout about,” he added, referring to the 14th general election which took place in 2018.)
Cheah lamented that he no longer believed DAP has a clear direction, as it had shown its willingness to ally with parties that have traditionally been its enemies.
For example, in December 2020, Perak DAP chairman Nga Kor Ming said the party was willing to work with Umno to secure control of the state government after then mentri besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu lost power there.
“What are they trying to tell us as voters, knowing the very fact that we don’t like Umno because they aren’t fair when it comes to racial issues?
“This gives me the impression that PH doesn’t have many ideas on how to go forward,” said the Penangite.
Cheah added that he believed DAP had become arrogant after winning GE14, based on his interactions with local party members who serve his community in Tanjung Bungah.
Cheah was one of the Malaysians, aged 27 to 62, whom Malay Mail spoke to recently who showed a lack of interest in voting following the political turmoil that has plagued the nation since 2020.
They cited the ‘Sheraton Move’, as well as a general feeling of dissatisfaction with PH’s performance in terms of bringing about positive change to the country since GE14.
The ‘Sheraton Move’ refers to the ousting of the PH government in February 2020 following withdrawal of support by key MPs and the subsequent resignation of then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“There is no party worth voting for. PH ended up being full of traitors, frogs, and never kept to their word,” said B. Muniandy, a 27-year-old marketing executive from Subang Jaya.
In the Melaka state election last month, only 65.9 per cent of registered voters turned up. Comparatively, in 2018, GE14 saw all of Melaka’s constituencies featuring a turnout of higher than 80 per cent.
The latest polls in Sabah and Sarawak also saw low numbers — 66.6 per cent and 60.67 per cent respectively.
“My take is that most of those voters who have not turned up to vote at the latest state elections are disproportionately PH supporters,” said Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun.
“They’ve been disappointed with, for example, PH signing a MoU with the federal government, because they felt that then PH could not be an effective Opposition and PH would be in collusion with this government which they don't favour.
“If turnout is low, it will disproportionately benefit Umno and to a lesser extent PAS, as the two parties have tremendous mobilisation abilities.
“They can mobilise their diehard supporters to come out and vote, and then of course Umno and PAS voters will outnumber PH voters,” said Oh.
After the Melaka election, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng himself attributed PH’s loss to the low voter turnout, as well as weak election machinery.
Meanwhile, when asked if two recent policy changes — Undi18 that lowered the Malaysian voting age to 18, and the automatic voter registration (AVR) — would affect voter turnout in the coming polls, analysts said it was too early to say.
Penang Institute’s political researcher Wong Chin Huat observed that there was not enough information about the new voters as they had no voting history.
“It would be dangerous to assume that youths must necessarily be more liberal. Because youths are diverse and some Malays may be prone to support Umno, Bersatu or PAS.
“The AVR voters, however, are basically apolitical citizens who did not bother to register themselves to vote in the first place. For both their size and their nature, AVR voters would be the real wild card that can change the entire game,” he said.
In 2019, the Election Commission projected 7.8 million new voters by 2023, a 50 per cent increase from the then number of voters — with AVR alone possibly bringing in 4.5 million voters aged 21 and above who had not yet registered as voters.
“Collectively, as 40 to 50 per cent in many constituencies, Undi18 and AVR voters can turn around any election outcome by simply turning up to vote,” added Wong.
A quick poll of four young Malaysians aged 18 to 20 found that they were eager to vote.
The reasons given for their interest ranged from voting being a historic moment in their lives, to voting being their duty to their country.
However, only two were sure who they wanted to vote for.
“Yes, I would definitely vote. As I’m aware that even a single vote counts and makes a difference,” said Corrina Chong, 20, an accounting student from Subang Jaya.
Chong added she wanted to vote for an Opposition party, which she preferred not to name.
Meanwhile, L. Priyahdarhsini, 19, confidently said she’s supporting newly formed youth-focused party Muda, if they stand in her constituency at Wangsa Maju — as Muda seemed to champion the voices of the youth that are often ignored.
“All the politicians seem to have their own flaws... I want to see what they do first and will decide closer to the election,” said 20-year-old financial engineering student Siti Aishah Lalilah from Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan.
Speaking to Malay Mail, co-founder of the Undi18 movement Tharma Pillai said he does worry that some in the Undi18 age group may be becoming disillusioned with the political landscape, and choose not to come out to vote despite the struggle to empower them.
“On the issue of 18- to 20-year-olds and their feelings about the current political landscape, I do think that disillusionment [with politicians] is felt by some of them,” said the 29-year-old, who was 23 when he started with the movement.
“Main reason would be due to party-hopping. Politicians who are voted in today, can easily jump ship tomorrow should it be politically convenient. Voters have limited recourse for party hopping, aside from waiting for another round of elections.
“Which is why having laws such as the anti-hopping law and recall elections is so important in rebuilding faith in our democracy. And Undi18 is pushing for these reforms to happen,” he added.
Azmi Hassan, senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research said that he was sure that most voters, up to 80 per cent, would show up for GE15 if concerns about the pandemic are alleviated.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a large factor in why voters decided to not go out [and vote] in the previous state elections.
“Why I'm confident of a good voter turnout is because the election is the only chance voters can determine the direction of a nation's political scenario.
“The last three years of political turmoil is due to the antics of politicians, and I don’t think the citizens will miss the chance to determine their own destiny,” he said.
GE15 must be held on or before July 2023. Next week, voters in Johor will face the state election there slated for March 12.