MELAKA, Nov 21 — The Melaka state election concluded with a resounding victory for Barisan Nasional (BN), and puts to rest any doubts of political instability in the state.
With 21 seats, BN can comfortably form the state government without entering into negotiations or forming a pact with another coalition, especially estranged allies in Perikatan Nasional (PN).
Despite multi-cornered fights across all 28 state seats, BN managed to secure a huge mandate in many areas, especially rural Malay-majority ones, even trumping a former Umno chief minister-turned-political rival who was supposedly part of the group of lawmakers that triggered the state election in the first place.
The polls also saw a strong voter turnout of over 60 per cent, contrary to the far lower predictions of less than 50 per cent by political observers who cited concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic as well as other priorities.
So what happened? Malay Mail charts several reasons why the grand, old coalition not only survived, but also thrived in this election.
1. BN’s rallying call for stability resonates with voters
Despite the circumstances leading to the election supposedly triggered by warring factions within the Melaka chapter of Umno, voters appear to have largely ignored these allegations and instead given a huge mandate to the party in almost all seats contested.
This is most evident in BN’s choice for chief minister, Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali, where he garnered a 3,104-vote majority over Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) Major (Rtd) Abdullah Mahadi (1,382 votes) and PH’s Mohamad Asri Ibrahim (1,155 votes) in Lendu.
This is a far cry from Sulaiman’s performance in 2018 when he only managed a 627-vote majority.
Prior to the elections, allegations also arose of Sulaiman’s supposed weak position within the state compared to Melaka BN chairman Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusof.
While both have vehemently denied this, the dynamics have now flipped, as Ab Rauf only managed to scrape by in Tanjung Bidara with a win of only 364 more votes than closest rival, PN’s Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin.
For Sulaiman, clearly being the frontrunner for BN’s election motto of “Kestabilan demi kemakmuran” (Stability for prosperity) resonated with voters who preferred a level-headed chief administrator for the state.
While all major coalitions promised to ensure political stability in some shape or form — such as PH’s promise to uphold a clean and accountable administration and PN’s stance against corruption — BN conducted a far more effective campaign centred on the implementation of major structural changes within the state constitution as well as political structure.
BN overall’s reputation as a multicultural coalition also survived, as MCA and MIC, won two and one state seat respectively, thereby keeping the coalition’s promise to ensure appropriate representation in the state assembly.
2. PH’s gambit in Melaka failed miserably
PH’s representation in the state has been slashed to five seats, with DAP winning four and just one by Amanah, as held by Adly Zahari in Bukit Katil.
DAP maintained its position within urbanised Melaka city, winning the seats of Kesidang, Kota Laksamana and Bandar Hilir as well as Ayer Keroh.
Prior to the elections, coalition members and voters asked whether PH’s acceptance of former Umno lawmakers Datuk Seri Idris Haron and Datuk Nor Azman Hassan would spell dire consequences for the coalition as a whole, seeing that both men were thought to be partly responsible for the state election in the first place.
While DAP maintained its objection to supporting them, it too was not spared as it failed to defend four other seats: Bemban, Duyong, Pengkalan Batu and Gadek.
Umno even defeated DAP in Duyong and Pengkalan Batu albeit by a razor-thin margin.
All of PKR’s 11 seats were lost, including Asahan, where Idris, who is often touted as a local boy, was vanquished by BN’s Fairul Nizam with a 2,993-vote majority.
As for Nor Azman, he fared slightly better, garnering 2,799 votes compared to PN’s Mohamad Ridzwan Mustafa who received 3,133 votes. Both men were defeated by BN’s Tuminah Kadi who garnered 3,960 votes.
PH leaders have promised that they will conduct a full review of what led to the abysmal performance, including whether accepting Idris and Nor Azman had any impact at all.
3. Online campaigning ineffective in rural seats
BN’s win in Melaka is largely attributed to rural seats, such as Lendu, Tanjung Bidara, Rim and Asahan.
Engaging voters in these areas still requires a personal touch or face-to-face interactions, a process that Umno has perfected over the decades.
Although campaign norms, such as walkabouts, house-to-house visits and ceramah, were banned this time around, candidates, including those from Umno, adapted to the situation with small-scale meet-and-greets.
While all parties have migrated online, with daily talk shows, short text messages and social media posts, Umno and BN had the advantage because they tapped into their network of established community leaders to canvas votes.
While PN tried to do the same, observation on the ground showed that the coalition still lacks proper machinery even with the backing of PAS.
For PH, online campaigns in these seats barely made a dent as internet connectivity remains a huge issue.
4. PH’s votes largely split by PN’s presence
Multi-cornered contests in each seat drew intense fights, with political observers pinpointing Malay-majority seats as the main battlegrounds for all coalitions.
However, based on official results, PN’s presence in some seats, such as Telok Mas, seems to show that it wrestled support away from PH rather than BN.
In this seat, where over 74 per cent of voters are Malay, Melaka PN chief Datuk Rafiq Naizamohideen garnered 3,976 votes compared to PH’s Datuk Ashrah Mingat who obtained 3,891 votes. Both lost to BN’s Abdul Razak Rahman who had 6,052 votes.
The same could be said of a seat such as Rim, which Datuk Khaidirah AB Zahar won with a 1,327-vote majority.
In this seat, which comprises 66 per cent Malay voters, Khaidhirah garnered 4,037 votes compared to PH’s Prasanth Kumar Brakasam with 2,163 votes and PN’s Azalina Abdul Rahman with 2,710 votes.
In both seats, although Malay votes went to Umno, there was a clear split among other voter segments, including fence sitters who supported either PH or PN.
Looking ahead, this could be extrapolated as a possible voting pattern at the next general election.