Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Politics of Locality and Temporality in the 2004 Malaysian Parliamentary Elections

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Politics of Locality and Temporality in the 2004 Malaysian Parliamentary Elections

Article excerpt


Parliamentary elections in Malaysia are hotly contested affairs. The March 2004 11th General Elections were billed to be one of, if not, the most interesting yet. Abdullah Badawi, Mahathir Mohammad's hand-picked successor who had only in October 2003 been appointed as Prime Minister and leader of UMNO, led the Barisan Nasional (National Front, henceforth referred to as BN) (1) campaign. His popular image and credentials as "Mr Clean" and "Mr Religious" was deemed to augur well for BN, bleaching it of various allegations of mismanagement, cronyism, corruption and, more importantly, bridging the bitter factions in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the leading member of BN. There was also widespread belief that the country could witness a repeat of the oppositional coalition Barisan Alternatif's (Alternative Coalition, henceforth referred to as BA) strong performance in the 1999 general elections.

Defying speculation, BN emerged victorious to win a two-thirds parliamentary majority, capturing 64 per cent of the popular votes, a little short of the stunning 65 per cent it won in the 1985 elections. Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose resignation as Prime Minister came just a few months shy of the general elections, had enough magnanimity to suggest his departure from the political limelight after 22 years in office--a factor that may indeed have worked to the BN's advantage--allowed it to make a turnaround. (2)

Adopting an approach that divides the electorate into different bandwidths or frequencies based on ethnic composition of the constituencies, the article compares and juxtaposes the voting pattern and trends of the 1999 and 2004 parliamentary elections. It argues that temporality, i.e. the hiatus of nearly five years between elections, and locality in terms of ethnic composition of the constituency, were vital for BN securing two-thirds majority. The article begins with an overview of BN and non-BN (3) electoral performance in the 2004 parliamentary elections. The next section discusses temporality and locality on BN's performance by subjecting the election data to statistical analysis using the multinomial logits saturated model. The conclusion summarizes the main points.

The Elections in Malaysia

In the 2004 parliamentary elections the BN won 181 of the 202 seats that were contested and 17 uncontested seats, bringing its total to 198 seats. The remaining 21 seats were won by the non-BN comprising the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Keadilan Malaysia (National Justice Party, Keadilan) and Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) which together merged in a loose coalition called the Alternative Front (Barisan Alternatif, BA) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP). (4) Table I shows how the parties fared in the 14 States. Table 2 shows seats won by the respective political parties and their percentage share of popular votes.

The BN managed to retain the 3 seats in Perlis up for grabs, while increasing its share in Kedah from 7 to 14 of the 23 seats it contested. In Kelantan the BN increased its share of seats from one to 6 thereby reducing PAS' majority to 8 seats from the 13 it held before parliament was dissolved. In Terengganu, BN won all 8 seats which were held by PAS previously. In Penang, BN won 8 of the 13 seats (2 of which were new) up for grabs, while DAP won 4 and BA represented by Keadilan, one seat. In Perak, of the 24 seats (one new seat) BN captured 21 and DAP retained its previous total of 3 seats. Pahang, which had 3 new seats to bring a total of 14 seats, was firmly in the hands of BN. The BN also won all 22 seats in Selangor, ditto in Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor (which remains a strong BN state). In Sarawak, it managed to win 21 of 22 seats that were contested with DAP winning one seat and in Sabah BN captured all 15 of the 16 seats contested; the Sandakan seat (P186) was won by an independent candidate. In the Federal Territory, BN captured 9 of the 13 seats, while DAP managed to retain the 4 seats it won in 1999. …

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