Malaysia opposition counting on strong turnout for victory, DAP chief says

Malaysia opposition counting on strong turnout for victory, DAP chief says

The Democratic Action Party (DAP), a key member of Malaysia ’s Pakatan Harapan coalition, said the bloc’s hope of winning next week’s polls hinges on whether it can secure strong voter turnout amid disillusionment over an internal coup that saw it ousted from power in 2020.

Malaysians made history in the last national polls in 2018, when they booted out the undefeated Barisan Nasional alliance triggering the nation’s first-ever change of government since achieving independence from the British in 1957.

But the euphoria was short-lived, as a clutch of Pakatan Harapan leaders in 2020 orchestrated a coup, in concert with those from Barisan Nasional linchpin party Umno and Islamist party PAS. The Pakatan Harapan government collapsed, and Umno found its way back in power as part of a new Malay nationalist administration.

“We are seeing some momentum coming back. It looks like we are on the right track, but we are fighting for every single vote,” said Anthony Loke, secretary general of DAP, a constituent of the Pakatan Harapan alliance.

Central to Pakatan Harapan’s campaign would be how well they can convince ethnic Chinese voters to make the effort to come out on November 19 and cast their ballots.

Malaysia’s Chinese community accounts for a little over a fifth of the country’s 32 million population, but has been pivotal in helping the opposition increase its share of the 222-seat parliament since 2008, when then-ruling Barisan Nasional was denied a two-thirds majority for the first time in decades.

Chinese voter turnout exceeded 90 per cent in the watershed 2018 polls and mostly went to Pakatan Harapan, according to internal estimates by several political parties, which led to the country’s first-ever change of government.

But the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed just 22 months into its term following a political coup, and the ensuing turmoil that saw two changes in prime minister in as many years have taken a toll on Pakatan Harapan supporters.

The lack of interest was clear during the Johor state elections in March, where under 55 per cent of voters came out to cast their ballots in the contest that saw Umno securing a two-thirds majority of the state assembly.

“A general election is different from a state election as the stakes are much higher … it’s about how to steer the country over the next five years and deals with the issue of national leadership,” Loke said.

“Our worry is whether [Chinese voters and Pakatan Harapan supporters] will turn out in full force to vote. Our main task is to inspire them to come out.”

Loke acknowledged that the 2020 coup dealt a heavy blow to voter confidence, especially among Pakatan Harapan supporters, as it stemmed from leaders in then-coalition partners Bersatu – which has since formed an alliance of its own with PAS called Perikatan Nasional.

But he stressed that it did not diminish the importance of the 2018 vote, which was driven by popular anger over rising living costs and allegations of rampant corruption, particularly over the multibillion-dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal linked to then-premier Najib Razak.


“If not because of 2018, Najib would still be prime minister. But now he is in prison. That sends a strong message to the world that we do not tolerate corruption,” Loke said.

“The meaning of the 2018 vote was also to break the hegemony of Barisan Nasional, and moving forward, what we have seen over the past few years is part and parcel of the democratisation of Malaysia.

“This is part of the path we have to take to achieve true democracy,” he said.

The presence of three distinct political coalitions, however, also means a deeply split polity.

A survey by independent pollster Merdeka Centre found that 26 per cent of respondents backed Pakatan Harapan followed by 24 per cent for Barisan Nasional. About 13 per cent of the 1,209 people surveyed said they would choose upstart Perikatan Nasional.

None of the parties or coalitions contesting the national polls are expected to secure enough seats to be able to form government on their own , indicating that at least three or more parties or coalitions will need to cooperate to establish a new administration on a simple parliamentary majority, Merdeka Centre said.

But Loke said Pakatan Harapan remains optimistic over securing just enough seats to earn the mandate to rule a second time.

He dismissed rumours of an alleged pact between Pakatan Harapan chairman Anwar Ibrahim and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – that would purportedly see Anwar handed the country’s top job in exchange for helping extricate Zahid from an ongoing corruption trial.

“That is completely untrue. We want to defeat both Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional. We are very clear about this,” Loke said.

“As far as Pakatan Harapan is concerned, our focus is to reach the finish line. Our target is to reach 112 [seats]. If the outcome is different, then that is something that we will have to discuss at that point of time.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.