Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Radio Australia Speaks To Merdeka Centre For Opinion Research On GE13

Malaysian voters' two 'real' options on May 5th

Updated 10 April 2013, 22:04 AEST
After over a year's wait, Malaysia's picked May 5th for a national election.
The Election Commission says the two-week official campaign will begin on April 20th, after the nomination of candidates.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's United Malays National Organisation UMNO has ruled Malaysia through different coalitions for fifty-six years.

The caretaker Barisan Nasional government held 135 of parliament's 222 seats and nine of Malaysia's 13 states, while the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition has 75 seats and controls of four states.
BN aims to do claw back the two-thirds majority of parliament that it lost five years ago - and by all accounts, it will be a tough fight.

And tough battles will also take place within the party coalitions as well.
Malaysian pollster Ibrahim Suffian says for the first time, voters have two 'real' options.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Ben Suffian, Program Director, Merdeka Center for Opinion Research in Kuala Lumpur
SUFFIAN: Where I live, where I work, people are discussing politics, even in casual conversations, everyone's looking at this election very seriously. What's really interesting and driving the enthusiasm is the fact that voters potentially have the chance to choose (from) two real options - whether they want to stay with the ruling National Front (Barisan Nasional) or to try their 'luck' with the People's Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat).

LAM: Nomination day has been set for 20th April, giving the parties about ten days to divide up the seats, nominate candidates .. given that there's been an unofficial campaign for months, might one assume that it's pretty straightforward? Or do you see intense competition (within the parties) still?

SUFFIAN: For the most part, statistically speaking, 95 percent of the seats are unchanged, in terms of the parties that are contesting, or the certainty of the particular candidates standing - some will be replaced, some incumbents will stay on. But there are a number of seats within highly-contested areas where we're potentially seeing a shift in the parties contesting there, within the ruling BN coalition particularly.

LAM: And do you think the race-based nature of the ruling BN coalition might prove challenging in terms of nomination? There's that some MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) - the Chinese party - that Chinese seats may now be contested by Malay UMNO candidates in Johor state, to stave off the opposition onslaught there?

SUFFIAN: Yes, that's true - there're at least three parliamentary and in other parts of the country where the Malaysian Chinese Association - coalition partner of the ruling National Front will have to give up to their senior partner, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). So Malay candidates will be contesting in seats traditionally that have been contested by Chinese candidates. And this in many ways, underpins the very racial nature of politics in the country and the continued dominance of race-based political parties. The trend is changing, but it is certainly a mark of how the forces at play still want to retain the status quo.

LAM: And might UMNO be taking a huge gamble here, by taking over the MCA seats, because that might backfire in driving the Chinese voters to the DAP (Democratic Action Party)?

SUFFIAN: Yes, certainly, it's a risk. Each party is making the calculation that they can draw the maximum number of support from their ethnic constituents. But I think here, in making this calculation, the assumptions need to be checked. The Malaysian electorate is changing, it is no longer the electorate of old, where people have set ways. Younger Malaysians are more open and despite all the issues we've seen, tend to be more receptive towards seeing candidates representing them from other ethnic groups. So yes, the ruling party is taking a risk. They're banking on ethnic Malays continuing to support them in a large way.

LAM: And you spoke of young voters, and of course the opposition Pakatan Rakyat has attracted a sizeable number of young voters - on the surface it seems that PR looks smooth, they have a common enemy in the ruling BN, but what about within Pakatan itself? Will there be a frantic jostling in the allocation of seats amongst the three parties in Pakatan Rakyat?

SUFFIAN: Yes, there's been some jostling for seats - not very many - but there're some seats where the Pakatan Rakyat parties, particularly within the DAP and Anwar Ibrahim's party, PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) and between PKR and the Islamic party PAS (Parti Islam SeMalaysia). There're several seats previously contested by PKR and now, some contestation from the DAP and PAS respectively, to contest in those seats. What's really driving this in part is the factor of winnability, each party feels that they can best maximise the support, as well not wanting to make mistakes, because in the previous term, we saw some MPs from PKR jumping across the aisle to become Barisan Nasional-friendly independents.

LAM: When we spoke to the Election Commission office this week, they assured us that everything is in place for a free and fair election, for 'GE13'. Do Malaysian voters share that confidence, or is there still doubt, for instance, over the voter lists or registry?

SUFFIAN: Based on the research among the public that we conducted last year, we noticed the trust in the electoral system is challenged. Only about one half of Malaysians expressed strong trust in the conduct of the Election Commission in ensuring free and fair election. A good part of the negative feeling coming out of the electorate stems from several things - first and foremost, the very obvious lack of balance in the way the (official) media treats the contesting parties. Also a preponderant dominance of the ruling parties, occasionally using government resources to conduct its campaign. And finally, concerns over the reliability and accuracy of the electoral roll. Of late, there've been allegations that there're foreign nationals being given Malaysian i-d cards (identity cards) so that they can vote in this coming election.

LAM: And what about overseas voters? Only about six-thousand have been registered as 'eligible' - surely there're far larger numbers of eligible Malaysian voters living overseas?

SUFFIAN: Yeah, certainly, by some estimates, there're over 750-thousand Malaysian citizens living and working abroad. However, the Elections Commission set a term or condition, whereby only Malaysians who've been back in the country and stayed continuously for longer than thirty days, would be eligible for the postal voting status and that excludes a large number of people. That, as well as perhaps, apathy and the lack of information, meant that only a tiny fraction of members of the electorate register themselves as postal voters.

LAM: It will be a 15-day campaigning period -that's the longest in 3 decades - May we read something into this?

SUFFIAN: Ya, in fact the campaign period is longer but then by just three days, compared to the previous 2008 polls. However, an unofficial campaign has been going for nearly two years now and has intensified over the past six months. But what it does show in this current election scenario is that there are some challenges, with respect to the ruling coalition in trying to formulate the candidates list. Many of us here in Malaysia were expecting that nomination day for the candidates of the political parties would be set early next week, but now it's been pushed back several days to the following weekend.

LAM: Everyone expects the coming national elections to be a very tight race, but what do your latest figures tell you?

SUFFIAN: Well, we're currently in the middle of running our survey, which will be completed by this weekend. But judging by previous data, the contestation between the opposition and the ruling coalition here in Malaysia is very close. It is likely that the ruling coalition will suffer the loss of several seats in East Malaysia, as well as in some parts of the southern part of the Malaysian peninsula. However, based on current data, the scenario looks still certain for the ruling coalition to achieve a narrow win.

However, three weeks are very long a time in politics and Malaysians have a tendency of making up their minds very late in the election cycle. And we think that because of the sheer thinness of the margin between the two contesting parties, there's still ample room for surprise to take place in this election.

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