Saturday, May 15, 2010

PRK Sibu : DAP to win Sibu by 500 votes?

By ONG KIAN MING

PREDICTION Having not been in Malaysia for the past three years, I was surprised by some of the physical changes back home, including the rise of new commercial and residential developments in my home town, or should I say, home city, of Petaling Jaya.

Even the DAP headquarters in Section 20 in Paramount Gardens has gone though a significant face-lift. The few times I drove past this building this week, however, revealed a surprising lack of activity in the HQ of what is now the largest opposition party in the country and a party which holds more parliamentary and state seats than MCA, MIC and Gerakan combined.

It suddenly dawned on me that the whole administrative and leadership structure of DAP in Peninsular Malaysia had temporarily relocated to Sibu.

The DAP has been itching for an electoral fight since March 2008. Both PAS and PKR have had numerous opportunities to mobilise their electoral machinery for their respective candidates in the previous 10 post-March 2008 by-elections. Sibu finally presents an opportunity for DAP to do the same for its own candidate.

That this contest would be a close one was never in doubt. The BN won this seat in 2008 with only 53% of the popular vote and against a divided opposition. Even in the midst of the Pak Lah ‘tsunami’ in 2004, the SUPP won this seat with only 54% of the popular vote.

azlanMost of the analysis, reports and betting odds are in favour of the BN at the time of writing. However, the betting odds seemed to have narrowed significantly over the past week, down to approximately 1,000 votes in BN’s favour. The odds will probably narrow further come polling day tomorrow.

I have been wrong in my analysis in predicting the eventual winner (Hulu Selangor) and the margin of victory (Kuala Terengganu) in previous by-elections.

A good friend of mine observed that my predictions tend to be a little over-exuberant, shall we say, usually in favour of the Pakatan Rakyat candidate. This is not based on any inherent bias (though I have my own personal political preferences) but rather on the methodological framework and analytical assumptions I use in predicting by-election outcomes.

With this in mind, I will once again stick my neck out and predict a narrow DAP victory by less than 500 votes.

What is my prediction based on?

Decline in Chinese support

Firstly, I expect a decline in the Chinese support for SUPP. This should not be a surprise to anyone. Without an expected decline in the Chinese support, there is no possibility of a DAP victory in this 67% Chinese-majority seat.

azlanThe crucial question here is the extent of the decline in Chinese support. In the 2008 general election, the estimated level of Chinese support for SUPP was 37%. A conservative estimate would put the decline at less than 5%. A more aggressive estimate would give the DAP as much as 70% of the Chinese vote.

My prediction is based on the assumption that DAP would get somewhere between 68% to 69% of the Chinese vote. In a close race such as this, where every vote counts, a 1% swing in the Chinese vote translates roughly into a difference of 500 votes in the overall majority.

There are a number of factors which can account for the expected fall in the Chinese support for BN. Unhappiness with the incumbent chief minister and the uncertainty of the impending leadership transition, infighting within SUPP, a number of campaign issues which can have local salience, such as the ‘Allah’ issue, are some of the more prominent factors.

The crucial point here is that there are a number of factors which can, and probably will, decrease the level of Chinese support for SUPP, and there are few campaign issues which can be used by the Sarawak-based party to counter attack DAP. Hence, the only direction the Chinese support for SUPP can take is down.

NONEBut unless the swing in the Chinese vote is significant – by 7% or more – DAP still needs to swing some of the Iban vote in its favour.

The level of Iban support for SUPP was approximately 80% in 2008. A 1% swing in the Iban vote will result in a change of 100 votes in the overall majority. If some of the salient local issues, including the ‘Allah’ issue – which is much more likely to affect the practice of Christianity among the BM-speaking Iban compared to the Chinese- and English-speaking Foochow – have traction, it would not be surprising to see a slight decrease in the Iban vote.

My prediction is based on a swing of 5% in the Iban vote against SUPP, and in my opinion, it’s a rather conservative estimate.

I assume that there is no change in the level of Melanau/Malay support for SUPP, which will remain at a high level of approximately 85% – the 2008 level. It would be naive to think that PAS would be able to swing any Melanau/Malay support to the DAP candidate given that it has almost no grassroots presence in Sarawak.

Finally, I also assume that BN will have a dominant 2,500-vote majority in the postal votes, which was what it was in 2008. This majority may shift slightly because the latest electoral roll shows that there are slightly over 2,500 postal voters in the constituency.

DAP leaders seem hungrier

Apart from the uncertainty associated with predicting changes in voting patterns by ethnic group, there are also the challenges associated with predicting the impact of some of the ‘immeasurables’, notably vote-buying and postal-vote tampering.

My prediction has already factored in vote-buying in that I assume that the same level of vote-buying that had been practiced would continue to have the same effect. Of course, in a by-election, the stakes are much higher which means that more money and incentives can be thrown in at the eleventh hour to swing the necessary number of votes to win the by-election in question. This was one of the contributory factors in the BN victory in Hulu Selangor.

NONEHowever, given the already high levels of support for SUPP among the Iban and the Malay/Melanau areas, my belief is that the impact of additional resources spent on vote-buying will not have any additional effect on the voting behaviour of these groups of voters.

In other words, those who could not be ‘bought off’ before, for whatever reason, in the previous elections, would not be able to be ‘bought off’ this time around, even with greater monetary incentives.

In terms of postal-vote tampering, since polling agents from the respective parties are not allowed to observe the voting process, the usual practices associated with ‘pressuring’ postal voters, mostly in the army in the case of Sibu, may be ramped up. But again, given the already high percentage of SUPP support among postal voters (94% in 2008), I do not anticipate a significant increase in the majority gained by SUPP from the postal votes.

In addition, I do not take into account of the small but possibly significant factor of the independent candidate, Nawawi Haron, who may take a handful of crucial Malay/Melanau votes away from BN.

I end with where I began – back at the DAP headquarters.

NONE My sense is that the DAP leaders are desperate to win this by-election. All internal feuds, which were not as serious as the ones faced by PKR in Hulu Selangor, have been put aside for this by-election.

It seems that the Peninsular-based DAP leaders have allowed Sarawak DAP to ‘run the show’ as it were and provide the necessary support in other ways. This was not an advantage enjoyed by DAP in 2008.

The DAP leaders seem hungrier and more motivated. They know that every vote counts and are willing to work as hard as possible to turn out every single pro-opposition voter. I think it is this motivation that will provide the final edge for DAP to emerge victorious with a paper-thin margin of less than 500 votes.


ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in political science from Duke University.

Origin BERSIH

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