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THE recent results from the Malacca elections, where the Barisan Nasional (BN) won 21 out of 28 seats (75%), were a disappointing outcome to many Pakatan Harapan (PH) supporters and even some neutral observers who do not want to see a return of a dominant BN-Umno to the Malaysian political landscape.

The outcome was not exactly unexpected given the unique circumstances of this state elections: the sudden collapse of the state government, the low turnout rate, the inability to hold ceramah, the low public interest in the campaign, and fears surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, there are some silver linings for PH, which can be used as lessons to build the momentum for the more important electoral battle: the 15th general election.

First, the return of BN-Umno’s electoral dominance is widely exaggerated. While BN may have won well, its vote share barely changed.

Most of the initial analysis showed that BN’s vote share only increased marginally, by 1% at most. Analysis by Malaysiakini showed that BN’s vote share increased by only 0.6%, from 37.8% to 38.4%.

The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system gave the BN an electoral advantage, especially in the smaller more rural constituencies but the BN’s vote share of less than 40% means that with a larger turnout and more younger voters in the context of a national campaign, relatively small shifts in its support could lead to the BN losing many seats in a general election.

Second, Perikatan Nasional (PN) poses a real and credible threat to the BN. While PN only won two seats in Malacca, it still garnered almost 25% of total votes, up from the 10.7% that PAS won by itself in the 14th general election in 2018.

This means that the PN has some hope of gaining further electoral ground against BN-Umno in the next general election.

More important, this will prevent the internal narrative within PAS to abandon PN and to work with BN-Umno from gaining more momentum, which surely would have happened if PN failed to win any seats and managed only to win less than 20% of the popular vote.

My colleague, Liew Chin Tong, used the Rise of the Three Kingdoms narrative to describe the state of the political landscape in Malaysia post Malacca state elections.

This political configuration will likely remain until the next general election, which means that any coalition, including PH, can spring electoral surprises amid a divided electorate. 

Third, there were some bright spots for some of the DAP and PH candidates. In Ayer Keroh, DAP’s Kerk Chee Yee, who will turn 30 only next year, managed to win 60% of the popular vote (down by 4.8% from GE14) in a mixed seat, which is 40% Malay.

In Kesidang, DAP’s Allex Seah, managed to win 66% of the vote (down by 5.9%) in a mixed seat, which is 37% Malay.

Neither candidate would have been able to retain their seats without retaining some of the Malay support that PH had gained in GE14, especially when you consider that the vote share for PH in Malacca dropped by 15% from GE14 to the 2021 state elections.