To the casual political observer, two facts from the recent Kajang by-election would have stood out.
Firstly, the turnout decreased from 88 percent in GE13 to 72 percent. Secondly, the majority of victory decreased from 6,824 in GE13 to 5,379 – a drop of 1,445 votes.
On the surface, these results may seem like a negative reflection on Pakatan Rakyat’s and specifically PKR’s campaign as part of the ‘Kajang Move’. But a more careful analysis of the results reveals important findings that are positive for Pakatan, moving forward.
Pakatan increased its popular vote from 56.8 percent to 59.7 percent, a 2.9 percent increase. While this increase may not seem significant, one has to take into account that the lower turnout most likely decreased Pakatan’s popular vote.
Most of those who did not vote for a variety of reasons – did not return from outstation, it was the start of the school holidays, and thought that the outcome was already decided – would have been Pakatan voters, especially the younger voters whose turnout decreased more than the older voters (more on this later).
Secondly, Pakatan won in 14 out of 16 polling stations (not including postal and early votes) in the by-election compared with 12 out of 16 polling stations in GE13.
In Sungai Sekamat, a 78 percent Malay polling station, Pakatan turned a 239-vote deficit into a 45-vote majority. In Taman Delima, a 74 percent Malay polling station, Pakatan turned a 123-vote deficit into a three-vote majority.
Even in the remaining two polling stations which Pakatan lost – Sungai Kantan and Batu 10 Cheras – the deficit was reduced from 420 to 225 and from 157 to 151 respectively (See table below).
Secondly, Pakatan managed to increase its share of Malay votes from 35 percent in GE13 to 46 percent in the by-election.
This 11 percent increase is no mean feat, considering the continued attempts to perpetuate a climate of religious and racial intolerance by certain groups in Malaysia such as Perkasa, as well those who sacrificed a chicken and gave a reward of RM1,200 to anyone who slapped Teresa Kok, MP for Seputeh, over her'Onederful Malaysia' YouTube video.
While Pakatan’s support among the Chinese did fall from 80 percent to 75 percent, this can largely be explained in terms of the lower turnout, especially among younger and likely pro-Pakatan supporters. As long as BN cannot overcome its negative image among younger Chinese voters, its deficit among this group of voters is likely to remain significant.
The Indian vote is harder to estimate. Given the small percentage of Indian voters, it is likely that Pakatan’s support among the Indians increased slightly from 60 percent to 65 percent, looking at the results from the polling stations with more than 15 percent Indian voters.
Greater support from young voters
Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, is the increase in Pakatan’s support among the youth.
For the unfamiliar, voters cast their votes according to polling streams or ‘saluran’. They are arranged according to age, with the older voters in saluran 1 and the younger voters in the later saluran.
The average vote won by Pakatan in the final polling stream or saluran for each polling station increased by seven percent, from 59 percent in GE13 to 66 percent. In comparison, the average vote won by Pakatan in the first polling stream or saluran – the saluran with the oldest voters – for each polling station remained the same at 49 percent.
What this means is that the increase in the support for Pakatan from 57 percent in GE13 to 60 percent in the by-election came mostly from the younger voters.
At the same time, the turnout rate among the youth saluran fell from 87 percent to 69 percent, an 18 percent fall. In comparison, the turnout rate among the oldest voters – the first saluran – fell from 83 percent to 73 percent, only a 10 percent fall. What this means is that if the turnout rate among the younger voters had fallen by a smaller amount, Pakatan’s support as well as majority would have increased.
This is significant because the youth vote – the final polling stream – has always been the most liable to swing to either side. This is why BN poured so much resources into youth-related programmes and branding activities such as 1M4U and the 1Malaysia Youth Fund.
If the Kajang by-election is a bellwether for a larger trend nationwide, then it heralds well for Pakatan.
The older voters who are more likely to be BN diehard supporters are slowly but surely being replaced by younger voters whose political allegiance is not certain.
They will be more influenced by issues which will hurt BN and help Pakatan – cost of living increases especially with the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST), high profile corruption cases, abuses of power, Bersih and electoral reform, environmental concerns, just to name a few.
They are also more likely to be swayed by social media that will compensate for the effects of BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) cash handouts.
Challenges for Pakatan remain
The challenges for Pakatan to increase its vote share are still significant. Pakatan has to find ways to motivate younger people to register and to turn out to vote. Pakatan has to minimise its infighting so as to not turn off potential supporters.
It has to continue to showcase Penang and Selangor as models of governance in contrast to what BN is doing in Putrajaya. Pakatan has to increase its effectiveness as a check and balance on the BN government at the federal level and in the BN governed states. It must also strengthen its leadership at the local level, especially in the marginal seats and states.
This work is ongoing. And while the Kajang by-elections may not have been as decisive of a victory as Pakatan would have wanted, the underlying trends do point positively for Pakatan moving forward towards the next general election.
(Only data from 14 out of 16 polling stations were used because two polling stations only had two polling streams or saluran.)