Sara Lau goes through the five stages of grief Barisan Nasional potentially faces post-GE13.
GE13 last Sunday brought up all sorts of surprises for every quarter. I think both sides of the divide expected to win more. For Pakatan Rakyat, “Ini kalilah” became more than a battle cry — it truly became a hope for Pakatan and its supporters, even with the cards decked high against them. Barisan Nasional, I think, had hoped to see the results of the reforms they had put into place and the added generosity of handouts (this cannot be denied). Maybe they knew the support for the Opposition had increased, but was not ready to face the reality of that line of thought. The aftermath of GE13 is fresh as ever, and I expect it to last for a long time.
The newly sworn-in PM with a legitimate mandate, Najib Razak looked fazed, to some extent numb as he uttered his words during the press conference after the EC declared that BN had obtained 112 seats to form a simple majority. Even though BN had won, perhaps he did not expect the results obtained – he failed to do better this time, and for many of the seats they had won, it was by a razor-thin majority that will continue to linger in the thoughts of the rakyat for some time to come. So what they said did come to pass – it was the most closely fought elections of all time. No one, comfortable in the ruling coalition for a whopping 56 years, had ever been this threatened before. And if I were leading the ruling coalition, I would hate to be the person who ended its long reign.
They say there are five stages of grief. In the aftermath of GE13, I would like to break down some of the more salient episodes from surprisingly, the winners of GE13, BN.
The first stage is denial. PM Najib Razak’s statement that the slim victory won was due to a “Chinese tsunami” was unexpected of a man who had vowed to embark on a “national reconciliation process” in the same breath. Just years ago, PM Najib Razak had launched a full-fledged 1Malaysia campaign in hopes of bringing the races together rather than continue with the “divide and rule” strategy that had always been implemented in Malaysia. But in the aftermath of GE13, PM Najib Razak refused to consider that his coalition had done badly because they were not performing in the rakyat’s eyes. He was in denial that the electoral roll as a whole (ie not just the votes of one race) was starting to turn away from the BN coalition which had never been challenged.
The second stage is anger. The headlines of Utusan today screamed deep rage at the Chinese voters. In their eyes, it was like a repeat of 1969 where they viewed that the Chinese had broken the social contract yet again. Their anger, while misplaced at the Chinese voters, does not come as a surprise. Datuk Seri Ali Rustam and Datuk M. Saravanan had come out to call the Chinese “ingrates” for not supporting them. To a person learned in democracy and law, such a statement is unfounded, as “gratefulness” is not to be expected of voters who you are supposed to “win over”. Perhaps they underestimated the young zealous voters who no longer considered the past, but what the present and future can bring. But for now, BN needed to be angry at someone else; today, BN needed a quarter to blame.
The third is bargaining. S. Vell Paari, in direct contradiction with party colleague Datuk M. Saravanan today said the Chinese should not be blamed. While not considering the fact that it was not just the Chinese votes that showed so much support for the Federal Opposition, S. Vell Paari said that the Chinese supported the Opposition because no action had been taken against PERKASA. He said that this drove away the support from the Chinese and Indian communities, especially in Selangor. In essence, he was trying to bargain the aftermath – what if BN had not fielded Zulkifli Noordin and Ibrahim Ali, known for their extremist ways? Maybe the Chinese and Indian votes would have come back, or not shown such blatant support for the Opposition. Maybe both MCA and MIC would have gotten more seats. Maybe the outcome would have been different.
The fourth stage is depression. According to a report from The Malaysian Insider, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai was visibly upset when he ceded that the party has an uphill task of remaining relevant. In their biggest defeat yet, MCA had expected easy Chinese votes when they alone stood for the welfare of the Chinese. What Datuk Seri Liow failed to realize is that the psyche of the voters (Chinese or not) has changed from when MCA started its struggle 64 years ago. The concerns today are different from the goals of MCA during the days of independence. In finally conceding that support from voters was lost from the party, Liow was reported to have shed a tear or two in his sadness at the dismal performance of MCA.
The fifth is acceptance. While the BN machinery has quite clearly yet to come to this stage, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, who had lost in GE13 appeared to have come to grips with the results. He called for a rational dissection of the outcome, conceding that BN had won in rural and predominantly Malay areas as opposed to PM Najib Razak who dismissed this fact. He criticised Utusan for stirring up racial sentiments and questioned the sincerity of the “national reconciliation process”. But most of all, like a true statesman, he said that he respected the decision of the Temerloh voters and that “you must accept the decision of the people with an open heart”.
In my opinion, the BN machinery may have to follow through its five stages of grief before being able to take control of government again. However, the most important of all this is acceptance. They have to accept that the voter demographic in Malaysia has changed with the influx of young, worldly, educated voters who have begun to compare the economic progress of nations; that the electoral roll is experiencing a change within itself, to experiment and to consider alternatives to problems they find unsolved by the current government; but most importantly, to accept that their coalition is becoming increasingly irrelevant with their “divide and rule” concept. BN needs to reevaluate themselves, their principles, and their vision in order to appeal again as worthy competitors, especially in the largely urban areas.
BN also needs to accept that the game of politics in Malaysia has changed. Today there is a significant opposition presence in the Parliament and State assemblies, while this had been alien before 2008. Instead of dismissing the Opposition, BN must accept that these Opposition candidates have been chosen democratically and legitimately over their own candidates, and dissect the reasons why. I look forward to this dissection and acceptance in the form of improved quality debates in the Parliament and the State assemblies and economically progressive policies. The next five years is a gracious second chance for BN to prove themselves, lest they face a real possibility of sudden death in GE14.