A win for the opposition is nearly impossible, reports Asia Sentinel’s Philip Bowring

As the smoke clears after the Malaysian election battle it has become clear that under the current electoral system defeat of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) was never quite on the cards, even without the electoral roll and election day cheating and vote buying claimed by the opposition.

Indeed all other factors being equal it would probably take another 4 percent swing against the BN for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition to win the majority of seats.

Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, left, and his wife Wan Azizah speak during a press conference after the Malaysian election earlier this month. Pic: AP.

As it was this was a remarkable victory for the PR which won 51.7 percent of the popular vote and 53 percent in under-represented peninsula Malaysia. Yet it took only 89 seats compared to the BN’s 133 seats. Those numbers tell the tale of just how rigged the system has become.

Each BN seat cost an average of 39,400 votes while each PR one cost 63,200. Those figures show the success of years of outrageous BN gerrymandering which has made nonsense of democratic, one-man one-vote principles. The extent of this has gone almost unnoticed by the foreign media – and foreign government reaction, treating the result as though it were the outcome of a relatively normal democratic process. Gerrymandering on Malaysia’s epic scale is just as undemocratic as the ballot-counting frauds which President Ferdinand Marcos used to turn defeat into claimed victory during his years as president of the Philippines.

Given the BN’s control of most media and the machinery of government, the result was a remarkable victory for the PR. So although there is much disappointment and some youthful anger among the ranks of the PR that is because expectations of what could be achieved were naturally over-optimistic. Assuming the PR holds together till the next general elections it will probably need to begin to reverse the gerrymander – or break the Barisan – if it is to break UMNO’s stranglehold on power.

More immediately the opposition and its component, Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat in particular, is focused on the cheating alleged to have taken place in a significant number of constituencies whether through giving ballots to non-nationals, voting more than once, manipulating the electoral roll or simply offering cash to those who prove they voted for the BN. The PKR says that as 27 seats were won by the BN with a majority of less than 5 percent of the vote, cheating could have made a critical difference. Certainly in some of the more closely fought contests, the arithmetic somehow seemed to favor the BN. Thus it was declared the winner in no less than 11 of the 15 seats where the margin was less than 1,000 votes and in 25 of the 35 seats where the margin was under 2,000 votes. This may or not have been chance.

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