KUALA LUMPUR: After yet another disappointing election outing, Gerakan is hoping that the next four years is enough time for the party and Barisan Nasional (BN) to turn the tide of popular support back in their favour.
Gerakan is going back to the drawing board with the next general election in mind as the party seeks to regain lost ground from the crushing defeats it suffered in the past two general elections.
At the party’s post-general election meeting, Gerakan’s acting national president Datuk Chang Ko Youn acknowledged that BN had been “overwhelmed” by national issues raised by the opposition.
This appeared to override the development and public service route which BN had been campaigning on.
The opposition had largely campaigned on a slew of national issues and scandals such as good governance, human rights, security, crime, transparency and corruption.
“If we start with the first step, second step, third step, I’m sure we can gain back some support if not all (at the next general election).
“I appeal to voters. We do not have revolutions here, we have democratic processes. You can’t expect the government to do wonders, wave a wand and have change overnight,” Chang told a press conference after his opening speech.
Drawing from his own campaign experience, Chang said he still managed to win 20% of the votes from the Chinese community in the Beruas constituency on the back of years of public service and networking.
“But that is completely inadequate. There are issues far bigger than service and development,” said Chang, who was defeated in Beruas.
According to Chang, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had set the right direction for Malaysia with his transformation plans but voters might have felt like the pace and implementation was not up to par.
BN has taken some concrete steps to address the people’s unhappiness on hot issues like corruption, and transparency.
These measures include making the judiciary and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission more independent and having an oversight mechanism for enforcement agencies.
Chang said the opposition could make all sorts of promises to the people as it was not the incumbent federal government, but some of these pledges might not be rooted in reality.
Another problem is BN’s issue of credibility, especially among young and urban voters, Chang said.
“BN needs a new image and approach to capture the imagination and support of voters,” he said.
Chang said BN would need to address the needs and desires of new voters which he said could reach 2.5 million in the next general election.
“If we do not get their support, we can expect our popular votes to go down,” Chang said.
Nevertheless, the recent general election also saw an additional 2.4 million first-time voters, about 40% of whom are believed to be young voters.
Chang conceded that BN’s strategy to engage new voters might not have been correct.
“We were quite apprehensive, we sensed some doubts ... But we thought what we did was enough to convince them,” he said.
Gerakan held a “brainstorming session” yesterday with its national leadership and all its candidates who contested in the recent general election.
The BN component party is seeking to examine the strengths and weaknesses of its party and BN during the hotly contested election campaign.
“I don’t want to call this a post mortem because we aren’t dead! So we call it a brainstorming session,” Chang told reporters.
Gerakan suffered a second blow in the election after it lost most of its seats and its stronghold, Penang, in the 2008 general election.
In 2008, Gerakan won two parliamentary seats and four state seats. But in the May 5 polls, Gerakan came away with only one parliamentary seat — Simpang Renggam in Johor — and three state seats.
This was a dismal result as Gerakan candidates stood in 11 parliamentary and 31 state constituencies.
According to Chang, Malay support for Gerakan remained at around 70% with some rural areas giving the party up to 75% support. Gerakan enjoyed higher Indian support of 55% compared with 25% backing in 2008.
But this was diluted by lower Chinese support which Chang said fell to around 15% to 20% in 2013 from 30% at the last election, coupled with high Chinese voter turnout.
Chang said he preferred not to interpret the outcome of the general election as purely a Chinese tsunami or an urban swing toward the opposition.
“Look at the facts. The fact is that 80% to 85% of the Chinese voters went against the BN.
“We don’t want to blame voters. It is their right. But we need to know why they didn’t support the BN,” Chang said.
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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on June 17, 2013.