When Muslim voters swung to the DAP

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 13, 2019.

The Pakatan win signifies that the Umno-dominated opposition has increasingly less appeal in a multi-racial Sabah.

-A +A

THE biggest takeaway from last Saturday’s Sandakan by-election must surely be the swing in the Muslim votes towards the DAP.

Based on the data reported by Malaysiakini, there was a 12% swing for DAP in Kg Sim Sim and a 13% swing in Pulau Berhala — both Muslim-majority polling districts. Incidentally, the two districts were the only ones Barisan Nasional won in the 14th general election (GE14) last year.

So why the swing? Well for one, says Dr Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of Foreign Affairs, it can be attributed to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and his Parti Warisan Sabah who worked “tirelessly in canvassing for the Muslim votes”.

And as Oh, himself a Sabahan, sees it, “Warisan has proved to its Pakatan Harapan partners that it can deliver votes while Bersatu remains dormant in this by-election”.

For the record, peninsula-based Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia made its foray into Sabah only recently.

But more importantly, the Muslim swing to the DAP showed that the community in Sabah and in particular Sandakan “are not buying the racially supremacist Umno's and the religiously extremist PAS’ rhetorics that Islam has been under threat ever since Pakatan won the GE14”, says Oh.

The DAP win also, says Oh, “signifies that the Umno-dominated opposition has increasingly less appeal in a multi-racial Sabah”.

And Shafie hopes Umno gets the message. Moments after the official results were announced, Shafie issued a statement calling the win a victory for the people and an endorsement of the Warisan-led government.

He also saw it as “a very clear indication that Umno no longer has any effect on the Muslim voters who this time around have come out very strongly in support of the DAP candidate”.

Come to think of it, all the big hoo-ha about Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s presence in Sandakan on the eve of polling day came to nothing.

The former prime minister was given a rousing welcome by an enthusiastic crowd, which made the Pakatan camp concerned, if not bewildered.

To Oh, Najib’s presence in reality had a reverse effect as it resulted in more Chinese coming out to vote.

A day before polling, it was reported that there was a high possibility that the Chinese community, strong supporters of the DAP, would not be too eager to vote due to complacency that that DAP would win the by-election easily.

Still the voter turnout was lower that the numbers recorded in GE14 when DAP won Sandakan.

Nevertheless DAP’s Vivian Wong Shir Yee won 16,012 votes to register a winning majority of 11,521 in the five-cornered fight. Her closest rival was Parti Bersatu Sabah’s Linda Tsen Thau Lin who got 4,491 votes.

There were 17 voting districts and Wong won all — securing an increased vote share compared to GE14.

She somehow performed better than her father, the late Datuk Stephen Wong in GE14, when he retained the seat he first won in 2013.

In GE14, the late Wong secured 67.97% of the votes to register a majority of 10,098.

Vivian secured 74.18% of the votes, albeit in the face of a lower turnout.

To Pakatan, says Oh, it is a much-needed political morale boost after the successive defeats in the previous three by-elections in the peninsula — Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Rantau.

The coalition has now managed to check its sliding popularity despite the low 54.44% turnout in Sandakan.

Mohsin Abdullah is contributing editor at The Edge. He has covered politics for the past four decades.