Measuring Barisan Nasional’s popularity

How to measure the popularity of an authoritarian government using a dysfunctional electoral system?

Can 60% of popular votes be used as an indicator to suggest that the authoritarian government is indeed popular (and has mass support)?

Barisan Nasional’s (BN) is currently the world’s longest reigning regime, having ruled Malaysia since 1955. But its strength in the Malaysian parliament is not due to popular votes, but due to gerrymandering and malapportionment, among many other reasons. Out of the past 12 elections, only on five occasions (1964, 1974, 1982, 1995 and 2004) did the BN (or its predecessor, the Alliance) win with 60% of the popular votes or more.

What do we make of this – that despite the disproportionate advantages that the BN has, and had – that 40% to 50% of Malaysians never supported them, even at the best of times?

The BN’s best ever performance was during the roaring 90s, under Mahathir Mohamed in 1995 – then too, at only 65% of popular votes.

Year

BN (% of votes won)

Opposition (% of votes won)

BN (% of seats in Parliament)

Opposition (% of seats in Parliament)

Total no. of seats

1959

51.7

48.3

71.15

28.85

104

1964

58.5

41.5

85.58

14.42

104

1969

49.3

50.7

66

34

144

1974

60.7

39.3

87.66

12.34

154

1978

57.2

42.8

84.42

15.58

154

1982

60.5

39.5

85.71

14.29

154

1986

55.8

41.5

83.62

16.38

177

1990

53.4

46.6

70.55

29.45

180

1995

65.2

34.8

84.38

15.62

192

1999

56.5

43.5

76.68

23.32

193

2004

63.9

36.1

90.9

9.1

219

2008

50.14

46.41

63.1

36.9

222

 

With a sluggish global and domestic economy, the discontent in Malaysia with the ruling party, and with an opposition that has been working together consciously for more than 4 years (the first ever in Malaysian history, since the British systematically eradicated the left movement) will things change at Malaysia’s 13th general election?

About Greg Lopez

Greg Lopez is a research fellow at Murdoch University’s Executive Education Centre. He is also New Mandala’s Malaysia and Singapore section editor and a visiting fellow at the Department of Political and Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.