By-elections and bumiputeraism

By Wong Chin Huat (The Nutgraph)
WHILE by-elections can hardly be considered referendums, they are nevertheless mid-term elections and often have far-reaching implications.
Remember the triple by-elections of April 2009? What if newly-minted premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (BN) had won all three handsomely? Would he then have been forced to repackage his party and government through the 1Malaysia campaign and management of ministerial key performance indicators? It was the BN’s defeat in two out of the three by-elections that probably pushed Najib to woo back voters so aggressively.
Similarly, the upcoming Hulu Selangor and Sibu by-elections will likely shape Malaysian politics in more ways than can be expected from the two constituencies’ nominal weight —1.8% of Parliament. In fact, I believe they will determine the future of bumiputeraism, and the debate about this within Umno.
It is thus important to first look at the ethnic composition of the two seats, since they are quite different.
Hulu Selangor has a bare majority of Malay Malaysians. Chinese and Indian Malaysians make up most of the remainder and are almost equally split in number. Except for the over-representation of Indian Malaysians, Hulu Selangor is almost a demographic microcosm of West Malaysia. While the parliamentary seat was won by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in 2008, its three state seats went to the BN. This suggests that it might have remained a BN stronghold had it not been for candidacy and ethnic factors.
Sibu, on the other hand, is an urban East Malaysian seat with about 60% Chinese Malaysians. The remainder are Christian and Muslim bumiputera in roughly equal numbers. The late Datuk Robert Lau’s comfortable 3,235-vote margin in March 2008 indicates that Sibu is supposed to be one of the BN’s “fixed deposits”.