Hornbill Unleashed

June 13, 2017

Lessons from the UK election for Barisan Nasional

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:02 AM

When UK Prime Minister Theresa May shocked the electorate by calling for a snap election on June 8, the pundits overwhelmingly sided with the Conservative Party which was more stable and united. The Labour Party was in disarray and the odds were stacked against them.

Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, a Labour heavyweight, predicted that this would be the biggest defeat for the Labour party since World War Two to the Tories. This came after the Labour Party lost Copeland, a traditional Labour seat in a by-election held at the beginning of this year.

Yet, as I write this, the Labour Party has done the impossible. They defied the odds. They have managed to add 30 additional seats from the previous election. This has resulted in a hung parliament, dealing a severe blow to May’s government which went into the polls thinking that it would be a walk in the park.

This is quite similar to what is happening in Malaysia. A fractured opposition coalition, like the Labour Party, entering a general election on the back of a crushing by-election defeat.

Three lessons to extract from the result of the UK election:

1. Coalition unity is not an electorally-determinative issue.

Barisan Nasional has been quick to ridicule Harapan’s loose coalition. TV3 and Utusan play up this issue almost every single day. The head of BN’s propaganda machine, Puad Zarkashi, also attempted to draw a bigger wedge among the opposition parties by asking for Harapan’s list of candidates for prime minister and the cabinet.

The Labour Party suffered from the very same issue, even until election time. Multiple MPs from the Labour Party asked for party leader Jeremy Corbyn to step down. Even members of his shadow cabinet distrusted his leadership, yet he still steered Labour into success.

This is because “party unity” is not an electorally-determinative issue. Voters often vote on bread and butter issues like housing and education, not on the “state of the opposition”. Voters are more nuanced than what we think. They can make the comparison. Opposition bickering can be resolved in no time, while issues of widespread corruption and abuse of power are more systemic, ergo taking up the complete uprooting of the system.

Simply put, Malaysia’s opposition can come together and resolve their differences at any time, even when Parliament has been dissolved, as it’s not a time-consuming matter. However, Umno-BN cannot resolve their structural issues within a short time span.

2. Don’t dance to Umno-BN’s tune.

When entering the election, the Conservative Party was 18 points ahead of the Labour party. Now exit polls show that the difference is less than 8 percent. When the Conservative party called for the snap election, they were hell-bent on making this election about Brexit and Immigration, the two strengths of the Conservative Party. However, the Labour Party redefined the election priorities as issues of housing, education and healthcare. These are issues where a straight fight can happen. They did not dance to the tune that the Conservative Party wanted them to dance to.

In his book The Art of War, Sun Tzu said, “Never attack your enemy where they are strongest”. The Labour Party was smart to take his advice. Engaging with the Conservative Party on Brexit and immigration would just have dragged them down and bolstered the Conservatives. The reframing of political issues helped Labour swing the undecided and the youth.

This scenario is also taking place in Malaysia. While Umno-BN is fiercely making race and religion the key issues of the election, the electorate thinks differently. The Merdeka Center, a polling agency, showed that Malaysian voters cared a lot more about the rising cost of living and unemployment, both of which have been made worse due to systemic corruption in Malaysia. Throughout my “jelajah” with BERSATU, we have consistently focused on this message, not just on 1MDB.

The response has been overwhelming, signified by the tens of thousands who turned up to listen to our mass ceramah.

3. Waning support for the traditional media.

The Labour Party entered the election being greatly disadvantaged by the biased traditional media, which overtly favoured May over Corbyn. Yet, social media has been instrumental in distributing Labour-friendly messages. Corbyn’s manifesto didn’t get much traction from the traditional media but was widely shared via social media. The youth were key ambassadors in disseminating the message of change. The fact that Corbyn was more daring to take on the Tories in live public debates also energized the youth to side with the Labour Party.

In Malaysia, we see the same trend taking place. The mainstream media under Umno-BN have been forced to downsize due to waning support. Budgets have been slashed, government subsidies increased and newspaper factories closed.

While this takes place, social media has been a free space for public discussion. The fact that the Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission attempted to curtail this free market of information is indicative of its success in breaking down Umno’s information monopoly. The Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi himself admitted that only 6 percent of Internet users support Umno-BN. This reality will haunt Umno at the ballot box.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak will think twice now before calling for an early election which is expected to take place in October. If the Labour Party, which started off weak, divided, and unpragmatic can pull off the impossible within a brief time span, why can the Malaysian opposition not do the same?

Hope is not lost.

Source : Malaysiakini by SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN
SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN is Bersatu Youth chief, and is Asia’s best debater, having won the United Asia Debate Championship in May 2015.


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