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PN eating into BN’s Malay vote bank, forum told

Panellists point to figures from the recent election in Johor showing that more young Malay voters supported Perikatan Nasional over Barisan Nasional.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli & Syaza Norazharudin
3 minute read
Young voters wait in line at a polling centre in Muar at the March 12 election in Johor.
Young voters wait in line at a polling centre in Muar at the March 12 election in Johor.

Political parties will need to take into account generational shifts in voting patterns ahead of the next polls, experts said today citing changes in the political landscape as talk continues of an impending election.

Ibrahim Suffian from Merdeka Centre said such shifts could be seen in the recent election in Johor, where more young Malay voters supported Perikatan Nasional (PN) over Barisan Nasional (BN) while Pakatan Harapan (PH) trailed far behind.

“There is a generational voting pattern and identity politics still plays a role.

“PN has emerged as an alternative to BN for the Malay voters, particularly the youth,” he said during a webinar organised by Institut Masa Depan Malaysia today.

At the March 12 election in Johor, BN lost about 8% of the Malay vote. At the Melaka election in November last year, BN saw a 1% decline in Malay support while PH lost some 55%.

Hamidin Abd Hamid of Ilham Centre meanwhile said that judging by the pattern in Johor, the role of new voters had been overemphasised.

“Depending on the area, in urban and semi-urban areas, the youth were very much independent in their votes,” he said.

“In urban areas, we noticed that the young voters were very much influenced by their peers and families in terms of voting pattern.

“But the big question mark is about whether they are going to vote in the first place,” he said, referring to the low turnout of young voters in Johor.

He said this would be a cause for concern for BN as around 50% of the voters in the next general election would be under 39 years old.

“Most of those in this age group who voted for PH in the last general election did not come back to BN. They went to PN,” he added.

“BN’s votes were very much reduced in that sense.”

The Johor election had seen voters as young as 18 head to polling centres for the first time as the Undi 18 bill came into effect on the back of support from both the government and the opposition.

Political analyst Bridgette Welsh said although voters in the 18-21 age bracked were split, they could be a transformative power for change.

At the Johor election, 38% of the Undi 18 vote went to BN, 26% went to PN and 33% went to PH and Muda.

“PN’s strength, particularly that of Bersatu, comes from the support of young people – not Gen Z, but millennials,” she said.

“We need to start moving away from seeing Malaysians just through ethnic lenses, to look at generational voting, class voting, gender dimensionas and regional issues.”

She said even those in their 50s, an age group associated with the 1998 reformasi movement, were no longer connected to PH in the same way.

Based on the pattern of previous state elections, she said, in terms of voter age groups, BN is projected to win 134 seats, PH 50 and PN 37.

However, she cautioned against using state election parameters to predict the results of the next general election.

“One of the things that is quite interesting is that while the numbers suggest that Umno is the favourite, at the same time their vote shares are not there.”

PH, meanwhile, has much to do to overcome the shortcomings demonstrated in the recent state elections, particularly in terms of leadership, she said.