Seminar on “Malaysia’s GE-15: Micro and Macro Perspectives”

In this hybrid seminar, Dr Kai Ostwald and Dr Ong Kian-Ming unpacked key voting trends and shared insights into evolving political behaviour in Malaysia.


Thursday, 23 March 2023 – In this hybrid seminar at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute titled “Malaysia’s GE-15: Micro and Macro Perspectives”, Dr Kai Ostwald (Senior Visiting Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) and Dr Ong Kian Ming (Senior Visiting Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) shared their respective analysis about voting patterns and how the three major coalitions performed in the 2022 General Election (GE15).  

Speakers Dr Kai Ostwald and Dr Ong Kian Ming (joining virtually) with moderator Dr Norshahril Saat. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Ostwald’s presentation concerned a macro analysis of GE15. He updated his work on “The Four Arenas” framework which he developed with his co-author Steven Oliver to understand the results resulting from the 2018 General Election (GE14). The framework classifies the country’s 222 parliamentary constituencies into four groups. Firstly, East Malaysia, comprised of Sabah and Sarawak; secondly, the Northeast, consisting of the states of Terengganu and Kelantan; thirdly, Peninsular Diverse, seats in the peninsular with fewer than 50% Malay voters; and fourthly, Peninsular Malay, constituencies in the same part of the country with more than 50% Malay voters. Since the implementation of Undi-18 and Automatic Voter Registration, the numbers for each of the four categories has changed significantly compared to GE14. The number of parliamentary seats for East Malaysia, Northeast, Peninsular Diverse and Peninsular Malay are 56, 22, 49 and 95 respectively.

East Malaysia was traditionally a BN fixed deposit until 2013, when PH began to make inroads in both Sabah and Sarawak. In Sabah, there is much fluidity with PH and Warisan making inroads in GE14 but losing much of this terrain in GE15. Dr Ostwald argued that voting patterns remained unchanged, what changed is coalition alignment. In the Northeast, UMNO was similarly dominant until GE14 when PAS made large inroads. In the recent General Election, PAS and Bersatu (under PN) managed an unprecedented achievement when it swept all of the 22 seats with UMNO losing even in its traditional strongholds, such as Hulu Terengganu and Gua Musang. PH remained a marginal player in the Northeast. In Peninsular Diverse, PH remained dominant and largely consolidated its grip despite attempts by UMNO to wrestle back a number of seats by fielding high-profile candidates. PN remains largely unpopular among the non-Malay electorate. In Peninsular Malay, it was UMNO’s stronghold for the longest time until GE14 when PH – with the presence of Bersatu – made unprecedented inroads. In GE15, with Bersatu now allied with PAS, PN made spectacular gains by wrestling seats which UMNO had won even in GE14. PN won most of the seats in this group with UMNO suffering an even worse setback compared to GE14. Meanwhile, PH remained largely unpopular in the Malay heartlands. Dr Ostwald concluded that the political landscape in 2022 has changed dramatically compared to the watershed GE14, with Malaysians moderating their expectations for reforms since the collapse of PH in 2020.

Dr Ong provided a micro analysis of GE15, with his research on how age and race affect turnout and voting patterns. He clarified that his regression analysis remains a work in progress. In his analysis, he analysed stream (saluran) level data using two key variables: turnout and voting by age and ethnicity. Through a simple regression to estimate the voting trend by race, the overall Malay support nationally for PH is at 11%, PN at 53% and BN at 33%. Nonetheless, despite the broad support for PN, there are significant differences among Malay voters across different states.  He cautioned against reading the GE15 outcome as an endorsement of PAS’ Islamic stance, since there is a doubling of both PAS and Bersatu seats. In the 1999 General Election, PAS benefitted from a large swing only to be almost wiped out in the 2004 General Election. Instead, Dr Ong argued that GE15 was a Malay swing against UMNO rather than “green wave”. There were few variations for Chinese voters across states, and broadly speaking, Chinese voters throughout Malaysia supported PH at 95%. Indian voters demonstrated a similar trend where overall support for PH was 86%.

In the question-and-answer section, participants discussed PAS-Bersatu relations within PN, the impact of state polls on the Unity Government’s survival, the role of Tik Tok in instigating racialised rhetoric during GE15, and whether East Malaysian parties would remain loyal to the Unity Government. The hybrid seminar attracted 108 participants.