Webinar on “The Melaka State Election: Unravelling Unexpected Outcomes”

In this webinar, Ms Ginie Lim and Mr Danesh Chacko looked at the key issues which affected the outcomes of the recent Melaka state election.


Wednesday, 8 December 2021 —The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar to discuss the unexpected outcomes of the Melaka state elections which were held on 20 November 2021. The speakers at the webinar were: Ms Ginie Lim, who was the State Assembly member for Machap Jaya constituency (2018-2021) and State Executive Council member for Women, Welfare and Rural Development (2018-2020), as well as Mr Danesh Chacko, who is the Director of Tindak Malaysia, a non-governmental organisation focussing on electoral reform.

Ms Ginie Lim and Mr Danesh Chacko presented on the factors that led to the unexpected outcomes of the Melaka state elections. Dr Francis Hutchinson, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the session (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Chacko began the session with a brief introduction on the basic electoral and demographic background of Melaka. He first highlighted that Melaka is a microcosm of Malaysia, and this is largely attributed to two factors. Firstly, Melaka is a Malay-majority state, with its Malay population having increased from 58% to 62% between 2013 and 2021. Secondly, Melaka is highly urbanised, with 95% of its population residing in urban areas. Its GDP per capita also mirrors national levels.

Mr Chacko shared the results of the election, highlighting: Barisan Nasional’s (BN) increase in seats from 13 in 2018 to 21; Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) loss of seats, decreasing from 15 to 5; and Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) relatively muted performance of maintaining 2 seats. He then went through voter trends in Melaka between 2013 and 2021. He pointed out that despite the growth of support for PH in 2018, its support level declined considerably in 2021, which was due, in part, to lower voter turnout. Consequently, BN was able to wrest seats in these areas, despite only a minimal increase in voter support relative to 2018. PN for its part, did much better than expected, securing nearly 24 per cent of total votes. However, PN was penalised by Malaysia’s first-past-the-post system, as this considerable level of support did not translate into a substantial number of seats. And, the effect of PN entering this race ultimately penalised PH, as it drew a substantial number of votes away from the latter coalition.

Mr Chacko also discussed the issue of malapportionment, illustrating how most of the under-sized seats tend to have a Malay majority. This is in contrast to over-sized seats which tend to have a Chinese majority. As with other parts of the Peninsula, this dynamic magnifies the effect of victories secured in under-sized seats as fewer votes are needed to secure them.

Ms Lim then introduced her constituency of Machap Jaya, and stated that it was not just the outcomes of the election that were unexpected, but the holding of elections was also unexpected. This was due to party-hopping which caused the State Assembly to be dissolved, requiring elections to be held before the Assembly’s 5-year term was over. Furthermore, this contradicted the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the ruling coalition and PH at the federal level.

Ms Lim echoed Mr Chacko’s observations and said that PN played a major role in wresting votes from PH. She pointed out that while the losses that PH suffered were a result of a low voter turnout, it was crucial to understand the reasons behind this. She attributed the low voter turnout to various factors such as difficulties in campaigning, the switching of candidates at the last minute, voter unhappiness with the way PH handled the party-hopping, and a lack of clarity in their main message.

Ms Lim also highlighted that there is a sentiment among voters that they were mistreated by UMNO when they came to power after the Sheraton Move. This served to strengthen their support for PN, giving PN the impetus to show that they are serious in contesting for the Malay vote. She pointed out that PN is therefore a viable alternative to BN, and this was also highlighted by Mr Chacko.

During the Question-and-Answer session, participants asked about issues concerning malapportionment, reasons for the decline in Malay support for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), as well as the viability of PN as a competitor to BN, and whether or not it will lead to any rebalancing within BN. A total of 62 participants attended the webinar.