They told The Malaysian Insider the results of the Teluk Intan by-election hinged on the older voters living in the parliamentary seat, who found more appeal in the Gerakan president's promise of development and solution to their woes, rather than in DAP newbie Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud.
The analysts also agreed that the candidate’s race did not play a factor in this by-election, despite the fuss made over Dyana being a Malay candidate from a Chinese party, contesting in a Chinese majority area.
“Younger voters didn’t come back to vote in large numbers and earlier analysis showed that younger voters were more in favour of DAP candidates,” Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian told The Malaysian Insider.
“Elderly voters in Teluk Intan voted with practicality in mind. Mah is a local guy, they have known him for so long, he even served them as MP for two terms. That, and the promise of a ministership, tipped it in his favour,” he added.
Mah dedicated his manifesto to solving local issues and developing Teluk Intan into a tourism hub and an agro-based industry. He was a two-term MP for the federal seat but lost in the 2008 general elections.
BN ministers who had campaigned for Mah also reminded Teluk Intan locals that the constituency would require a BN representative to see any progress.
In contrast, Dyana’s campaign in Teluk Intan touched very little on local issues, in favour of national policies and ideas she would focus on as a lawmaker in Parliament, such as the rising cost of living, the goods and services tax, and youth and women’s empowerment.
Mah won the by-election with 20,157 votes against Dyana’s 19,919, giving him a razor-thin majority of 238 votes.
The final official voter turnout at the Teluk Intan by-election was 66.7% with 40,236 of 60,349 registered voters coming out to cast their ballots. The previous general election saw an 80.7% voter turnout.
It is estimated that 10% of Teluk Intan’s 60,349 electorate live outside the constituency, which equals about 6,000 voters who are generally pro-opposition.
In last year’s general election, DAP candidate, the late Seah Leong Peng won the Teluk Intan seat by 7,313 votes.
It was her inexperience and unfamiliarity that cost Dyana her victory, and not her race, said Ibrahim.
“I think what comes across voters’ minds is that she was inexperienced. They’ve had a non-Chinese candidate there before who won, so I don’t think it’s a race thing so much.”
Mah first became MP for Teluk Intan after winning the seat in the 1999 and 4004 general elections, before losing to M. Manogaran in 2008 by a 1,830 vote majority and Seah in 2013.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said that DAP’s strategy had “failed” because the pro-opposition outstation voters were given the impression that Dyana’s win was in the bag.
“With the younger generation, her manifesto would have struck a chord. But older people want development,” he said.
“But DAP was so overconfident, the online campaign put out that she’s a star, people love her, people are lining up to take her picture."
Khoo said that DAP's approach contrasted heavily with Mah's, who told reporters even up to polling day that he was worried and felt the battle would be tough.
“So the outstation voters who would have voted for her felt it was not necessary to do so, and that is what caused the loss,” Khoo told The Malaysian Insider.
He added that the sense of urgency prevalent in last year’s general election among the pro-opposition outstation voters was missing in this by-election, as they knew there would be no change in the federal government should they return home to vote.
“She should have played the underdog, but that was done too late. DAP only realised much later that outstation voters will determine her win.”
He said that Teluk Intan locals would not be impressed by Dyana’s manifesto as they had not yet felt the impact of the GST, so it was difficult for them to relate to it.
Instead, what they related to was what Mah promised for them: better roads, more jobs, industrial status and a new university.
“At the end of the day, they had to choose a candidate they could relate to. They weren’t going to vote for someone based on ideals such as empowerment of youth and women. And most importantly, Mah promised them development.”
Khoo also faulted Dyana for making too many mistakes throughout the campaign, and relying on the party’s ideals and machinery, rather than her own self, to win over Teluk Intan.
“Her flip-flops on her mother’s involvement with Perkasa dented her credibility. The DAP was trying to minimise that, they were overprotective. At the end of the day, she didn’t stand out as a candidate, and she couldn’t stand on her own two feet.”
He said her Malay race was not really a factor, as the opposition or middle ground voters would have voted based on the party she stood for and the promises she made.
Professor James Chin of Monash noted that in terms of race, Dyana had failed to win over the Malay ground in Teluk Intan, which was still with BN.
“My guess is that the Malay ground is holding for Umno. And if the Malay ground is so big, you need a big Chinese ground to make up for it. But certainly the outstation voters didn’t come back to vote. That’s why the results were so close.
“The gamble to put Dyana to get the Malay votes failed,” he told The Malaysian Insider, adding that this was not surprising as Teluk Intan was a semi-rural community.
He said that Mah won Malay voters’ support due to Umno's machinery, which was able to penetrate further into the Malay zones and offer more material support than the opposition.
Chin added that with this win, Mah could now help give Gerakan bigger political clout in BN and slowly reverse its fortunes.
“They really need to pull themselves and deliver the goods for the people of Teluk Intan, For DAP, it's back to the drawing board and back to working hard at winning non-urban areas,” said Ibrahim.
“It shows that in semi-urban or rural areas, support will be tough for DAP and the members need to work the ground if they want to really win the next general election.” – June 1, 2014.