Commentary Politics

Hours on their feet or by bullock-cart not an issue for Malaya’s first voters

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

April 11, 2018

A Youth’s Take – A column by Zaidi Azmi

Much has been said over the timing of the coming elections which falls on a Wednesday, with Barisan Nasional’s harshest critic, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, insisting that it was yet another plot to discourage people from voting.

While Mahathir’s claim was predictable since his fallout with BN about three years ago, statistics from past elections do not show much conclusive evidence linking voter turnout to what day polling was held.

KUALA LUMPUR: SINCE Malaya had its first general elections in 1955, voter turnout in 14 elections has never been below 68 per cent.

Of the five weekday elections, only two showed a slightly lower turnout and this was in 1995 and 1999, at 68.3 per cent and 69.3 per cent respectively.

Interestingly, these two elections were during Mahathir’s time as prime minister, which would make precisely the right person to know what can happen if again held on a weekday.

Malaysian general elections held on weekdays


Head of Government

Registered Voters


1955 — Wednesday

Tunku Abdul Rahman


82.8 per cent

1959 — Wednesday

Tunku Abdul Rahman


73.3 per cent

1982 — Thursday

Mahathir Mohamad


75.4 per cent

1995 — Monday

Mahathir Mohamad


68.3 per cent

1999 — Monday

Mahathir Mohamad


69.3 per cent

In fact, the turnout for 1995 and 1999 was the lowest of all 14 elections despite the fact that Mahathir had declared the two Mondays as public holidays.

Both elections were held against the backdrop of two of the most notorious political controversies in the country – the years following the Team A – Team B Umno split in 1987 and the formation of the Umno splinter, Semangat 46, and the sacking of then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1998.

Malaysian general elections held on weekends


Head of Government

Registered Voters


1964 — Saturday

Tunku Abdul Rahman


78.9 per cent

1969 — Saturday

Tunku Abdul Rahman


73.6 per cent

1974 — Saturday

Abdul Razak Hussein


75.1 per cent

1978 — Saturday

Hussein Onn


75.3 per cent

1986 — Saturday

Mahathir Mohamad


74.3 per cent

1990 — Saturday

Mahathir Mohamad


72.3 per cent

2004 — Sunday

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi


73.9 per cent

2008 — Saturday

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi


75.9 per cent

2013 — Sunday

Najib Razak


84.8 per cent

The Anwar controversy was also widely believed to be the main reason why BN’s popular vote dropped by almost nine per cent from the 65.2 per cent or 3,881,214 votes in 1995 to 56.5 per cent or 3,748,511 votes in 1999.

It was a tad ironic for Mahathir to cry foul over a weekday election as three of the five elections held during his era were on weekdays.

Even more mind-boggling was Pribumi Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s contention on how a low turnout will hurt Pakatan badly. Not surprisingly Saddiq did not provide any evidence or possibilities to back his statement.

Not entirely surprising too Pakatan leaders were not the only ones to moan and groan over the date for GE14 (fourteen because the first in 1955 has been excluded for being held two years before Malaya’s independence from British rule).

Social media was, and still is, choke-full of grumblers complaining about the supposedly time-consuming hassle for them to balik kampung (return to their hometowns) to vote.

Some of the rampantly issued caustic remarks were so intense to the point that it makes one wonder why these voters would not change their voting addresses to wherever they are residing.

Logically it is more practical to do so because there are no compelling reasons why anyone should want to elect a representative in a constituency he does not live in?

Bitching about a four-hour drive from Sungai Buloh to vote in Alor Setar would probably make us a laughing stock to our elders who voted in 1955, for there they were in Alor Janggus having to walk for five hours or hop onto a bullock-cart for four hours to vote in Alor Setar town — and that’s for a modern day distance of seven kilometres. For the latter it takes you maybe no more than one hour in the worst of traffic by car these days!

It’s either that or one could opt a three-hour boat ride, voyaging along the Alor Janggus, Tandop, Kubang Rotan and Kedah rivers before reaching Alor Setar.

In 1955, voting was an ordeal and coincidentally, it was also called on Wednesday – the same day this year’s elections will be held — but did that discourage the people of Malaya then from going to the polls?

The 82.8 per cent who did vote didn’t think it was such a big ask — whether it was a walk, a bullock-cart ride or a trip by a small boat down various rivers.



About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at