Commentary Politics

Votes are more important than party membership

Umno executive secretary Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh

Umno executive secretary Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh

Shahrum Sayuthi
Written by Shahrum Sayuthi

April 13 2017

THE perception that it is getting bad on the ground for Umno and its Barisan National allies has been swirling around ever since the party’s internal crisis started in mid-2015.

It was much said, especially in the social media, that Umno, which is the biggest political party in the country is losing a huge chunk of its Malay support base after former president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his loyalists defected to the opposition and formed Pribumi Bersatu.

The opposition camp is also claiming that Umno could hardly attract the support of younger voters who were said to be fed-up with the alleged wrongdoings of the establishment leaders.

All this talk is still ongoing despite BN’s convincing victory in the Sarawak election and the following by-elections in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar last year.

It should therefore be a probable relief for the Umno leadership and supporters when party executive secretary Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh announced on Tuesday that about 3,000 people joined the party within a period of one week at the end of last month.

Rauf said it was a huge jump from the usual 200 or 300 people registered as members per week. He also pointed out that most of the newly-registered members are below 30 years old.

“A random survey that we carried out showed that they loved Umno and the Barisan Nasional (BN) and supported the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak as the reason for joining the party,” Rauf was quoted by Bernama as saying after chairing the coordination meeting for the coming 71st Umno anniversary celebrations.

According to Rauf, there are currently 3.5 million Umno members. They are 1.3 million from the Wanita wing, 600,000 (Youth), 380,000 (Puteri) and the rest were ordinary members.

Those are huge numbers if compared to membership of the main opposition parties. The latest estimates are that DAP has about 450,000 members, Pas (300,000), PKR (150,000) and Amanah (100,000).

If what Rauf said about the interest of younger electorates to be with Umno is actually a trend, then the party should have nothing to fear about its future.

It should by right go into the coming general election with confidence and not be threatened at all by the opposition’s propaganda depicting Umno as a party losing its relevancy.

Nonetheless, despite the seemingly encouraging number of membership, the Umno leadership needs to bear in mind that the party always has a problem when it comes to registering its Malay support base as voters, and in many instances, its own members.

Statistics of the Election Commission as on Dec 31, 2015 show that there are 17,658,700 Malaysians who are above 21 years old and eligible to vote.

However, 4,189,754 of them have not registered as voters. Malays make up 43 per cent of this group, followed by Chinese (29 per cent), Indians (9 per cent) Bumiputra in Sarawak (8 per cent), Bumiputra in Sabah (7 per cent) and the rest made up of other races along with members of the Orang Asli community.

Looking at the figures, Umno, as a purely Malay party needs to do more in getting its support base to vote. Getting more people to join the party may be important, but winning votes is even more so.

Case in point is DAP, whose membership was only over 100,000 before the last general election and yet it managed to galvanize the votes of the Chinese community to inflict almost a wipe-out of its MCA rival that boasts a membership of about one million.

The impact was the swelling of DAP’s rank to almost half a million now.

The Chinese-dominated party’s main weapon of choice that most observers tend to overlook was its voters registration drives in the run-up to the election.

It would actually be wise for Umno to learn from the experience of the DAP’s voters registration apparatus that has been known for its efficiency and discipline.

Still on the same note, Rauf would have done better to announce Umno’s achievements in getting more of its support base to vote rather than the reassuring figures on how many more are joining the party rank.

After all, votes win elections, not party membership.

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Shahrum Sayuthi

Shahrum Sayuthi