SINGAPORE: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday (Nov 18) pledged to hold a "detailed, serious and honest post-mortem", after the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition suffered a humbling defeat in the Tanjung Piai by-election.
This came after PH candidate Karmaine Sardini lost to Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Dr Wee Jeck Seng by a whopping 15,086-vote majority in the polls for the parliamentary seat on Saturday.
In a statement on Monday morning, Dr Mahathir said he expected PH to lose the seat, but not by such a wide margin.
“I accept this decision by the people of Tanjung Piai, even though before this it was expected that the simple majority will switch to the opposition. I expected that the defeat would not be more than 2,000 votes. But, official results show that the majority was 15,086,” said Dr Mahathir, who is also chairman of the PH coalition.
“A detailed, serious and honest post-mortem across all levels of the coalition will be conducted to identify the true reason for this by-election defeat,” he added.
The defeat is PH’s fourth by-election loss since it came into power in May 2018. During the latest campaign in Tanjung Piai, the government came under scrutiny for its failure to fulfill electorial promises and to stabilise the economy.
Results on Saturday showed declining support for PH in Chinese majority areas in Tanjung Piai, Johor. PH had garnered a strong majority in these areas during the last general election. Their support in the rural Malay areas have also fallen.
More than 55 per cent of the electorate in Tanjung Piai are Malay and 41 per cent of the voters are Chinese.
PH NEEDS TO LEARN FROM DEFEAT: ANWAR
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim said: “We accept the shocking defeat and we realise that we have to take action to recover the confidence of the people”.
“But the defeat in one seat does not mean that the government should withdraw itself. The government has the mandate to continue serving the people,” he said.
“I think we need to understand the frustrations of our people - Malays and Chinese, Indians and the others … If we don’t learn from this defeat, then we are not qualified to be the government.”
Mr Anwar added: “We have gotten the signal and we just need some time to make intelligent decisions to recover confidence in the people".
AZMIN CALLS FOR UNITY
Meanwhile, in a statement also released on Monday, vice president of PH and Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin Ali said that the result was “a resounding wake-up call by the people to Pakatan Harapan”.
He called for PH leaders to be united and stand behind Dr Mahathir.
“This is not the time for members and leaders of Pakatan Harapan to take pot shots at each other or take advantage of the situation to challenge the coalition’s leadership. Any attacks on the leadership will only continue to weaken Pakatan Harapan and its effectiveness in governing the country,” said Mr Azmin, who is also deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
He added that the government remains committed to fight for the people’s interests so that their confidence in the coalition can be restored.
“We need to recognise that what we think is best for the people may sometimes not be necessarily so,” said Mr Azmin.
"We must therefore put our finger to the pulse of the people to listen carefully and earnestly to their concerns and grouses. The Government must take immediate action commensurate with the current reality, in order to enhance the socio-economic well-being of the people, be they rural, urban, youth, women or minority groups,” he added.
RADICAL CHANGES AFOOT?
Associate Professor Ahmad Marthada Mohamed, a political observer from University Utara Malaysia, told CNA that the recent statements from the PH leaders could signal an overhaul in approach.
He suggested that there could even be a cabinet reshuffle soon to replace underperforming cabinet ministers, with politicians who are "experienced and proven" like former International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed.
"Tun Mahathir is aware that the way forward has to be changed. People are not satisfied with the performance of cabinet ministers, some action and policies are not reflecting the way they are expected to be," said Assoc Prof Ahmad Marthada.
"This is no longer a honeymoon period. There is no time to give the opportunity to new people, the government needs experienced leaders from Bersatu, Amanah, PKR or DAP (Democratic Action Party) in his cabinet," he added.
On Mr Azmin's comments calling for unity, Assoc Prof Ahmad Marthada said the internal bickering in PKR - said to be between Mr Anwar and Mr Azmin - has spilled over and impacted people's confidence in the ruling coalition.
He said that the perceived split in PKR has also impacted the ability of key ministers like Mr Azmin and Minister of Housing and Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin from doing their work effectively.
"You cannot afford to have people shouting at one another and at the same time try to govern the country in peace. It not only affects the unity in PKR but it also affects the overall performance in PH," added the analyst.