The Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research recently released the report of its survey on 'Perceptions on UMNO Party Elections 2009' (the summary of its main findings can be accessed here).
The official media publication of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), Harakah; pounced on the opportunity to cite a particular finding of the survey claiming that "Hanya 19 Peratus Melayu Mahu UMNO Memerintah" ("Only 19 Percent Malays Want UMNO To Rule"). Many other pro-PAS and Pakatan Rakyat blogs and news media have since made similar claims.
19 percent is a really shocking figure. I've done some preliminary research on Malay support for UMNO and based on what I've gathered, I don't believe the number of Malays supporting UMNO could be that low. So I read through the report on the main findings to find the evidence for this remarkable claim.
Of relevance are the findings reported on pages 15 and 44. Both pages report responses to the question "As a Malaysian, what is your hope for UMNO?" Page 15 reports the responds from the overall sample (n=1031) which includes Malay, Chinese and Indian respondents. While on page 44, one will find the breakdown of responses from male and female Malay respondents (n=592).
What intrigued me is the question "As a Malaysian, what is your hope for UMNO?" My first reaction was, was this an open-ended or close-ended question? Looking at the nature of the findings, my immediate guess was it must have been an open-ended question.
I emailed Mr. Ibrahim Suffian, Director of the Merdeka Centre to seek some clarifications. I am grateful for his reply and the information he relayed to me confirms my suspicions. Firstly, it was indeed an open-ended question. And according to him, the answers given by respondents were later on recorded into similar categories of answers.
The question now is, since it was an open-ended question (and a very general question I should stress), can we make the interpretation that because only 19 percent Malay respondents indicated their hopes for UMNO to "continue lead the country", only 19 percent Malays want UMNO to rule the country? And those who 'did not express hope' for UMNO to continue lead the country, can we be certain they 'do not want UMNO to rule' the country?
I am of the opinion (and Mr. Ibrahim Suffian agrees with me) that the best way to test the claim that only a small minority of Malays want UMNO to continue rule the country, is to put forward in a survey more specific items such as: "I want UMNO to continue lead the country", and respondents respond to a Likert Scale (from 'Strongly Agree' to 'Strongly Disagree') or 'Yes/No'. If the results show only a small number of respondents (say for example only 19 percent of the sample) indicating agreeableness to the statement, only then can we confidently and responsibly claim that "only 19 percent of Malays want UMNO to rule."
Let me stress that by writing this piece, I am not in any way questioning the integrity and professionalism of the Merdeka Centre. I have great respect for Mr. Ibrahim Suffian and highly appreciate the effort he and his research team has put in to provide credible scientific data on public opinion. However, I do at times question the maturity and wisdom of those who use these numbers to fulfil their own prophecies and political opinions.
Less than two weeks ago, I attended a forum in which Mr. Ibrahim Suffian was one of the three panellists. The organiser of the event was a pro-Pakatan Rakyat Perak-ian NGO. Mr. Ibrahim Suffian was the last panellists to speak. Before he spoke, both panellists before him, and the forum moderator especially, expressed their personal views that if the Perak state election is held at any time in the near future, Pakatan Rakyat will sweep through with a landslide victory.
Clearly, speaking based more on facts and numbers rather than emotions and sentiments, Mr. Ibrahim Suffian explained that even though Pakatan Rakyat may well win a Perak state election, the margin of victory may not be very significant. Realistically, PR can only hope for an improved majority of elected members to the Perak state parliament.
Why? Because despite all its weaknesses and mistakes, UMNO still has a considerable number of loyal members and supporters who will always vote for UMNO and only for UMNO. These are mostly the more elder members of the community who have seen and can only see UMNO ruling the country. The number of these UMNO loyalists may have shrunk in the last few years, but they remain until today strong and formidable.
Allah knows how much I am sympathetic to the struggles of Pakatan Rakyat, and how much indeed I wish for the coalition to be given the chance to govern the country. To achieve that however is not that easy. There are more work to be done and much persuasion to be made. Please do not make the same mistakes UMNO and Barisan Nasional made in the runout towards last year’s general election, and that is to believe in their own spin and to be deceived by their own propaganda.
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