In the first of our series on who will be prime minister we take a look at the odds for each candidate among Najib Abdul Razak, Anwar Ibrahim, Muhyiddin Yassin and Abdul Hadi Awang. The results may be surprising but you can get your own scenario by using our own probability calculator and plugging in your own figures.
In our books there are just four who would be prime minister post the elections. On the Barisan Nasional side, they are caretaker prime minister and Umno chief Najib Abdul Razak and his deputy on both counts Muhyiddin Yassin.
On the Pakatan Rakyat side, we pick Anwar Ibrahim of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) with an outside possibility of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang being chosen as prime minister, mainly in the event of Anwar not being able to take the position for any reason.
There are different scenarios under which each of them can become prime minister. What we have done to make the system a bit more analytical is to use a probability tree, a method which is used in decision-making in business and scenario analysis.
For this, we start with an event, the general elections. And then we assign probabilities to the outcome. In our base-case scenario (based on a limited survey among our staff) we have assigned a probability of 0.6 or a 60 percent chance that BN will win the general elections (see chart).
By implication, and since there are only two coalitions which have a chance of winning the elections, Pakatan will have (1-0.6 = 0.4) or 40% chance of winning the election. We move on then to the next node, in the event of a BN victory.
BN can win either by a higher majority or lower majority than the last time. Again relying on our own limited survey, we think the chances of it winning by a larger majority are rather slim and assign a 0.2 or 20 percent chance to that outcome and therefore a 0.8 probability or 80 percent chance that it will have a lower majority of seats.
In that event, we believe there will be considerable pressure for Najib to step down and give a 0.3 probability or 30% chance of him remaining prime minister and 0.7 probability or 70 percent chance that his deputy Muhyiddin will take over. If BN obtains a larger majority than the 2008 elections, then Najib will have a 90% chance of being prime minister, depending on what the majority is and the performance of the states.
On the other limb of our probability tree, Pakatan has a 0.4 probability of victory and if that happens we think it is a near certainty that Anwar will be prime minister with a probability of 0.95 or 95 percent chance. Multiply all the probabilities out and add them in the case of Najib and Muhyiddin who have two outcomes from the tree, we get the chance that each of them will be prime minister, which we have expressed as a percentage.
The result is interesting. Under our scenario, the single person with the largest probability of becoming prime minister is Anwar Ibrahim with a 38 percent chance followed by Muhyiddin with 34.8 percent and then only Najib with 25.2%. Hadi Awang is a rank outsider with a mere two percent.
But it is important to interpret these results carefully and correctly. There is a 60 percent chance that either Muhyiddin or Najib will be PM which reflects the BN chance of winning the elections, eclipsing Anwar’s 38% which is slightly lower than Pakatan’s 40 percent chance because of Hadi Awang’s outside probability of two per cent.
No, we don’t expect that you will agree. There are indeed different chances for different situations depending on the probabilities. So to create your own probability tree, just click on the box at left and punch in your probability figures.
For instance, if you plugged in BN’s probability of victory at 0.7 and an even chance of 0.5 that BN will obtain a bigger majority and kept all other probabilities in the tree unchanged, Najib’s chances shoots up to 42% and Muhyiddin’s comes down to 28%. The big difficulty in the model is determining the probabilities.
One point to remember is no matter what people’s broad assessment of each of the candidates as prime minister, what matters is how people vote for each and every parliamentary constituency in the country. That is what determines which coalition wins, although it cannot be denied that how people perceive potential prime ministerial candidates will help decide how they vote on the ground.
So, what is the basis of our base-case scenario? We admit right off that its rather arbitrary but a discussion of the last election results and what it would take for Pakatan to reach majority control will help. We focus on the results, only the Parliamentary ones, immediately after elections in March 2008 and ignore crossovers post elections.
Pakatan’s had a tremendous showing in Peninsular Malaysia, capturing just over 50% of the popular vote and garnering 80 parliamentary seats here, against 84 seats by BN. But it failed to make any inroads in Sabah and Sarawak where it won just one seat in each state to take its final tally to 82 seats.
BN on the other hand had a very solid showing taking 25 seats in Sabah and 31 seats in Sarawak for a total of 56 seats, taking its final tally to 140 seats, just eight seats short of two thirds majority. The overall majority over Pakatan was 58 seats, a very comfortable margin of victory. Tellingly, its popular vote fell to just 50.3 percent from 64 percent previously, implying a swing of nearly seven percent.
Even with just 50.3 percent of the popular vote, BN took 63 percent of Parliamentary seats, largely because it was stronger in seats with a smaller number of constituents, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. Pakatan needs to take 30 seats to gain a majority of two in Parliament but the question is where is it going to come from. What kind of a swing will that require? For that we have to turn to undi.info, the site powered by Malaysiakini which allows one to simulate results by plugging in swing votes according to racial and religious groupings.
We did an experiment using the site and with an overall swing of five percent of votes, Pakatan comes out on top with 116 versus 110 for BN. However, the final result is extremely dependent on the Malay swing vote. If the Malay swing vote goes down to three percent, Pakatan gets just 108 seats to BN’s 114. But if you increase the Chinese swing vote to 7.5 percent from five percent, then Pakatan gains 113 seats to BN’s 109 seats.
Interestingly, if the swing vote overall is a uniform 4.5%, Pakatan will scrape in with the barest of majorities -112 versus 110 which indicates that a 5% swing overall or any other combination which effectively gives that is what will give Pakatan clear victory.
We decided to use a base-case scenario which was skewed towards Pakatan to see what happens. For Sabah and Sarawak (via non-Muslim and Muslim-bumiputera categories), we projected an overall swing of 7.5% which translates into a 15% gain, the same that it got for the peninsular in 2008. We projected a 2.5% swing for Malays, 7.5% for Chinese and a loss of 2.5% for Indians reflecting the Hindraf debacle. What we got is that BN will come through but barely with 113 seats against Pakatan’s 109.
The conclusion: BN has a slight edge over Pakatan, 60-40 lah. We won’t go into details about the other probability figures, you can plug in your own figures because they are, well arbitrary and plugging in different figures gives you a sense of what the scenarios are likely to be. But our analysis does indicate that BN will have a reduced majority, which improves Muhyiddin’s chances of becoming PM if BN should win.
Meantime, fasten your belts for the closest battle ever in Malaysian elections. Stay with us and we will bring you some relevant info and analysis on the prime ministerial candidates, their track records, what they have done and said before, what kind of policies they are likely to do and what kind of PM they will make. Hopefully, that will make you better informed when you cast your own vote on Sunday.
Tomorrow: An in-depth look at Najib Abdul Razak – past, present and future