JOHOR has long been regarded as a Barisan Nasional “fixed deposit” state. This general election, the Opposition is going all out to change that, including organising a mammoth gathering in Pasir Gudang yesterday.
The state has 56 state seats and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi) is expected to contest the lion’s share with 18 seats, followed by DAP (14) and PKR and Parti Amanah Negara (12 each).
Pakatan Harapan is aiming to win 10 more seats to gain a simple majority in the 56-member state assembly, where it currently has 19 seats. It is also eyeing 10 more parliamentary seats to add to its current six.
One major area it is targeting include the 73 Felda settlements, which contribute votes to at least 15 parliamentary seats, a huge voting block for Barisan.
“The Opposition’s message to the settlers is simple: look at Felda Global Ventures’ shares. Its initial public offering price was RM4.55 and now it is RM1.70.
“It is one of the worst performing plantation stocks on Bursa Malaysia,” says an observer, who adds that the Federal Land Development Agency has also been plagued with many scandals.
Other issues Pakatan plans to play up to win voters include bread and butter issues such as the rising cost of living and property prices, which have spiked tremendously in recent years.
Its 20-point Johor Pakatan Manifesto is also a “sweetener” as it is promising 10 cubic metres of free water, limiting the mentri besar’s tenure to two terms, conducting open tenders for all projects in the state immediately, building 100,000 affordable homes and having a Johor university.
However, it is no mean task to bring down the Barisan state government, which has been able to bring in economic progress, foreign direct investment, tourism revenue and jobs.
Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin has set up a KPI system for state exco and government-linked companies and has drawn up plans based on the needs of the people through the Suara Hati Johor project.
With few local issues to be exploited against the state government under Mohamed Khaled, it will be a daunting task for the Opposition to take over Johor.
The Opposition may win a few more seats or even lose a few.
In the event that Barisan is returned to power in Johor, it will be a challenge to retain its two-thirds majority in the state assembly.
As for the parliamentary seats, the hot seats for both Barisan and Pakatan will be the ones won with slim majorities of fewer than 2,000 votes in the 2013 polls.
Among them are Pasir Gudang, Tebrau, Segamat, Labis, Muar and Ledang, all under Barisan, and Batu Pahat, held by PKR.
Observers note that the current Chinese sentiment in Johor is somewhat cooler than in 2013.
“We will not be surprised if the voter turnout in GE14 drops from 89.9% five years ago to 75% or 78%, similar to 2008.
“If the Opposition wants to win more seats, it needs a wave of Malay voters – at least a 5% to 10% swing in all seats and higher in rural areas,” says one observer.
The recently gazetted electoral redelineation will be another important factor. At least 19 of the 26 parliamentary constituencies have had their boundaries changed, as well as 34 of the 56 state seats.
Political sources said that among the seats affected are DAP’s Pekan Nenas state seat, which has seen the movement of more than 2,000 voters, mainly Chinese, into nearby Kukup, which was a safe seat for Barisan.
Among the other seats affected are Batu Pahat, Perling, Johor Jaya and Puteri Wangsa, while Barisan appears to have received a boost in seats like Pulai, Muar, Mahkota and Paloh.
Observers predict that PAS’ aim of becoming a third force will fizzle out.
While they agree that PAS has a strong machinery, they say many of its supporters who live in Johor and work in Singapore will head back to vote in their home states of Kelantan and Terengganu.
Another major factor in GE14 will be how the Johor palace views and accepts candidates.
Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar is known to speak his mind and does not tolerate racist politicians who sow hatred among the people.
He has also “struck out” the names of candidates who were deemed to be ineffective or racist.
Among the seats to watch are Ayer Hitam, which will see Johor DAP chairman Liew Chin Tong taking on MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.
Another hot seat will be Johor Baru, which incumbent Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad has held since 1978. He is supposed to face off against DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang.
However, a political observer downplayed this supposed showdown as pre-election drum-beating, saying PKR is planning to field National Oversight and Whistleblowers executive director Akmal Nasir in Johor Baru.
Mohamed Khaled is expected to contest both the parliamentary seat of Pasir Gudang, as well as the Permas state seat.
He is expected to face off with Johor PKR chief Hasan Karim in Pasir Gudang and former Johor civil service officer Dr Hashim Yusoff in Permas.
In Segamat, MIC president Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam is expected to be challenged by PKR’s Datuk Seri Dr Edmund Santhara, the former chief executive officer of Masterskill Education Group Bhd.
Another hot seat will be Pagoh, where Muhyiddin will face his former protege, Pagoh Umno acting chief Ismail Mohamed.
Muhyiddin is expected to be contesting a state seat as well – most likely Gambir, which is held by Johor MIC chief Datuk M. Asojan.
Fresh faces in Barisan’s state line-up include Gelang Patah Umno division chief Khairi A. Malik, who will be fielded in the Kota Iskandar state seat, and Pulai Umno deputy chief Datuk Ramli Bohani for the Kempas state seat.
Others include Johor Entrepreneur Development Centre executive director Hahasrin Hashim, who is also Johor Umno Youth chief, in the Panti state seat; and Wanita MCA vice-chairman Wong You Fong in the Perling state seat.
Former Pekan Nenas assemblyman Tang Nai Soon, the state MCA vice-chairman, is expected to run in the Kulai parliamentary constituency.
MIC is expected to field businessman Datuk S. Kannan, who is Johor deputy MIC chief, for the Puteri Wangsa state seat or if there is a last-minute switch.
The war drums have started beating in Johor, with Barisan launching its election machinery at an indoor stadium in Pasir Gudang on March 30.
Pakatan also launched its war-cry in Pasir Gudang on April 6.
Both sides are going all out to woo the state’s 1.82 million voters, including its more than 260,000 new voters.
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