PETALING JAYA: The Tanjung Piai by-election is shaping up to be a mini referendum on the country’s political conundrum.
It will be a test of the popularity of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister and Pakatan Harapan chairman.
“Dr Mahathir needs a win to prove that he, his party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia) and Pakatan Harapan are still popular among the voters, ” said Universiti Malaya sociopolitics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi.
James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, agreed.
“It is a mini referendum on PH rule for the past 1.7 years, and all the PH in-fighting plus on Tun Mahathir’s tenure as well.”
Today is nomination day for the parliamentary seat in Johor which fell vacant after the sudden death of Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, 42, on Sept 21.
Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional and Gerakan have announced their candidates.
So far it is a three-way contest between Pakatan’s Karmaine Sardini, 66, from Bersatu, Barisan’s Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng, 55, from MCA and Gerakan’s Wendy Subramaniam, 38.
In GE14, two-term incumbent Wee lost to Dr Md Farid by 524 votes. Dr Farid garnered 21,255 votes, Wee got 20,731 votes and PAS’ Nordin Othman received 2,962 votes.
Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali said since Pakatan had won the parliamentary constituency it was interesting to see whether the coalition’s narrative (reform, equal and just) was still intact and strongly supported by the voters.
“Or will it be dumped by the voters (because the narrative now has changed to a power struggle within the component parties) like what happened in the by-elections in Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Rantau, ” he said.
Chin said there were two important things to watch out in the Tanjung Piai contest.
“If Umno/PAS pact can deliver votes given that the candidate is from MCA and If there is a swing among the Chinese back to BN because in GE14 90% of the Chinese voted for PH in Tanjung Piai, ” he said.
In general, Chin believed that Barisan would have the momentum, but it has to be mindful that some Umno and Malay voters were not happy with the decision to field an MCA candidate.
However, he said by choosing a Chinese candidate, Barisan was signalling that “perhaps BN is not dead because of the Umno/PAS pact.”
Awang Azman said it was important for Umno and PAS to show that despite their muafakat (cooperation) that “they were not racist which is the narrative created (by their opponents) that their struggle was only for Malays and Muslims.
Muhammad Asri said the by-election will also gauge whether Bersatu still had the support of non-Malays after many issues - such as Khat, Malay Dignity Congress, ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) - which did not favour them.
“In recent by-elections, especially in Semenyih state seat which Bersatu contested and lost, there is an indication that non-Malays have switched their vote to BN. Will this pattern repeat in Tanjung Piai?” he said.
Chin said it would be interesting to see how Umno campaigns for Malay voters since the candidate is a Chinese.
He also said it would also be interesting to see how DAP would campaign as MCA was no longer in government.
“DAP will have to defend issues like UEC, ICERD, weak ringgit and khat, ” he said.
Chin noted that the issues for Malays and non-Malays were very different.
“For Malays, the key issues will be ‘marginalisation’ of Malays under PH and PAS/Umno pact. For the non-Malays, the issue would be if PH is better than the previous BN regime in Johor?” he said.
The by-election, said Muhammad Asri, will be a test whether younger voters, who comprise 35% of the total voters, still supported Pakatan in Tanjung Piai as they did in GE14.
“Are they going to support the Bersatu candidate who is not very young and does not represent the middle classes?” he said.
On Gerakan, Awang Azman does not think the party will make an impact.
“It is trying to be an alternative between PH and BN, but its chances are low, ” he said.
Chin said Gerakan, which left Barisan after GE14, was contesting to show its relevance.
“It has nothing to lose since it doesn’t have any seat. The only way is up as it cannot go down further, ” he said.
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