PONTIAN: The Tanjung Piai by-election will be a poser to the 53,528 voters on whether they want to give the Pakatan Harapan government a second chance, or teach it a lesson.
For Barisan Nasional, the key to wresting the parliamentary seat in Johor is whether it can “tukar balik” (win over) the Ubah (change) voters who gave Pakatan a slim victory in the constituency during GE14.
A sizeable number of Ubah voters are angry or disappointed that the coalition of hope has not lived up to its hype.
In fact, voters from both sides of the political divide are disgruntled that the Pakatan government has not fulfilled most of its election promises.
They are also discontented that the government has failed to deal with the rising cost of living.
“The main issue in this by-election is voters are angry that Pakatan did not fulfil most of its election promises. There will be protest votes against it, ” said Universiti Malaya (UM) sociopolitics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi.
UM political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali noted that the by-election would allow the voters to check where Pakatan was leading them.
“If voters don’t agree with that direction, they will vote for Barisan, ” he said.
He believed that most of the Malay voters are in no dilemma at all on who to vote for.
“The signs are very clear that they will give their vote to Barisan due to many factors such as broken promises, under-performing ministers, Malay bashing, rising cost of living and lack of affordable homes, ” he said.
As for the bulk of the non-Malay electorate, Muhammad Asri said the group was caught in a bind, as they were strong Pakatan supporters previously.
“It is not easy to change a political party less than two years since the last general election. But the choice of the Pakatan candidate this time plus many issues created by Bersatu (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia) such as the Perak Mentri Besar’s remarks on DAP, some of the non-Malays might give their votes to Barisan, or just not vote at all, ” he said.
One of the hot topics among the Chinese community is education. They are angry about the cutback on government funding for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC).
The by-election is a six-way fight between Pakatan’s Karmaine Sardini of Bersatu, Barisan’s Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng of MCA, Gerakan’s Wendy Subramaniam, Berjasa’s Dr Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz and Independents Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar and Dr Ang Chuan Lock.
Malays make up 57% of the voters, the Chinese 42%, and Indians 1%.
Tanjung Piai will offer a second chance for the two front-runners who narrowly lost in GE14.
Wee, a two-term MP there, lost his seat by 524 votes to Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, 42, who died suddenly on Sept 21.
Karmaine lost by 833 votes to Barisan’s Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan in the contest for the Pontian parliamentary seat.
James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said it was clear that the key to winning Tanjung Piai was the Chinese votes.
“If DAP cannot hold on to the Chinese votes, then Pakatan will likely lose. The last time, DAP got about 80% of the Chinese votes. If that drops to below 55%, Pakatan will lose, ” he predicted.
The Chinese, according to Chin, were angry with many issues but it all boiled down to the perception that DAP was not able to speak up against Bersatu on issues such
the UEC, ICERD, Malay dignity congress, khat, and the controversy involving Superman Hew’s comic book.
“But the biggest problem is that most Chinese think DAP being so quiet means (Prime Minister and Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and gang are trying to create Umno 3.0 by taking in defectors and in the long run, overtake DAP and other parties, ” he said.
“So, the thinking is that if DAP does nothing and says nothing, then Bersatu will be on the way to being the new Umno in the long run, and DAP would end up like MCA, ” he added.
Muhammad Asri said judging by the happenings on the ground over the past two weeks, Barisan held the advantage to victory.
“Pakatan planned to organise 162 ceramah, so far they only have done around 70 plus. The reason is the turnout was very small in numbers. Pakatan had to bring the Prime Minister himself to help them campaign, ” he said.
“In the past, it was very rare for the PM to get involved in a by-election. This shows how chronic the situation Pakatan is in, ” he said.
Muhammad Asri said there was a huge crowd at a ceramah organised by Barisan.
“(PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) says the crowd during a ceramah is not the determinant of a by-election. I don’t agree with that, ” he said.
“For the past three general elections and by-elections, we saw voters brave enough to show their political affliation before polling by attending ceramah.
“This is what happened to Barisan before GE14, voters did not attend their ceramah and did not vote for them as well, ” he added.
Muhammad Asri said a large quantum of the Malay voters deemed the Muafakat Nasional (PAS and Umno uniting) as appropriate compared with the “maruah Melayu” (Malay dignity) narrative championed by Bersatu.
Awang Azman felt the voters were also wary about the sudden appearance of prominent Pakatan politicians in the final two weeks of campaigning and the government’s instant by-election promises.
“Why are the top Pakatan leaders only flocking to Tanjung Piai lately? And some of them are making promises or announcing allocations, ” he said.
Roti canai and dhal issues and unfulfilled election promises could just cost Pakatan the Tanjung Piai parliamentary seat.