THE signs were there during the two weeks of campaigning that Barisan Nasional would win the Tanjung Piai by-election.
The crowd at some of the Pakatan Harapan ceramah with top leaders like DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang was in the double-digit. The near-empty events were a reversal of fortune for Pakatan which attracted huge crowds in GE14.
In contrast, the turnout at Barisan’s ceramah was high in the by-election.
The contrasting number of people at the Pakatan and Barisan events was an indication that the voters in the parliamentary seat in Johor wanted to teach the government a lesson.
A majority of them was angry or disappointed that the ruling coalition had failed to fulfil most of its election promises. They also wanted to protest against the government’s failure to control the rising cost of living.“The biggest factor which helped BN to win in Tanjung Piai is PH itself. They failed to deliver their promises at the federal and state level. Voters realised that PH is only good at making empty promises, ” said Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali.
“Now, PH has to pay the price. Voters are not willing to be duped and conned by PH any more.”
The Tanjung Piai victory is a huge morale boost for MCA which fielded Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng as the Barisan candidate. It will now have two MPs.
The win is a turning point for the party which was at its lowest ebb when only Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong won a parliamentary seat in GE14.
It is also a boost for MCA as it secured a higher number of Chinese votes compared to GE14.
Sizeable Chinese voters were upset with the rising cost of living, the lack of direction in running the country, the ringgit’s decline and the drop in the price of palm oil.
They were also angry with the government for not fulfilling its promise to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) and the cutback on government funding for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC).
The Barisan win, according to James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, showed that the Chinese wanted to send a strong signal to DAP on the way Pakatan was operating.“It is not a signal to PH but to DAP. The Chinese are unhappy with DAP’s dealings inside Pakatan. They feel that DAP can’t deliver any of the promises it made to the Chinese community, ” he said.
“They want the DAP to be more assertive on Chinese issues like UEC and ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) and khat.”
Muhammad Asri said the non-Malays were also frustrated with DAP’s attitude towards Bersatu when the party accepted Umno MPs and behaved like Umno of the past.
Jeck Seng, the two-term Tanjung Piai MP who lost narrowly in GE14, is a popular candidate with a track record of serving his constituents.
The Muafakat Nasional (the unity pact between PAS and Umno) also helped Barisan to win over the Malay voters.
“For the majority of Malay voters in Tanjung Piai, they see that the economy is still not being handled well. Their lives have not changed. In particular their income, even though the government has changed, ” said Universiti Malaya (UM) sociopolitics Prof Awang Azman Awang Pawi.
“For the Malays, they still want the BN because BN has long been credited to them. They were angry with issues such as 1MDB and GST (goods and services tax). But these issues are no longer relevant, and it appears that Bersatu is not able to take over Umno’s role.”
It is interesting to note that many of the Chinese voters did not have issues with Muafakat Nasional. It is not a surprise as the community was comfortable with voting for a Pakatan Rakyat candidate who was from PAS in GE13.
“It is a big victory for Muafakat Nasional as the combination of PAS and Umno votes can give it a higher number of Malay votes. And the formula of fielding an MCA candidate who is suitable and qualified paid off, ” said Awang Azman.
The defeat in Tanjung Piai is a wake-up call for Pakatan. The Ubah (change) voters are sending a strong message that they are disgruntled with its performance in the last 555 days.
The result is also a signal to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that a significant number of the Ubah voters want a clear-cut plan on the transfer of power to PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
“The acceptance of Mahathir’s leadership has deteriorated as there is a stronger demand for Mahathir to hand over power to Anwar quickly, ” said Awang Azman.
It is the second defeat for Dr Mahathir’s Bersatu. It also failed to retain the Semenyih state seat in Selangor in a by-election in February.
Awang Azman warned that the Tanjung Piai result might only be temporary.
“These dynamics can change over time and circumstances, ” he said.
But Barisan’s four wins in the last five by-elections indicate that Pakatan might be a one-term government.