Sg Bakap polls: No clear favourites, say analysts

GEORGE TOWN: The country’s two largest political coalitions are being strategic by fielding local candidates in the upcoming Sungai Bakap state by-election, which will officially commence this Saturday (June 22).

The Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional camp under the unity government is fielding former northern branch director of Aminuddin Baki Institute Dr Joohari Ariffin, 60, from PKR, while Perikatan Nasional has named Nibong Tebal PAS vice-chief Abidin Ismail, 56, as its flagbearer, apparently to capitalise on the fact that they are homegrown candidates.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) senior lecturer in political science Jamaie Hamil said that both candidates were well-positioned to convince voters based on their community experience and local roots and the narrow winning majority in the last state election.

He said Joohari can bank on his experience as a former civil servant and educator, while Abidin has the advantage of involvement in party and social work. However, both have the potential to resonate with Sungai Bakap voters as local sons.

Jamaie said that from an academic perspective, Joohari had the advantage as he held a PhD in management and educational leadership from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), which may appeal to the middle class and youth.

"When choosing a candidate, people look at their place of origin, apart from education level, work experience or how they can handle community issues, as these will be reflected in the role of an elected representative,” he said when contacted by Bernama on Monday (June 17).

Although there may be a multi-cornered contest, Jamaie considered the Sungai Bakap by-election as a fierce battle between the two political sides due to the slim majority of only 1,563 votes in the 2023 state election.

He added that PKR was keen to reclaim the seat it held for three terms since 2008 before it was captured by PAS in the state election last August, and the latter will undoubtedly want to retain it.

"A majority of slightly over 1,500 votes is neither a white area for the incumbent nor a black area for the challenger. This means that any equivalent party has a chance to win there as it can be considered a grey area. If the majority is 2,000, then, it is a black area," he said.

Joohari began his career as a teacher and retired from public service on Sept 1, 2023, while Abidin works in logistics and was an assistant to the late Sungai Bakap seat holder, Nor Zamri Latiff.

Meanwhile, Academy of Sciences Malaysia fellow Prof Jayum Jawan said the Sungai Bakap by-election was not a contest of personalities but a competition between parties representing ideologies, namely Pakatan and Perikatan, or PKR and PAS.

"It is also about a test of Malay support for Malay-dominated party PKR and Islamic PAS. Thus, PAS is expected to retain it, and losing it means dwindling support among Malays,” he said.

The Universiti Putra Malaysia political science professor said if Pakatan-Barisan wins in Sungai Bakap, it is a sign that support for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his leadership is growing stronger, especially as the country heads towards the 16th general election.

The Sungai Bakap by-election is a crucial battleground for PKR and PAS as it will again witness the clash between the two parties for the same seat nearly 10 months after the 2023 state election.

The Election Commission (EC) has set July 6 for polling for the Sungai Bakap by-election, with June 22 as the Nomination Day and July 2 for early voting.

The Sungai Bakap seat, with 39,279 voters comprising 39,222 ordinary voters and 57 police officers, fell vacant following the death of its incumbent Nor Zamri from PAS on May 24 due to stomach inflammation.

In the last state election, Nor Zamri, who was the Nibong Tebal PAS chief, defeated PH candidate Nurhidayah Che Rose with a majority of 1,563 votes.- Bernama

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