Political showdown not to be missed

Wooing the people: Joohari (pic, above) and Abidin (pic, below) meeting voters during their campaign for the N20 Sungai Bakap by-election at the Sungai Bakap night market in Nibong Tebal. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

NIBONG TEBAL: When you take a close look at the map of Malaysia, you will find that only one point where three large towns of three states meet at their borders.

The towns are Penang’s Nibong Tebal, Kedah’s Bandar Baharu and Perak’s Parit Buntar.

Nowhere else in Malaysia will you find a tri-state point so uniquely urbanised, and a portion of this geography is in the Sungai Bakap state constituency where the by-election is taking place come July 6.

Political observers expect this by-election to be a reliable gauge of government sentiment versus opposition support because this is going to be a straight fight between Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional.

On Saturday, the nomination day, while Barisan Nasional was pitching for the Pakatan candidate, reporters were looking for the sudden appearance of independent candidates who have a habit of showing up unannounced during by-elections in recent years.

But none showed up for this by-election.

At Selangor’s Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election in May, an Independent candidate appeared including a candidate from Parti Rakyat Malaysia. Even Parti Orang Asli Malaysia was said to be keen to field a candidate although it pulled out of the race at the eleventh hour.

Without others to “dilute” the vote-share in Sungai Bakap, political analysts can cleanly dissect the voting results and patterns in this by-election and see what voters think of the unity government and the opposition.

For the voters, the candidates are evenly matched by virtue of both being local boys.

Both went away seeking better fortunes but remained active socially and politically in their hometowns.

Abidin, since 2012, has held several posts in local organisations and mosques in his community to this day.

His staying power is proven by the fact that before he resigned from his job as a logistics executive to be a full-time politician, he had served in that company for 30 years – from 1992 to 2022.

Joohari is equally active in local community affairs especially ever since Fadhlina Sidek became Nibong Tebal MP and then appointed Education Minister.

His intellect is evident by his PhD from Universiti Sains Malaysia and then becoming the previous director of Institut Aminuddin Baki (northern branch), before resigning to serve in politics.

Both candidates, speaking to the media, had even chosen the same local campaigning platform, which is to make the constituency’s years-long sorry water supply their top priority problem.

Being at the southern end of Penang has put Sungai Bakap at a disadvantage because 80% of Penang’s water supply comes from Sungai Muda, at the northern end of mainland Penang.

During peak usage hours, by the time it reaches Sungai Bakap, the water pressure is so low that some kampung houses get only a trickle.

The state has been hard at work to solve this, recently completing a vital upgrade costing RM18.8mil to the water grid that will keep the water pressure up in Sungai Bakap, while the critical Perak-Penang water deal is being actively negotiated.

But for locals, seeing their water taps dwindle to a trickle for years is a source of discontent which the opposition will surely capitalise on.

Voter demographics show that this by-election will be an acid test of Malay grassroots support for Pakatan specifically and the unity government as a whole.

Based on last year’s records, of the 38,409 voters, Malays make up 59.36%, followed by Chinese (22.54%), Indians (17.39%) and others (0.71%).

Although there are vast tracts of farm and plantation land, village areas have grown fewer and suburbs with neat rows of houses and modern retailing centres have been mushrooming over the years.

Being the furthest state constituency from Penang’s financial and industrial hubs, some might opine that Sungai Bakap has been left behind and this is what PAS is capitalising on.

Perikatan election director Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, who is also Kedah Mentri Besar, talked up a storm about it in a recent speech, using the water supply woes to accentuate how the Sungai Bakap constituency is sidelined, and police reports were lodged for passages in his speech allegedly fomenting racial discontent.

But Sungai Bakap is unlike the rural backwaters in many parts of Kedah.

With over a decade of active development in Penang, modernity and urbanisation is spreading everywhere and in Perikatan ceramahs, local pakcik and makcik were seen recording video footages via mobile phones to share on social media.

Mark July 6 on your calendar and follow the voting results, because this by-election could provide a reading into how Malaysians at this moment are thinking as voters.

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Sungai Bakap , by-election , polls


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