Even though the Tanjung Piai by-election will not change the political equation of the Federal government, it will be keenly watched.
On paper, it looks like a sure win for Barisan Nasional in the upcoming Tanjung Piai, Johor, by-election.
In GE14 last year, Pakatan Harapan’s Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia) defeated Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Wee Jeck Seng (MCA) and PAS’s Nordin Othman with a majority of 524 votes. However, if the votes Barisan (20,731) and PAS (2.962) received were added and compared with the votes Pakatan (21,255) got, they would have won by 2,438 votes.
Based on that political mathematics, Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali said Barisan should be able to wrest back the Parliamentary seat which fell vacant after the sudden death of Dr Md Farid.
“Now with the unity collaboration between Umno and PAS, on paper it is easy for BN to win as it will be getting the PAS votes, ” he said.
In the 2018 General Election, Muhammad Asri said Barisan lost its traditional seat because of several factors.
The general mood in the country was anti-Najib (the then Prime Minister and Barisan chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak) mixed with anger over GST (goods and services tax) and the rising cost of living, he said.
“There was also a wave in Johor to reject Barisan. Many traditional BN seats like Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang and Muar fell.”
But the mood has changed. The rakyat’s anger has turned against the Pakatan Harapan government.
“Many of the PH promises have not been delivered. Previously, they believed PH’s promise to abolish highway tolls and PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corp) loan repayments. The promises attracted them. But after 500 days of Pakatan rule, the anger against Barisan has now turned towards Pakatan, ” said Muhammad Asri.
Universiti Utara Malaysia political lecturer Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani agreed.
“The mood of the people now has changed compared to GE14. You can see now Malaysians feel disappointed by the Pakatan government. What has been promised in the manifesto – many promises – Pakatan has not been able to fulfil. Some were fulfilled, but they (the people) can’t feel it, ” he said.
The collaboration between Umno and PAS has strengthened both parties, he added.
So is Tanjung Piai a sure win for Barisan?
While admitting that on paper it is, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia politics and governance research group head Dr Mazlan Ali contends that in reality, it is 50/50.
One of the factors to consider is that Pakatan is the government, he said. “It has the advantage as it is the Federal government. If PH announced that its candidate would be a Federal Minister if he/she won, this might sway the voters to vote for the coalition, ” he said.
The Johor voters are strategic, said Mazlan.
“They might consider voting for a Pakatan candidate as the coalition can provide development in the constituency where the infrastructure is lacking, ” he said.
He gave an example using the Sungai Besar, Selangor, by-election in 2016 which Barisan won with sizable Chinese support. The community, which voted for Pakatan in GE14, voted for Barisan because it was the Federal government, he said.
Muhammad Asri doesn’t rule out Pakatan creating an upset in the Tanjung Piai by-election.
“If there is a change in the Federal level – just say (PKR president Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim becomes Prime Minister. There will be a new mood at the national level, and the angry mood against Pakatan could change. You never know, ” he said.
Although on paper it looks like Barisan could win Tanjung Piai easily, the political analysts cautioned that on the ground, the selection of candidate could play a significant factor.
The race of the candidate might sway the voters in the Parlia-mentary seat where Malays make up 57% of the total number of voters; the Chinese, 42% and Indians, 1%.
Mazlan is certain that Bersatu will field a Malay candidate while Barisan is still negotiating which party will represent the coalition. Barisan, he said, will need to consider whether an MCA candidate could win over the PAS voters and whether an Umno candidate could win over the Chinese voters.
Now that BN is in the Opposition, Muhammad Asri said it needs to put up a candidate who the voters think can be a strong, constructive voice in Parliament. BN should pick such a candidate without considering seat quota for member parties, he said.
He also said Barisan, in the selection of a candidate, also needs to consider muafakat Barisan (Barisan cooperation) versus perpaduan ummah (Muslim unity between Umno and PAS).
In a by-election, noted Muhammad Asri, who the candidate is plays an important role.
“The candidate must be professional and credible. If PH puts up a candidate who is more berwibawa (authoritative) or likeable than BN, then there is a possibility of PH winning the seat, ” he said.
However, he said that Bersatu is having a tough time looking for a suitable candidate.
Mohd Azizuddin also pointed out the importance of a popular and well-liked candidate. For example, he said, Bersatu fielded a candidate who was not popular in the Semenyih by-election and it was one of the reasons Pakatan could not retain the state seat in Selangor.
For Pakatan to win, he said, it needs to secure a quarter of the Malay votes and 80% of the Chinese votes.
The Tanjung Piai by-election is seen as a test of the recently concluded “marriage” between Umno and PAS. The Islamic party has announced that it will give way to Barisan to contest in the by-election.
In previous by-elections in Peninsular Malaysia, Barisan, with cooperation from PAS, won the state seats of Semenyih and Rantau, Negri Sembilan. Now that Umno and PAS are officially married, will this translate into a sure win for Barisan?
The other test is of Chinese voters.
Will the community that overwhelmingly voted for Pakatan in GE14 remain loyal to the government coalition? Or will it swing to Barisan because it is unhappy with how Pakatan has been ruling the country in the last 500 days?
An indication of Chinese unhappiness with Pakatan was when DAP senior advisor Lim Kit Siang was heckled by voters in his Iskandar Puteri Parliamentary constituency – which is near Tanjung Piai – in August. They were angry about the introduction of khat in the school curriculum.
In a viral video made during a Hungry Ghost Festival event, a man is heard shouting at Lim, “Are you still lying” while the Iskandar Puteri MP was giving a speech.
“One month ago, you could see that the Chinese were upset over (controversial Islamic preacher) Zakir Naik and khat. But now, with the perpaduan ummah between Umno and PAS, they are going back to Pakatan, ” said Mohd Azizuddin, who acknowledged that voter turnout has been low in by-elections held since GE14.
Muhammad Asri said young Chinese voters who supported Pakatan might not turn out to vote, as many of them live outside of the constituency. He also believes that the older Chinese voters – who believe in Bangsa Johor – are different.
“If it is the right candidate, these older Chinese voters might vote for Barisan, ” he said.
The mood of Chinese voters is also hardening against Pakatan and softening towards Barisan, he noted.
“On issues like Icerd (the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) and khat, the educated Chinese who follow social media are sceptical of what the Pakatan government can do.
“They had high expectations of the new government, ” said Muhammad Asri.
“However, maybe there is a negative effect from the Umno and PAS collaboration as the Chinese might be afraid that this country will face ethnic problems.”
Even though the Tanjung Piai by-election will not change the political equation of the Federal government, it will be keenly watched. It will put into practice the theory that Umno and PAS unity would result in Pakatan losing many of the marginal seats that it won in GE14.
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