Margins of victory and defeat

Contenders: How people vote for (from left) Mohd Zaidi, Santharasekaran and Amir Khusyairi next Saturday will reflect political trends in the country, say political analysts. — RONNIE CHIN/The Star

THE independent candidate from the as yet unregistered Pejuang party has a fat chance of winning in the Slim by-election in Perak on Saturday. It is a given that Barisan Nasional’s Mohd Zaidi Aziz of Umno will win it, said one political analyst.

“During GE14, BN won comfortably in a three-cornered fight. Even with the ‘Opposition tsunami’, PH (Pakatan Harapan) lost in Slim,” pointed out Universiti Teknologi Malaysia politics and governance research group head Dr Mazlan Ali.

“Plus, Malays united under Muafakat Nasional and Pakatan entangled with DAP (which is disliked by a majority of Malays), the support for Umno is solid.”

In the by-election, acting Tanjung Malim Umno division chief Mohd Zaidi, 44, will be taking on lawyer Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi, 38, an independent candidate from the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad-backed Pejuang, and independent Dr S. Santharasekaran, 45.

What is essential to dissect in the by-election is Umno’s margin of victory and the margin of defeat of Dr Mahathir’s candidate.

In the 14th General Election in 2018, Barisan’s Datuk Khusairi Abdul Talib of Umno got 8,327 votes, Pakatan’s Mohd Amran Ibrahim of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) received 6,144 and PAS’ Zulfadli Zainal got 4,103. The late Khusairi won with a 2,183 majority. On paper, since Umno, Bersatu and PAS are currently part of the Perikatan Nasional government (and soon to be in Muafakat Nasional), Mohd Zaidi should win all the votes the three parties garnered in GE14.

But politics is not that simple.

The results of the by-election that will be held on Aug 29 will be an indication of political trends in the country, especially among Malays.

“Will Umno get more or less than the combined votes Umno and PAS got in GE14?” Dr Mazlan said, adding that his numbers depend on voter turnout – if it is lower than GE14, it means the unification of Umno and PAS in Muafakat Nasional is not supported by the parties’ grassroots. If it is higher, it means the combination of the two Malay parties has translated into solid votes from their community.

Mazlan also pointed out that if Umno gets fewer than 10,000 votes, it means that not all of PAS’ grassroot members support Umno.

“If less, the Melayu Raya caucus (the combination of Malaysia’s three ruling Malay-based parties under a single umbrella) is not as strong as PAS’ analysis has claimed it is.

“Can the Pejuang independent candidate maintain the 6,000 votes that Bersatu received in GE14?” Mazlan said.

According to the political analyst, if Amir Khusyairi gets more votes than Bersatu won in 2018, it will mean that the party led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin does not have as much support as back then.

“Muhyiddin’s (political) dignity is at stake,” said Mazlan, adding, “if Pejuang doesn’t do well in the by-election, Umno will continue to look down on Muhyiddin. It will complicate the Bersatu president’s seat negotiations,” he said, adding that Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has questioned Bersatu’s contribution to the by-election.

If half of the 6,000 votes that Bersatu garnered in the last general elections go to Umno, it will be a good showing for Muhyiddin, the political analyst said, as it would show that the Muhyiddin factor can draw support to Muafakat Nasional.

“It will elevate Muhyiddin’s prestige within Muafakat Nasional and also be a threat to Umno, as it would show he has a political base in the Malay coalition,” he said.

If Dr Mahathir’s independent candidate, Amir Khusyairi, gets half of the votes Bersatu got in GE14, it would indicate that the former prime minister is still relevant. But if Amir Khusyairi receives fewer than half, it means the former Bersatu chairman and his Pejuang party are irrelevant.

“Getting more than 3,000 votes would be a moral victory for Dr Mahathir. If the votes are less than half for the Pejuang candidate, then it is a moral victory for Muhyiddin,” said Mazlan.

Independent research firm Ilham Centre’s Prof Hamidin Abdul Hamid agreed that the two independents have only a slim chance of winning in Slim. But it wouldn’t be a victory for Umno if it gets fewer than 14,000 votes (based on a 70% voter turnout): “Umno must win more than 14,000 votes because they should be getting the Umno, PAS and most of the Bersatu votes from GE14. If it is less than that, it means that it is status quo and nothing has changed in the last two years,” he said.

“It will mean that it retained only the hardcore support from Umno and PAS and it did not get any new support. (It will mean) Muafakat Nasional and Perikatan Nasional did not gain momentum on the ground,” he said.

If it is above 14,000, Hamidin pointed out that it means that those who voted for Bersatu (which was split by Team Muhyiddin and Team Dr Mahathir) were going back to the ruling government.

“It means the protest votes (in GE14) are no longer there. But if it is less, it means that the protest votes against Umno have turned into Opposition votes,” he said.

If Umno gets fewer than 14,000 votes, what does it mean for Muhyiddin’s leadership, I asked.

“It doesn’t affect Muhyiddin’s leadership in the Perikatan government. The Slim campaign doesn’t touch on Perikatan. It is focused on Muafakat Nasional,” he said.

Hamidin contended that if Pejuang’s candidate could get more than 3,000 votes, it would be a good result for Dr Mahathir: “It would mean that Pejuang retained the protest votes and it got Bersatu voters’ support, meaning trouble for Muhyiddin,” he said.

But if it is fewer than 3,000 votes, Hamidin said it would mean that Dr Mahathir and Pejuang had to work harder – and, “It would also ask the question, does Pejuang have a place within the Malay framework?”

Hamidin also said that it was not only the votes that should be analysed but also where they come from. In GE14, Umno lost in Slim River, which had a sizable number of non-Malay voters and won in Felda Trolak and Felda Besaut, which is largely Malay, he said.

“But what I want to see is who the young voters in these two Felda settlements are voting for. If you look at the strategy of Pejuang, (Simpang Renggam MP) Dr Maszlee Malik and (Muar MP) Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman are campaigning there. They are targeting young voters,” he said.

“If Pejuang can get the young voters, it will be big trouble for Umno in the long run.”

Pejuang might have a slim chance of winning in the Slim by-election and, depending on its margin of defeat, it could be a big moral victory for the as yet unregistered party.

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