The winners and losers in the Slim by-election


  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 06 Sep 2020

Landslide win: Mohd Zaidi (second left) celebrating his victory in the Slim by-election with other Barisan leaders. — RONNIE CHIN/The Star

WILL the real winner of the Slim by-election, please stand up?

Who won the contest in Perak: Umno or Barisan Nasional or Muafakat Nasional or Perikatan Nasional?

The by-election result is ambiguous, according to Associate Professor Dr Abd Hamidin Abd Hamid, a Universiti Malaya political analyst and a fellow with independent research group Ilham Centre.

“Umno contested under the Barisan symbol but it campaigned under Muafakat and it is in the Perikatan government, ” he said.

In the Aug 29 Slim by-election in Perak, Barisan’s Mohd Zaidi Aziz polled 13,060 votes; the yet-to-be-registered Pejuang party’s candidate Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi garnered 2,115 votes; and independent candidate Dr S. Santhara-sekaran got 276 votes. Mohd Zaidi, who is Tanjung Malim Umno acting division chief, won with a 10,945 majority.

So which party exactly won the Slim by-election?

Definitely Muafakat – the Malay unity alliance comprising Umno, PAS and the recently-invited Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia – said Assoc Prof Abd Hamidin, adding, however, that the victory was more of a vote of confidence for Umno and PAS cooperation and not so much about Bersatu.

“It is obviously not a vote for Barisan or Perikatan despite the brouhaha over Perikatan. And even with Muafakat, it is about PAS and Umno and not Bersatu, ” he said.

The big loser is Bersatu, argued Abd Hamidin. Even though it had been invited to join Muafakat for the by-election, Bersatu did not feature in the Umno- and PAS-led campaign or election machinery.

“The narrative during campaigning was about PAS and Umno cooperation and not about PAS, Umno and Bersatu cooperation, ” he said.

Abd Hamidin warned that Muafakat might be “selling” among Malay voters – but not well enough. The 68% voter turnout in Slim showed that the Muafakat brand did not manage to pull more voters into the polling stations: “Meaning, people liked to hear about Malay unity but it stopped there, ” he said.

Umno won in Slim, said Abd Hamidin. But the win could be seen as a loss, as the party did not gain much of the non-Umno and non-PAS votes.

“The result showed that PAS votes are solid for Umno. But Umno itself did not manage to get many votes from those who voted for Bersatu in GE14, ” he said, referring to the 2018 General Election.

That is not the only worrying trend for Umno, though, Abd Hamidin noted. What the party should worry about is the absence of leadership, he said.

“The Slim by-election campaign was centred on (former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak). Najib was the star using ‘Bossku’. You could see how limited the support other Umno leaders pulled was, ” he said.

The pollster also warned that the big margin of victory in Slim could encourage Umno to return to its previous arrogant mode.

Even though the independent candidate from Pejuang lost, Abd Hamidin said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Malay party won.

“The candidate did not lose his deposit. Which means that Pejuang, which got one-third of the votes Bersatu received in GE14, can get support from the party voters, ” he said.

“Some pundits say the Slim result is the end of Dr Mahathir as it showed he has no support or clout. I doubt it. There is a place for Pejuang in the Malay community. Maybe it is hard for it to win in rural areas dominated by Umno and PAS, but it can win in semi-urban or urban areas.”

Barisan was not a winner in Slim, pointed out Abd Hamidin.

“It lost. The campaign was not about Barisan. The campaign was on Malay unity and Muafakat. The ticket was Barisan but the platform was Muafakat, ” he said.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia politics and governance research group head Dr Mazlan Ali said the Slim by-election result showed that Umno had recovered from its disastrous election outing in 2018.

“When you look at the votes it received in the by-election and compare it with the GE14 result, there’s an increase of votes from PAS, and voters who voted for Pakatan are back with Umno, ” he said.

He noted that Umno would be a force to be reckoned in GE15 as support from its traditional voters seems to be back and the enthusiasm for Pakatan Harapan is low.

Mazlan predicted that Umno’s big win in the by-election could complicate its relationship with Bersatu. The party, he said, might look at Muafakat with PAS as more relevant without a party like Bersatu which would be competing with Umno for the same seats.

With the big Slim victory, a confident Umno will continue to pressure Prime Minister and Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to seek consent to dissolve Parliament, Mazlan said. The political analyst observed that Dr Mahathir, without the backing of Pakatan, could not go far in today’s politics. From the by-election result, he argued that Pakatan supporters were no longer with Dr Mahathir.

According to Mazlan’s calculations, of the 6,144 people who voted for Bersatu in GE14, about 4,000 voters did not go out to vote in Slim or they voted for Barisan as a protest – “The 2,115 votes the Pejuang independent candidate received was from Bersatu voters, ” he said, pointing to the clash between Dr Mahathir and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as a reason for this.

Who won the Chinese and Indian votes?

Mazlan said the two communities supported Barisan because of Muhyiddin’s policies during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bersatu president was a factor in Barisan getting the Chinese and Indian votes, but the political analyst said Muhyiddin’s contribution might not endear him to Umno.

“It looks like Umno’s success in Slim might be an obstacle for Muhyiddin, as the party (Umno) thinks it has got back its support, ” he said.

However, Abd Hamidin cautioned that it might be tactical voting among the Chinese. The community knows it has to go with the winner and that Barisan was going to win, he said.

“Since Slim has 10% Chinese voters and PAS and Umno were strong in the seat, they went with the flow. But when it is GE15, the community might go for the opposite, ” he said.

To answer my question at the beginning of this column, “Will the real winner of the Slim by-election, please stand up?” – It is Muafakat minus Bersatu.

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