A tale of two state polls

THE Melaka polls -- if they are held -- will give us a glimpse of what could happen in the 15th General Election (GE15).

Since the state assembly was dissolved on Oct 5 after four assemblymen withdrew support from the chief minister, Melaka’s polls must be called by Dec 3 (if no emergency rule is declared in the interim).

“We will know which party is going solo, which party is going to work with which. The Melaka state elections will be a litmus test for GE15,” said Prof Hamidin Abdul Hamid from the Ilham Centre, a political research firm.

Dr Mazlan Ali, a political analyst at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, agreed, noting that the polls will indicate whether Umno will cooperate with PAS or Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

According to Mazlan, if Umno goes solo in these elections and wins, it would mean that the party has recovered from its historic loss of the Federal government as well as the Melaka state government at GE14 in 2018.

“It means that Umno can go on its own in GE15 without PAS or Bersatu,” he said.

On the other hand, if Bersatu and PAS, via Perikatan Nasional, contest against Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan and win a significant number of seats, it would be an indication that the coalition has a bright future in GE15.

He said Pakatan will know how it will do in GE15 if there is a three-cornered fight (Pakatan vs Barisan vs Perikatan) or a two-cornered one (Pakatan vs Barisan and Perikatan) – “It will indicate what support Pakatan would have in GE15,” he said.

In GE14, Barisan, through Umno, won 13 seats in Melaka and Pakatan won 15 (DAP eight, PKR three, Amanah two and Bersatu two).

Prof Hamidin pointed out that the difference between GE14 and the possible upcoming Melaka polls is that the voters had a clear choice in 2018, Barisan or Pakatan (PAS was on the ballot but did not win in any of the 28 constituencies).

If Umno goes solo now, it will be interesting to see where the Malay votes will go, he said. He also noted that with Bersatu no longer with Pakatan, the big question is whether PKR and Amanah could win the Malay seats.

Mazlan contended that the big difference between GE14 and the upcoming Melaka polls would be the issues.

“In GE14, Pakatan used (financial scandal) 1MDB to campaign against the Barisan government. And it worked as it gave a negative perception of Umno. And at the same time, the young, fence-sitting voters gave their support to Pakatan,” he said.

For the next Melaka polls, Mazlan said that Pakatan will probably play up the sentiment that Umno is greedy for power, along with the sand royalties issue as alleged by Umno warlords who are against some party leaders.

“The other issue is that the rakyat, who faced the Covid-19 pandemic, is seeing a bit of recovery so it will be about which government they think can bring political stability,” he said.

For Prof Hamidin, one of the big issues would be leadership, especially in Umno.

“The Melaka polls is a fight among warlords in Umno which spilt over outside the party – from state to national politics,” he said.

Sarawak polls were due this year as the state assembly expired on June 6, but a national emergency was declared which stopped them. When the national emergency was lifted on Aug 1, Sarawak declared a state emergency until February 2022. Now, however, the talk is that the Sarawak government, which is led by Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), is seeking to lift that emergency so that state polls can be held next month.

Unlike the Melaka polls, though, Mazlan doesn’t think that Sarawak’s elections will be much of a barometer of Peninsular Malaysia’s political trends in GE15.

“The political reality of Melaka is the political reality of Peninsular Malaysia because the main national parties, such as Umno, PKR, PAS and Bersatu, will be contesting everywhere from Perlis to Johor. However, not all of them are in Sarawak,” he explained.

Bornean politics, he added, is also different from politics on the peninsula as the issues – such as the Malaysia Agreement 1963 – are unique to Sabah/Sarawak while the two states’ demographics are quite different from that of peninsular states.

“Sarawakians are not too much into national politics. They focus on Sarawak issues,” he said.

Prof Hamidin agreed: “Sarawak is a ‘gone case’ as GPS will win it. Sarawak politics is about the status quo and nobody is rocking the boat. That is why GPS has the upper hand,” he said.

He observed, however, that politics in Peninsular Malaysia is moving very fast, and that trend is reflected in Melaka.

“What matters most is the internal politics of parties such as PAS, PKR, DAP and Umno,” he said.

An example of internal politics is the issue of warlords within Umno fighting each other – this is what caused the Melaka government to collapse when two Umno assemblymen decided to defect to Pakatan.

If state polls in Melaka and Sarawak are held simultaneously, the one to watch is in Peninsular Malaysia. The possible fight between Umno and Bersatu is a must-watch event.

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