Bringing it on in Johor

Photo: Thomas Yong/The Star

THE other day, a pollster and I went through the 56 state seats in the Johor assembly. We analysed the constituencies in anticipation of a state poll.

Yesterday, Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad announced the dissolution of the Johor assembly after getting the consent of the Sultan of Johor.

In the general election (GE14) in 2018, Barisan Nasional lost the state for the first time since Merdeka. The coalition only managed to win 19 seats (Umno 17 and MIC two). Currently, the state government consists of 28 assemblymen from Barisan (Umno 14 and MIC two), and Perikatan Nasional (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia 11 and PAS one).

The Opposition has 27 assemblymen from Pakatan Harapan (DAP 14, PKR seven and Amanah six). A state seat is vacant following the death of Bersatu’s Kempas assemblyman Datuk Osman Sapian on Dec 21, last year. (Umno was left with 14 assemblymen after three abandoned the party to join Bersatu when Pakatan was in power after GE14.)

The interesting insight the pollster and I found was that Barisan had an advantage in some seats if there was a three-cornered fight between the coalition against Perikatan and Pakatan. The difference between GE14 in 2018 and a Johor poll in 2022 is that Bersatu is no longer with Pakatan. And Pakatan will be facing Bersatu (in the form of Perikatan) in the state polls. Pakatan will not get the Malay votes it got through Bersatu, which was then led by its chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. These votes from the community swung the election result from Barisan to Pakatan.

We concluded that it was likely that Barisan would win the Johor state election.

To double-check our findings, I contacted two credible pollsters who went to the ground. Ilham Centre’s Prof Hamidin Abdul Hamid and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia politics and governance research group head Dr Mazlan Ali conduct regular polling on Malaysian politics.

Dr Mazlan said Barisan has the advantage in the Johor election as Umno’s grassroots via its branches and divisions was strong.

“Umno has a ‘fixed deposit’ living in villages and Felda settlements. It is easy for Umno to mobilise them to go out and vote,” he said.

In contrast, Pakatan and Perikatan depend on outstation and Chinese voters.

“If the trend in Melaka polls, where many outstation and Chinese voters did not turn out to vote, Pakatan and Perikatan would lose in many seats,” he said.

“In Melaka, BN won big in the state election not because its votes increased; it was because they had the same support as in GE14, and the voter turnout was low (65%).”

At this juncture, Prof Hamidin said it is Barisan to win the most seats in the Johor poll.

“Whether it can form the government is another matter,” he said. “If you look at the current state government, Umno (with 14 seats) can’t rule Johor, and it needs Bersatu and PAS.”

But Prof Hamidin contended that Barisan would do better than in GE14. Umno, he said, would win some of the state seats it lost to Bersatu. He said that would add to six or seven seats to the 17 state seats Umno won in 2018.

“Umno can win back these seats because there is a momentum for the party with voters coming back to them in Johor,” he said.

Still, Prof Hamidin cautioned that it would be tough for Umno to win back state seats it lost in GE14 in urban areas like those in Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang and Pulai parliamentary seats.

He said if you look at the trend, the slide (for Umno support) started from 2008. He used the support for former Johor Baru MP Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad to illustrate his point. In 2008, Shahrir won by a 25,349 majority, in 2013 by 10,134 and lost in 2018 by 19,782 votes.

“The support for Umno (in urban areas) is sliding. It will be tough for Umno to win back the urban seats,” he said.

Prof Hamidin also said the party could no longer dominate Johor, which used to be called Umno bastion (kubu kuat). Through the urbanisation of the state, Pakatan has penetrated the Umno bastion.

True, gone are the days when Umno can win 100% in Johor, and the only way the opposition can only win was if there is a technical error at the nomination centre.

Prof Hamidin continued: “The Umno slide happened because of urban migration. Just take Pasir Gudang parliamentary seat, in the last 20 years some part was Felda areas which have been converted to industrial areas.”

Because of urbanisation, the Opposition mostly wins in the western, southern belt of the state. Imagine driving from Melaka along the coastal road hugging the Straits of Malacca down south through towns like Muar, Batu Pahat to Johor. Some of these parliamentary seats are no longer Umno territory.

But Prof Hamidin pointed out that Mersing, Kota Tinggi and Pengerang parliamentary constituencies are still Umno hardcore stronghold. These are rural seats along the South China Sea.

Mazlan agreed that Johor was no longer Umno’s kubu kuat, saying it was not strong as before in the state. He reiterated that Umno and Barisan’s performance in the state election depended on the voter turnout.

“If it is 60% and below, Barisan will win big. If the turnout is 80% and more Umno will have a problem,” he said.

For the other Barisan component party, Prof Hamidin said MCA got a chance to win state seats in parliamentary constituencies like Kluang and Ayer Hitam.

“It depends on the Chinese voters. The Malay support for BN will remain. If there is a 5 to 10% swing of the Chinese voters away from Pakatan, MCA can win these seats,” he said.

Mazlan agreed, saying he was confident that MCA would win in certain state seats, such as those in Ayer Hitam parliamentary constituency, which had 50/50 Malay and Chinese voters. For the MIC two seats it won in GE14, Prof Hamidin said it would depend on whether Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would field a Malay candidate against MIC. For example, he noted Tenggaroh was an Umno stronghold, but it might be tough for MIC if Bersatu fielded a Malay candidate.

He predicted the biggest loser in the Johor election would be Bersatu. From a dominant party that won eight state seats in GE14 and several Umno and PKR assemblymen joining it, Bersatu is likely to win fewer seats. He also observed that Bersatu’s assemblymen have not been dynamic.

Mazlan said Bersatu’s performance would depend on the influence of its president, Muhyiddin. “But to challenge Umno, it can’t. The factor which is to the advantage of Umno is it will get back votes which it lost to Pakatan in GE14,” he said.

According to Prof Hamidin, Pakatan won some seats because Bersatu was in the coalition. Bersatu, he argued, managed to swing some Malay voters to support Pakatan, resulting in them winning these seats.

“But now the swing won’t happen. The Malay votes will stay with Umno (and also Bersatu), and Pakatan could not retain the seats,” he said.

For DAP, Prof Hamidin wants to see how the party performed in the state polls.

“If DAP loses like how it happened in the recent Melaka seats where the party only won four out the eight state seats in GE14, that is the end of the Lim family,” he said, referring to DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang and secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.

Mazlan said Pakatan won big in Johor in GE14 because of the gelombang (wave).

“But now the wave is no longer there. In GE14, there was a gelombang because of Dr Mahathir, who used the rakyat’s anger over 1MDB and GST (good and services tax). He managed a 10% Malay swing to the Opposition,” he said.

However, Mazlan pointed out, there is now a wave, and the mood of the rakyat, especially the fence- sitters, is not to go out to vote as they don’t like politicians and fear Covid-19.

For the new parties like Parti Warisan, Pejuang, Muda and Parti Bangsa Malaysia, Mazlan said they could not win if they went solo. “They have to be part of a coalition – either Pakatan or Perikatan,” he said.

Prof Hamidin shares the same thought, saying they wouldn’t make a dent as these parties do not have a clear constituency advantage.

The Johor poll is on, and it will be a fight between three big coalitions – Barisan versus Pakatan and Perikatan.

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Johor , state poll , Philip Golingai


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