Malaysia Chronicle

Political parties intend to run individually, making this the most politically fragmented elections since 1957.

Some pundits claim the elections are a test to determine whether Umno will go it alone in the coming parliamentary elections. More sceptical pundits claim this is part of a ploy by the Umno “court cluster” to engineer an out.

However, this election metaphorically is just like throwing the cards up in the air to see where they land. At the minimum, the Johor elections will define the respective bargaining powers of each political party in forming new coalitions to contest the coming federal election.

Government parties are in disarray with all bets off between Umno, Bersatu and PAS.

Umno expects to improve substantially from the 14 seats it won in 2018 and hopes to take as many as possible of Bersatu’s 11 seats in the last state assembly. Umno strategists also believe that it is possible to win a few PKR seats as well.

The MIC should hold on to its two seats, and there are some expectations that the MCA may be able to make some inroads into the 14 seats last won by DAP. Possible wins for MCA may be Bekok, Tangkak, and Pekan Nanas.

Umno on the attack

Umno’s electoral objective is to weaken Bersatu in its “home state” and destroy it as a viable electoral force in GE15. A poor performance by Bersatu would lead to its members deserting the party and returning to Umno. Umno’s secondary objective would be to hit PKR as hard as possible, lowering its electoral representation in Johor to just a couple of seats. Very vulnerable seats for PKR include Pemanis, Bukit Naning, and Semerah.

Bersatu won 11 seats with the “magic” of Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2018. By his side was Muhyiddin Yassin in his home state of Johor. He must go it alone this time. Muhyiddin has been attacking the Umno “court cluster” hard, resulting in slanging matches with Najib Razak, after Muhyiddin claimed both Najib and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi came to ask for assistance over their respective court cases.

Najib, with 4.7 million followers on Facebook, is an anti-hero on the hustings. The scope and extremities of the 1MDB financial scandal didn’t have the same shock and awe in the kampungs as it did in the towns and cities. Najib is seen by many as being politically persecuted by Mahathir. He is politically a winner in the Malay heartlands, well received on the hustings.

Bersatu’s hopes

For Bersatu, the Johor elections is critical. Johor is Bersatu’s power base, one taken from Umno, which wants it back. Perhaps the dirtiest fights will be between Bersatu and Umno, rather than Umno and the opposition.

It’s difficult to see how PAS can extend its influence in Johor. Johor Malays think very differently from those in Kelantan and Terengganu, the true PAS power base.

In Johor, the opposition is in turmoil.

PKR’s decision to run on its own party logo has led to criticism from the DAP and Amanah. On the ground there is discontent among PKR members over candidate selection. Many party members are already disappointed over some seat selections, and the possible candidature of Maszlee Malik as PKR’s menteri besar candidate.

Factional feuding

The reappearance of Rafizi Ramli is rumbling up friction between PKR members staunchly behind Anwar Ibrahim and those who believe it’s time for PKR to go in new directions with a young generation of candidates.

There was also a factional feud between Johor DAP chief Liew Chin Tong and Tan Hong Pin of Skudai and his group of four assemblymen that almost destabilised the DAP. This was only settled by promising Tan a parliamentary seat if he stood down from the state assembly contest. DAP’s electoral margins in 11 out of 14 seats makes them almost unwinnable to other contenders.

Amanah had six seats in the old state assembly of which Kemelah, Serom, Senggarang, and Pulai Sebatang might be in danger from Barisan Nasional. The patronage of Mahathir was a major factor for Amanah in 2018.

Johor is very important for Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s Muda. The DAP and Amanah would like Muda to woo the youth vote. However, Muda is still very much a grouping without a policy. No one as yet really knows what they stand for. Muda has not been able to come to any agreement with PKR. Giving seats to Muda would potentially lead to a grassroots revolt; many younger PKR members are already jealous of the electoral opportunities given to Muda so easily.

Warisan is also testing the water in six seats. Word on the ground is Warisan will only have a serious attempt in one seat. There are already reports of Bersatu members defecting to Warisan in Tanjung Plai.

Umno victory by default

All the political parties have given the elections to Umno by default. Crowded contests will make it possible for Umno and Barisan Nasional candidates to win with as little as 25% of the vote.

This is the new reality. A strong Umno win will put the party back in where it was before 2018, with Bersatu and the opposition greatly weakened. Malay politics within Umno will dominate the country’s politics once again.

Bersatu may have to take stock and become a niche party. How well they can hold up to the Umno vote is the question. Has Bersatu been able to differentiate itself from Umno enough to be seen as a credible alternative? Johor will answer this question.

For the opposition, it goes back to how much the people were disappointed by their failure to deliver when in government. Post-Johor should be a time for reckoning and renewal. The opposition can rebuild a new credible front and take in new blood through Muda, Warisan, and even Gerakan.

The Johor elections are a prelude to the real battle – for the presidency of Umno. This has to be fought out before the next general election, which will complete the reshaping of Malaysia’s political landscape. It will be a case of back to the future.

Murray Hunter is an independent researcher and former professor with the Prince of Songkla University and Universiti Malaysia Perlis.

Jeniri Amir.

National Council of Professors fellow Jeniri Amir says the coalition’s leaders are still popular, particularly former prime minister Najib Razak because his views on various issues resonate with the people.

He was commenting on the impact of the ‘court cluster’ label on BN’s chances in the Johor elections.

BN’s opponents have raised the spectre of the group of Umno leaders facing trial, and say they could ultimately return to power should the coalition win the Johor polls.

Jeniri said even though Najib had not been in power since the 2018 general election, many remember his people-centric policies, which included the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia cash aid, as shown by the praises that Najib received on social media.

“Many people do not care about Najib’s cases, they know that no prime minister is perfect,” he told FMT.

Azmi Hassan.

The Johor elections were BN’s to win because Malay voters, who form the majority, were likely to back Umno.

“PKR is a multiracial party, much of Bersatu’s support (in GE14) was drawn from Umno, Pejuang has weak grassroots and the PAS ideology may be too extreme,” he said.

He expects BN to “win handsomely” as in Melaka in November, when it trounced Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN).

Akademi Nusantara senior fellow Azmi Hassan said ineffectiveness of the PH and PN administrations contributed to Najib’s popularity, as he spoke up against them.

“Those who are on the fence will go back to Umno even though they chose PH during the last general election,” said Azmi, citing the coalition’s poor performance in their 22 months in power. The same applied to PN.  FMT



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