International Asia This Week Tanjung Piai by-elections, the acid test for Dr M and the PH's...

Tanjung Piai by-elections, the acid test for Dr M and the PH’s tenure

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The tide is changing. Non Malay sympathies have been fritted away by several statements and actions taken by PH president prime minister Dr Mahathir in the last few months

The upcoming Tanjung Piai by-elections on Nov 16, the results of which will not make a difference to the status quo of governance, is still being seen as a bell weather of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir’s tenure as leader of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling coalition.

Mahathir, who heads the smallest party in the the coalition, is fielding a candidate from his all Malay Bersatu to represent PH.

The octogenarian, who has ruffled feathers in a series of statements and actions, is betting that the Malay majority seat, with 30,541 voters (57.64 per cent) will vote for his party, which won the seat narrowly in the 2018 General Elections.

The Opposition Barisan Nasional (BN) comprises a union of Malay/Muslim parties of Umno and Pas, and also has MCA and MIC.

Collectively, they have gambled on the same candidate from MCA, who narrowly lost to Bersatu by 500 odd votes in GE14.

The constituency has 21,948 Chinese voters (41.42 per cent) and 479 Indian voters (0.90 per cent). The Opposition is gambling on a huge swing of Chinese voters and a 20 to 30% swing in Malay votes for the BN candidate.

Grassroots support and attendance at the various ‘ceramahs’ (political talks by candidates) indicate that the Chinese voters have switched allegiance from PH to the MCA. Massive crowds at the MCA candidate’s talks are a sharp contrast to the virtually empty venues during the hustings prior to GE14.

The Bersatu candidate seems to be attracting mostly the Malay constituents, again a sharp contrast to GE14 when the party’s candidates garnered the support of a multiracial electorate.

In GE14, PH candidate from Bersatu Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, beat the incumbent from MCA Wee Jeck Seng from MCA and PAS’ Nordin Othman. The margin of win was one of the slimmest with the late Dr Faid winning by 500 odd votes.

The by-elections were called when Dr Farid died of heart complications on September 21.

A survey revealed that during GE14, PH garnered 46.3 per cent of the 53,528 votes cast while BN managed 45.2 per cent while PAS got a mere 6.5 per cent.

But times have changed. Non Malay sympathies have been fritted away by several statements and actions taken by PH president prime minister Dr Mahathir and action taken against several DAP members who are alleged to be supporting the defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

Dr Mahathir, described the non-Malay citizens as ‘orang asing’ or foreigners during a congress that was ostensibly organised to ramp up ‘Malay dignity’, allegedly eroded by the PH win at GE14.

In addition, the police dragnet of Indian members of the DAP under the draconian SOSMA, a law that was supposed to have been repealed, has stoked anti PH sentiments not only among the Indian support base, but among Chinese supporters as well.

After nominations closed, two independents and two candidates from small parties joined the fight against PH’s Karmaine Sardini and BN’s Wee Jeck Seng.

On the ground observers say that the dilution of votes by the entry of four other candidates spells disaster for PH’s Bersatu candidate. The slim edge that the ruling party had would now be split among the independents and minor parties.

Selangor government think-tank Institut Darul Ehsan (IDE) said that a mere 41 per cent of Chinese voters will make the same choice that they did in GE14, in a survey last month. This leaves the seat to be decided by the Malay voters.

BN, by fielding an exclusively Chinese party, the MCA, is playing it safe. If it loses, it will not mean that it has lost the Malay support base. However, if PH’s Bersatu loses, it will mean that it has not only lost the Malay support, but the powerful non-Malay electorate that swept the coalition to power.

As the campaign enters its first week, going by crowd numbers only, it would appear there is no advantage for PH in being the incumbent or controlling the Federal government.

But, it will be a test of Dr Mahathir’s grasp of the complex racial politics that Malaysia cannot seem to escape and put behind. -/TISG

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