Wednesday 17 Apr 2024
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on August 7, 2023 - August 13, 2023

THEY may not be contesting personally, but the stakes could not be any higher for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang as the outcome of the polls in the six states — covering both Malaysia’s richest and poorest — could  impact the future of their respective alliances at the national level. And any fallout from that will have consequences on the government’s socioeconomic policies. Our journalists who have been on the ground give their state-by-state assessment at the halfway point of the election campaign. 

(Illustration by Nurul Aida Mohd Noor; sources: DOSM, Election Commission, Dr Ong Kian Ming; photos by Bernama/The Edge)

 

By Adam Aziz

FROM Alor Setar in the north to Seremban in the south, election fever is running hot with less than a week to go before 570 candidates vie for seats in the state legislative assemblies of Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Penang, Kelantan and Terengganu on polling day this Saturday (Aug 12).

Coming less than a year after an intense 15th general election (GE15), which ended in a hung parliament with no clear winner, and which saw Pakatan Harapan (PH) having to team up with its once-bitter rival Barisan Nasional (BN) to form the federal government, there is clearly a lot at stake for the new partners and their key opponent Perikatan Nasional (PN).

At the forefront are Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his deputy Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who respectively chair the PH and BN coalitions, while PN is led by Bersatu chief Tan Sri Muhyiddind Yassin and PAS president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang.

The four, while not contesting directly,  have been spotted almost daily in the battleground states, even before nomination day on July 29, to campaign for what is shaping up to be a fierce contest for Malay votes.

Anwar needs his new coalition partner to do well to quell any instability in the PH-BN-led unity government, so much so that PH gave up some of the seats it had traditionally contested and won — such as Dusun Tua and Gombak Setia in Selangor — to Umno, BN’s linchpin.

For Ahmad Zahid, who managed to cling to power as Umno president despite the 77-year-old party’s disastrous performance in GE15 that led to bitter infighting and calls for his resignation, his political survival hinges on how Umno performs on Aug 12.

The outcome of the polls that will determine who govern the six states could also shape the future of Umno as well as BN. Its coalition partners, MCA and MIC, are sitting out of polls this time around, with their leadership saying they did so to give way to Umno candidates, whom they deemed would have a higher chance of winning, and not to boycott the polls, as speculated by some quarters.

Meanwhile, PN needs to ensure that the wave of support it enjoyed in GE15 does not dissipate.

To Muhyiddin, a successful campaign will prolong the life of his seven-year-old Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in the political arena. Despite leading the PN coalition, not a single Bersatu member is at the helm of any state government, unlike its partner PAS, which holds the menteri besar post in Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis.

Abdul Hadi, already the most successful PAS leader in history with the Islamist party winning the highest number of parliamentary seats in GE15, is seizing another opportunity to tap into Bersatu’s comparatively moderate image to secure more Malay supporters on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia after the party had failed to do so on its own for years.

The hottest contests are set to be in PN-led Kedah and PH-led Selangor — the former is among the country’s poorer states while the latter is Malaysia’s richest, contributing to more than 25% of the country’s gross domestic product. Kedah and Selangor saw the highest number of ceramah permits issued, at 199 and 162 respectively (as at Aug 1), which is 12 to 14 ceramah a day on average during the short campaign period.

To gauge the sentiment and reality on the ground, The Edge visited the six states, spoke to political leaders and the man on the street, and assessed the state of their respective economies (see accompanying stories in the pullout).

Based on 2022 statistics of Malaysia’s household income and expenditure, all of the states involved in the upcoming polls except Selangor have an expenditure-to-income ratio that is above the national average (see chart), which means there is less money that can be allocated for savings. In terms of GDP per capita and median household income, four of the six states — Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Negeri Sembilan — came in below the national average.

Political ambitions aside, whoever forms the state government must commit to addressing the prevalent socioeconomic issues that are hindering growth and work towards a better quality of life for the people.

Hopefully, this round of state elections will put to rest the political uncertainties that have been stirred up since the Sheraton Move in 2020 — at least until the next general election — to allow the nation to move forward and strive for prosperity despite the buffeting headwinds caused by slowing global growth.

 

Selangor: Rural loyalty to Umno ebbs as PN’s narrative gains traction

By Chester Tay

IT was mid-morning on Tuesday. Holding on tight to his roll of loose tobacco, preventing it from being scattered by the ocean breeze at a mostly empty hawker centre on Bagan Lalang beach, just a stone’s throw from the Sepang Gold Coast, 45-year-old postman Eijal, as he wants to be known, lamented his disappointment in Umno, a party he has been a member of since the 1990s.

“The Malays are divided. One faction wants to continue with the party legacy of championing Malay rights. The other only cares about their own interest,” he tells The Edge as he lights up and takes a puff during a break before continuing his mail delivery.

“The whole of Bagan Lalang village is Umno. We still take part in events organised by the party. But there are a lot more fence sitters in our village these days, after ‘you-know-who’ sacked all his dissidents and took control of the party.”

Similar sentiment appears to be mushrooming in other adjacent villages, according to Saadiah of Kampung Bukit Bangkong, a 46-year-old janitor who works at the Bagan Lalang hawker centre. “We have a close relationship with Umno. The few villages here are all BN (Barisan Nasional).”

But Saadiah’s reminiscences are of the “good days” during former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration in 2020 and 2021. “Abah helped a lot in those days. We earn about RM1,500 a month here. Now that the price of everything is increasing, it hurts.”

Both of these villages come under the Tanjung Sepat state constituency, situated between the Sungai Pelek and Morib seats.

With Selangor shaping up to be the main battleground between the unity government and PN for the upcoming state election, it appears the opposition has had the upper hand in the early part of the campaign period from July 29 to Aug 12. There are 56 state assembly seats to be won.

The Edge visited 12 state constituencies last week, of which 10 are situated on the outskirts of Selangor, along its west coast and eastern corridor. We got the impression that it is easier to bump into a PN supporter rather than a fence sitter in the rural Malay community. Pakatan Harapan (PH) supporters were a rare sight and shy to admit that they are vouching for the Anwar-led administration.

Not only are incumbents typically at a disadvantage in an election on account of having ruled and had their abilities actually tested, but PH is also faced with a strategic challenger. PN appears to be particularly successful in embedding its narratives, as we encountered rural voters often repeating campaign points from the opposition bloc.

The 15th general election (GE15) last November had already shown a significant swing in popularity away from BN amid Umno’s infighting, with voters switching their support to PAS. 

These grouses are mostly national-level issues, including discontent at the appointment of Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi into the cabinet, and the ongoing economic hardship stemming from inflation and the normalisation of the overnight policy rate (OPR). Along the coast at Batu Laut beach, Lie, a 55-year-old Umno member, says many villagers are in a dilemma today, not because of the collaboration between PH and BN, but particularly on the conduct of Ahmad Zahid.

“Collaboration is normal in politics today. PN might work with DAP as well — we are not really bothered by that — PAS was in the Selangor government once anyway. But why do we need Zahid in the cabinet? Borhan [Aman Shah] is my friend. We have the same hobby. He is a competent assemblyman, but voting for him today is equivalent to supporting Zahid. So, it is very difficult for me,” he says.

Borhan is the PH incumbent in the Tanjung Sepat seat, defending against PAS’ Sabirin Marsono.

In GE13 in 2013, PAS had wrested the Tanjung Sepat seat from BN when the Islamist party was still a member party of the then-Pakatan Rakyat. The then alliance’s grip on Selangor had expanded to 44 seats, from 36 seats in GE12 in 2008, when the state saw the first change of government since the country’s independence. 

More than 100km north of the beach, in Bukit Sentosa, under the Batang Kali state constituency, Johan, a 37-year-old engineer employed by a local car production plant, also admits that he will be supporting PN in protest against Ahmad Zahid.

“I was a Pakatan Harapan supporter. You can merge with BN, but you should not make him deputy prime minister. This is a person with 47 criminal charges, and when senior leaders in Umno challenged him, he sacked dissidents like KJ (Khairy Jamaluddin) and [Tan Sri] Noh Omar. These were good leaders in Umno.

“It is not gentlemanly at all — when people challenge you, you should accept it and prove that you are worthy of staying,” he says, echoing a narrative from villagers on the west coast.

Meanwhile, 35-year-old mechanic Fizz of Kampung Jawa, a cyclist hotspot in the mountainous terrain of Dusun Tua state constituency, repeated a similar narrative against the Umno president.

“In the past, yes, our family and neighbours did have the tendency to support Umno, but not anymore. I suppose you read about what happened at the party’s top leadership from social media, right? We felt betrayed after all that happened, so we feel that our loyalty is kind of meaningless,” he says.

The effectiveness of PN’s propaganda on conservative religious values is also apparent on the Selangor west coast, with youth such as 20-year-old hawker Iwan saying there was a growing number of his friends in Tanjung Sepat and Morib leaning towards the coalition led by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and PAS.

“The price of everything has increased. Cash aid is slow to come. When Muhyiddin was taking care of the country, things seemed okay.

“I also hope the government can tighten control on LGBT. [Prime Minister Datuk Seri] Anwar [Ibrahim] seems to be quite relaxed on this,” he said.

At the night market in Bukit Kapar village in Sementa state constituency, 53-year-old factory supervisor Zul says he hopes PN will shut down the sin industry altogether if the coalition takes control of Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state.

“I have friends who gamble and drink [alcohol], and the families are ruined. Some say that events like Oktoberfest could attract tourists and stimulate more economic activities — I have thought through the cost and benefit, and I think it is better we ban this kind of event,” he says.

“This night market is bordered by the Meru seat, which used to be won by PH. I think this time, PN can take over.”

Based on The Edge’s analysis of data from the Election Commission, if Selangor’s state election had been held concurrently with GE15 last year, the Selangor PH seat count would have been reduced by 10 constituencies to 41 seats, instead of the near-clean sweep of 51 seats the coalition won in GE14, when Bersatu was still within the alliance.

Translating votes cast for parliamentary seats in GE15 broken down to the state level, we calculated that BN would have lost two seats, down from the four seats it had won in GE14.

PN, meanwhile, would have won 13 seats, seven of them won by a margin of 11% to 31%, with the remaining six being marginal seats with a less than 10% margin.

In total, Selangor would have had 21 marginal seats if the state polls had been held last year, of which two would have been won by BN and the remaining 13 by PH. So, if there is a swing in the upcoming state election, we predict these to be the most vulnerable to movement. 

However, having been an incumbent for 15 years, Selangor is seen as PH’s stronghold and it is widely expected that the coalition has a formidable urban vote bank to depend on.

Based on GE15 voting patterns, 23 of the 41 seats that PH would have won in Selangor still saw a winning margin of over 20%.

Hardcore PH supporters may argue that the views of voters in the outskirts may not be representative of the entire state, with urbanites typically having different considerations in their voting preferences, such as state of development and economic performance.

Judging from the recent cancellation of the controversial multi­billion-ringgit Petaling Jaya Dispersal Link (PJD Link), which cuts through four state constituencies — Kin­rara, Taman Medan, Bukit Gasing and Bandar Utama — the PH regime may be feeling threatened by its pponent in Selangor.

Nonetheless, there are certain Malay voters in Selangor’s outskirts who disagree with PN’s narrative that the upcoming elections in six of the country’s 13 states are equivalent to a national referendum towards the PH-BN administration.

“If Anwar did not do anything after one or two years in power, yes, something is wrong. But [after only] eight months, I suppose he deserves some more time. They [PN] said he did nothing. [But], who knows, maybe something is coming in the pipeline,” says armed forces veteran Zamirul, a 40-year-old father of three who now operates a satay stall in Kuala Kubu Baharu.

“I am no expert, but I feel anything or whoever, if the tenure is too short, it is difficult to show or do anything. Let’s say I want to build a bridge. I think getting all the necessary clearance itself may take three months already.”

Closer to urban areas, sentiment seems to be more in favour of the unity government, even with less fortunate voters, such as 39-year-old biscuit stall operator Ali in the Sungai Ramal state constituency, adjacent to Putrajaya. Ali was laid off a month ago before starting his current business.

“To me, political stability is key now, for better economic conditions. And as long as the government is competent, it does not matter which party or who is involved. Malay rights are protected under the federal constitution, so there is nothing to be worried about. And I do not think it is healthy to keep harping on the ‘afterlife consequences’ if Malays do not vote for PAS,” he says.

Similar pragmatism was also exhibited by a Hulu Kelang resident, Pikkor, who is in his thirties, who believed that there was no simple solution to the country’s current economic challenges, thus it will be difficult for whichever party that comes into power.

“I am slightly positive towards the unity government, but this area has a balanced demographic between Malays and non-Malays. So, to guess the outcome is quite tricky,” he says when met at a petrol station in Ampang Jaya.

For Azlan and wife Aiman, who are in their mid-twenties and live in the Kuang state constituency, a competent candidate is the most important criteria in opting for a state assemblyman.

“As long as they [assemblymen] work, whichever party is okay. For this area, public infrastructure like road conditions and sewerage requires improvement. The local council does not seem proactive. These are the things that we do not talk a lot about, but we do take them into account when we vote,” says Aiman at the Bandar Tasik Puteri night market.

Has PH done a good job over the past 15 years in Selangor? As Aiman says, voters will make their voices heard at the ballot box.

 

Kedah: Once a swing state, the scales are tipping

By Kamarul Azhar

THE pulsating sensation of being in the middle of what could perhaps have been a 10,000-strong crowd in rural Kedah brought me back to April 2018 in Johor, when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition kicked off its campaign to break the Barisan Nasional (BN) stronghold for the 14th general election (GE14).

Fast-forward five years. This time, it was no longer PH that pulled such crowds, but rather, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and its Perikatan Nasional (PN) partners Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and, to a much lesser extent, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia.

The exultant chorus of “Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)!” emanated from the Kompleks PAS Kedah field near Kota Sarang Semut (not far from the state capital of Alor Setar) every time a politician or state leader’s arrival was announced.

The PAS security team had a tough job in holding back the crowd, while escorting the leaders, especially caretaker Kedah menteri besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor. Kedah Malays can’t seem to get enough of him, despite the controversies that he has found himself in of late.

If previously Kedah was known as a swing state, this time it seems like Kedahan Malays, who make up 77.7% of the state’s voters, have largely made up their minds — voting for PN; specifically, “defending” the state government led by PAS’s Sanusi.

“If we were to vote for the unity government, what’s going to happen to us Malays? The Chinese are going to kick us out,” says a 19-year-old first-time voter when met at the PAS Kedah headquarters. “PAS will ensure that we Malay Muslims will be defended,” he says.

Challenged by the fact that PN also has Chinese among their cadres, the teenager simply said there were not many of them in PN.

“There are many Chinese in PH, and they control the government,” he says.

This narrative, that the unity government is controlled by the Chinese, is not supported by facts or figures. Of the 147 government members of parliament, only 44 are Chinese.

However, it is an effective narrative among the rural Malays, especially among less educated youth. Since 2008, Kedah has been a swing state — one that alternates between PAS and Umno-led BN. However, as data from GE15 shows, the state has become almost completely “green”.

Out of the 36 state seats in Kedah, PH had only managed to get the largest chunk of the votes in four constituencies, based on the GE15 results of voting for the parliamentary seats. This means that if the state election had been called concurrently with the federal election in GE15, PH might have lost 14 of the seats it had won in GE14.

Party for the masses

While the “Islam is under threat” narrative is there and prevalent among the less educated youth, PAS’s popularity in Kedah is also due to the crippling poverty in the state, especially in rural areas.

Data from the Department of Statistics shows that Kedah has the third-lowest gross domestic product per capita among the states in Malaysia, as of 2022, at RM25,967. Its household median gross income of RM4,402 per month is the second lowest among the states in Malaysia, after Kelantan.

Kedah’s absolute poverty rate of 9% is the fourth highest, after Sabah, Kelantan and Sarawak. In contrast, incidence of absolute poverty is only 1.5% in Selangor, 2% in Penang and 4.4% in Negeri Sembilan.

PAS is seen as a party of the masses, with support for its brand of political Islam cultivated over decades since its inception in 1951, helped through institutions such as free kindergarten education through the Pusat Asuhan Tunas Islam (PASTI) and its volunteer arm, Jabatan Amal Malaysia.

This has led to the people in Kedah, and in other states where PAS is the dominant political force such as Kelantan and Terengganu, to believe in the party’s struggle, as they are often in the front line of helping the poor and the needy, as well as performing obligatory Muslim functions.

“During the Covid-19 Movement Control Order, PAS representatives were the ones who visited us and collected our details so that we could get government assistance,” says roadside stall assistant Aminah (not her real name) when met in Taman Ria Jaya, in the Sidam state constituency.

An issue with the federal government’s cash assistance had also popped up. In Sidam, Pantai Merdeka and Lunas, where I visited, some complained that they stopped receiving the cash assistance this year, or the timing of the assistance was off from when they needed it most.

It is hard to ascertain why they had not received their cash assistance this year — perhaps they are no longer eligible. The e-Kasih database is updated regularly, with community representatives checking the status of the recipients to ensure they are eligible.

Through the federal government’s Sumbangan Tunai Rahmah, households with a monthly income of less than RM2,500 are eligible to receive up to RM2,500 in cash assistance this year, depending on the number of children they have.

There are also specific assistance programmes for old folk living alone, low-income youth, as well as youths with disabilities.

Sanusi — a Kedahan ‘hero’?

As a low income earner with a lorry-driver husband, Aminah’s household cannot meet today’s cost of living. She is therefore very grateful for PAS’s proactive stance when it comes to providing assistance. She claims that she has never been visited by representatives of the Sidam assemblyman.

Between the 2013 and 2023 terms, Sidam was represented by Dr Robert Ling Kui Ee. Winning the seat under Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) ticket in May 2018, Ling defected and became an independent assemblyman in 2020, before joining Bersatu as an affiliate member.
Ling ran for the Sungai Petani parliament seat in GE15 last November, but lost to PKR’s Dr Taufiq Johari, who took over from his father Tan Sri Johari Abdul who held the seat for three consecutive terms between 2008 and 2022. Taufiq is the sole PH parliamentarian in Kedah following GE15.

Aminah finds it imperative for her to vote for PN in the coming state election. PN is fielding Juliana Abdul Ghani in the seat from Bersatu, while PH’s candidate is Bau Wong anak Bau Ek, a native Kedahan Siamese from PKR.

This is because for her, the state government under Sanusi has been doing a good job in administering the state. For example, she said the water issue (where supply disruption could happen when there is high demand) is currently being resolved.

The upgrading of water treatment plants (WTPs) and other large-scale water infrastructure that involves a budget of hundreds of millions of ringgit will not be the responsibility of the state government, particularly after the restructuring of the water supply industry in 2008.

However, a close relationship between the state and federal government would smoothen and accelerate the implementation of infrastructure projects that would benefit the people.

“There is a big implication if the people choose wrongly,” says Datuk Shaiful Hazizy Zainol Abidin, the BN candidate for Tanjung Dawai. He is also the Kedah BN information chief.

“If they still choose PN, this means the federal government is going to be of a different party than the state government, and this will make it very hard for Kedah to prosper,” he says when met at the BN command centre in Taman Laguna Merbok, Sungai Petani.

The unity government of PH and BN has launched a manifesto specific to Kedah, which includes the upgrading of five WTPs in the state and the construction of three new WTPs, as well as replacing old pipes and building of river storage systems along the Muda River.

However, Shaiful Hazizy warns that the progress of these projects and more will be affected if the people of Kedah continue to choose representatives from parties that are not friendly with the federal government, and especially if figures like Sanusi helm the state.

Such a situation would be exacerbated by having a menteri besar whose personality grates on his political opponents, said Shaiful Hazizy.

Sanusi’s rise in politics has been meteoric, as he was made the menteri besar of Kedah barely two years after being elected as the state representative of Jeneri, in the rural district of Sik. In 2018, he received 46.3% of all votes. In 2022, PAS’s portion of votes in Jeneri for the Sik parliament was 67.2%.

He is standing again in Jeneri,  against BN candidate Datuk Muhammad Khizri Abu Kassim. Malay voters make up 92.7% of the constituency’s electoral roll.

Federal government to fall if PN wins big?

The results of GE15 show that the country has been divided like never before. The rural, Malay-majority seats in the peninsula largely fell to PN, except for a few that are still under BN, while PH managed to defend its urban seats.

Umno registered its worst showing in a general election with only 26 seats, down from the 54 it had won in 2018, before defections largely to Bersatu. Meanwhile, PAS increased its seats to 43, from just 18 in the preceding general elections.

It would not be impossible for Umno to rethink its position within the unity government if the Malay community continues to switch their allegiance to PAS and Bersatu. And this could lead to the fall of the federal government if BN switches sides — provided the East Malaysia bloc follows.

And while the Malays’ support for PN still seems high, the other communities could be enticed to join the movement as it would not be in the best interest of the country for its administration to be divided along racial and religious lines.

The question is: Which way will the Malay votes go?

 

Minority-Chinese voters in Kedah watch as political game plays, with them on the sidelines

By Hailey Chung

READING the newspaper alone at a coffee shop tucked in a residential area in Kedah, 55-year-old Kim is already warmed up to talk about the affairs of his hometown state when The Edge greets him. Putting down his newspaper on the table, the A3-sized cover page shows pictures of prominent political figures in energetic spirit on nomination day, creating an easier entry to converse about the approaching state polls on Aug 12.

Making up only 14.5% of the voting population, the Chinese electorate in Kedah feels the insignificance of their vote against the massive 77.7% of Malay voters — which the Chinese speculate will have more or less collectively fixed the Malay electorate’s minds to support Perikatan Nasional (PN).

“On the outside looking in, green (referring to Islamic party PAS, which is part of the PN coalition) is strong. But, we don’t know what’s really on the minds of Malay voters,” says Kim, who only wants to be known by his surname.

PAS is contesting 21 out of 36 seats in Kedah, including in Kim’s state constituency of Alor Mengkudu, which comprises 73.1% Malay voters.

Alor Mengkudu is one of the hot seats in the state that will see a straight fight between Kedah Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Datuk Mahfuz Omar and former skipper of Kedah’s state football team Muhamad Radhi Mat Din.

In another coffee shop nearby, a group of Chinese voters say even fielding “popular” Mahfuz would have little chance of winning for PH, as the former four-term member of parliament for Pokok Sena was toppled by PAS Kedah state commissioner Datuk Ahmad Yahaya in the November 2022 general election by more than 30,000 votes.

Pokok Sena is just a 28-minute drive away from Alor Setar, the federal constituency of Alor Mengkudu.

“He!” Kim exclaims, pointing to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the paper. “He has changed so many colours,” he says, in describing the elder statesman, who won the Langkawi federal seat under the Bersatu ticket in 2018 but was heavily defeated and lost his deposit in 2022 as a Pejuang candidate against PN’s Datuk Mohd Suhaimi Abdullah.

Kim was born in Langkawi, an island of Kedah, but spent his life in Alor Setar working for a popular Malaysian retail grocery store.

In March, Mahathir applied to rejoin PN. He has openly supported PAS and continues to do so, leading up to the state polls. The nonagenarian has also been active on Twitter to buttress the message that Malaysia is a Malay country.

Kim, and several Chinese in Kedah, also voice their grievances against the double standards the community faces to The Edge, such as the authorities’ removal of wayside shrines that have angered the Chinese, even with the state elections looming.

Kota Darul Aman incumbent state assemblyman Teh Swee Leong, when asked, says the state authorities have demolished “a lot” of the Indian and Chinese shrines built on government and reserve land.

Being part of the PH state government in 2018, which lasted for 25 months before defections by ex-PH members, Teh says there was an intention to draft a policy to solve the situation, such as providing land grants to deal with temple occupancy issues. The Perlis-born DAP politician, 34, is defending his seat, which consists of 57% Chinese voters — the most Chinese-populated area among the three state constituencies under Alor Setar.

In an interview with The Edge during his campaign walkabout, Teh also states his manifesto to drive tourism, and in turn the economy and talent retention, in Kota Darul Aman.

“This (Alor Setar) is a city. It’s the capital of Kedah. So, we (PH) will put emphasis on developing tourism because everyone goes to Kuala Kedah and straight away to Langkawi; but they (tourists) don’t know about Alor Setar,” the banking and finance graduate says.

Kedah has 51.1% of voters under the 18-to-39 age bracket. However, many of the local young Chinese have either left the state or aim to work in Johor, the southernmost state of Peninsular Malaysia, and perhaps even venture to Singapore for better work opportunities.

 

Penang: PH-BN face tough time attracting rural Malay voters

By Hailey Chung and Sangeetha Amarthalingam

AS the sun sets over Kampung Sungai Batu, a coastal village in the southern part of Penang island, fisherman Rizuan Yusoff, 52, is resting at the Sungai Batu Fishermen’s Association, which is housed in a modest shed that looks out to sea.

Nearby, other fishermen are mending their nets, playing chess or watching the local TV channel.

Rizuan, a committee member of the association, which has about 200 members, speaks favourably of the PH state government despite his objection to the Penang South Islands (PSI) reclamation project, which will hurt his livelihood.

The new urban development off the coast of Penang Island — which the state government is promoting as a catalytic development scheme — has met with strong objections from the fishing community and public interest groups.

“We are aware that even if the [Penang] government changes, the project will go on because there is an agreement,” says Rizuan, who grew up in the Bayan Lepas district, under the Balik Pulau federal constituency.

“What we are doing is just slowing down the development,” he says, referring to the protests that the fisherfolk have been holding to draw attention to their predicament.

Originally envisaged as three islands covering 4,500 acres of reclaimed land, the project has been scaled down by 49%, incumbent chief minister Chow Kon Yeow announced in May.

Reclamation works, expected to cost RM6 billion, will be undertaken by SRS Consortium and the state’s Penang Infrastructure Corp, according to news reports. Common infrastructure was estimated to cost an additional RM2.5 billion.

Fisherman Rizuan is wearing a Penang 2030 Vision shirt, a major plan to develop the state’s welfare amenities, economy, democratic governance and infrastructure.

The father of two sons in their 20s, Rizuan is appreciative of the state government, which is headed by the DAP as the largest party, holding 19 of the 36 seats in the state legislative assembly. Its partners in the ruling PH-BN coalition are PKR (12 seats), Amanah (2) and BN (2). PAS holds the sole opposition seat.

Rizuan points out that contrary to the labelling of DAP as anti-Malay Muslim, the state government had provided an allocation for the local mosque.

Several Malays in urban Penang whom The Edge spoke to share this view, saying that they do not feel threatened under a non-Malay leadership. Zubaidah, 60, a small trader, who wished to be known by her first name, says the fear that DAP’s control of the government is a matter of concern for the Malays is “irrelevant”.

“Outsiders are saying that Penang is a Chinese monopolised state, or that Malays cannot announce the azan (Islamic call to prayer). No lah, they do not stop us from practising our religion,” says Zubaidah, while supervising her jeruk (pickled fruits) shop in busy Chowrasta Market, in the state capital George Town.

Adjusting her tudung, Zubaidah says she has worked in a Chinese company for a long time and grew up in Penang with many Chinese friends. Her four children, the youngest of whom is 28, are also working in Penang.

At New World Park in George Town, kitchen contractor Zaidi says many youths in his state constituency of Pulau Betong support the multiracial PKR party. Asked for his view on DAP’s leadership in Penang, he responds with “sama je” (just the same), comparing it to Gerakan’s leadership of Penang since 1969, which was also predominantly Chinese.

In the 2008 general election, Gerakan, then under the BN coalition, suffered a wipeout in Penang. The party has since joined the PN coalition, aligning with PAS and Bersatu. In the Aug 12 state election, Gerakan’s candidates will mostly be standing against DAP.

Malay voters whom The Edge spoke to in the northern and southern regions of the Penang mainland expressed support for PN, mainly Malay parties Bersatu and PAS. In Sungai Acheh, Malay stall owners and workers selling confectionery on a street in Kampung Sungai Acheh predicted that PN would secure the state constituency.

A BN stronghold for a long time, Sungai Acheh fell to PH in the 2018 general election by a razor-thin majority of 416 votes to PKR representative Zulkifli Ibrahim. He later switched camp to Bersatu, turning the area under the Nibong Tebal federal constituency into a PN seat in 2020.

While serving Sungai Acheh for only a single term, Zulkifli has received praise from his voters, as they said the state assemblyman, born and raised in Nibong Tebal, was always attending to the needs of the community. Whether Zulkifli, 43, is able to defend his seat in the present circumstances is moot, given that he won the seat as a fresh PKR candidate in 2018 by a mere margin of 2.5%.

Some voters interviewed mentioned that BN candidate Rashidi Zinol, 53, might have a 50% chance of success. As head of the Nibong Tebal Umno division, Rashidi is no stranger in the community, though “he stands out less compared with Zulkifli”.

In Penaga, restaurant owner Raheem says politics is a common topic among people in the state constituency, which has 93.3% Malay voters. He says the chatter in his eatery is that most residents in Penaga would vote for PN, with a strong liking for PAS.

Sentiment among youth shifting

In Bertam, south of Penaga and also in the Kepala Batas federal constituency, where former minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican (BN) meets incumbent Khaliq Mehtab Mohd Ishaq (PN), Muhammad Rais Hamzah Amir Ismadi, 20, an employee at a retail outlet, is looking to vote for the second time.

Although Rais is familiar with Reezal, a two-term Kepala Batas member of parliament (MP) who lost in the 15th general election (GE15) in November, he is keen to see which candidate will help youths.

“I am looking for any financial assistance, like an allowance for youths. I want to buy a car after I had a bike accident but I can’t afford the down payment with my salary,” Rais tells The Edge at the checkout counter of the convenience store.

The views among Malay youths, who formed much of the “green wave” last year, are somewhat mixed this time around. Several who were interviewed found that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership in the past nine months is “food for thought”, as the premier appears to be trying hard to steer the economy out of the doldrums.

Engineering student Nur Adibah Wan Abdul Shukor, 21, who would be voting for the second time in her Penanti constituency, observes an apparent shift in the political views of those in her age group over the months. “It seems like they are more conscious of issues in the country and the economy,” she says.

Most of electorate view voting as a responsibility

Overall, PH — now partnering with BN — is unlikely to lose control of Penang, a 49.3% Chinese-majority electorate, with the Chinese fearing the Islamist influence of PAS.

Chinese living in urban Penang Island continue to be satisfied with the administration by the PH government, which has maintained economic growth and a comparatively low unemployment rate since the pandemic.

Last year, Penang recorded gross domestic product growth of 13.1%, placing it among the top five states in the country with high growth, data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia shows. Its performance follows through with GDP per capita at RM69,684 in 2022, which was above the national average of RM54,863.

Although surprised by the cooperation between former rivals PH and BN in the Aug 12 state polls, the Chinese see Umno in BN as a moderate Malay party compared to PAS. They are also buying into the idea of the current unity government — comprising PH, BN and the East Malaysian blocs of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) and Warisan — to propel Malaysia’s economy forward.

DAP has said it will not be complacent, however, and does not view any seat as “safe”, after witnessing the loss suffered by former Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar. The PKR vice-president, who is Anwar’s daughter and widely known as “puteri reformasi” (princess of reformation), lost the seat in GE15 that her family had held since 1982.

The Edge’s conversations on the ground also show that the Chinese community in Penang are uncertain about the inclination of Malay voters or whether the “green wave” — PAS having emerged from GE15 as the single-biggest party — will expand.

Taking no chances, the Penang Unity Manifesto, launched by PH and BN, is loaded with aid for Penangites. These include free laptops for B40 students who receive offer letters from higher education institutions, RM600 per year for e-hailing riders, a one-off RM1,000 assistance for Hajj pilgrims from the B40 group, and a special rental housing scheme for youths or single individuals.

While there were also voters who were reserved and guarded in expressing their political views, most of the electorate residing in Penang are not so apolitical as not to turn out for the ballot, as they still view voting as a responsibility of citizens. “Undi itu rahsia [our vote is secret],” as they say.

 

Negeri Sembilan: Not an easy feat for incumbents to defend their turf 

By Intan Farhana Zainul, Syafiqah Salim and Kamarul Azhar

SINCE nomination day on July 29, Prime Minister and head of Pakatan Harapan (PH) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has visited Negeri Sembilan no fewer than three times. The frequent trips indicate that the Barisan Nasional-PH (BN-PH) alliance is not letting its guard down and is defending its turf, which used to be a battleground for the two coalitions.

It is worth noting that neither PAS nor Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) has ever won a seat in Negeri Sembilan’s state legislative assembly. The state has about 864,425 voters, 57.6% of whom are Malay.

Two high-ranking party leaders — Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who is defence minister, and DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke Siew Fook, who is transport minister — are contesting in the state polls.

Negeri Sembilan is considered a stronghold for BN. Indeed, it is the only state in which BN won a majority in the 15th general election (GE15), winning five parliamentary seats. PH garnered the remaining three seats.

There are 36 seats up for grabs in the upcoming state polls.

In Kuala Pilah,  Anwar told voters that the BN-PH alliance was beyond a marriage of convenience, stressing that the unity government was formed to ensure political stability.

However, there are views that the BN-PH collaboration may not go down well with hardcore Umno supporters, particularly those residing in the eastern part of Negeri Sembilan.

Some voters reveal that the support-BN sentiment might swing as PH leaders are not politicians they support. And that is likely to open the door for the opposition to make inroads in the state.

It is worth noting that there are Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) settlers and Felcra members here, the majority of whom have traditionally been Umno supporters.

A FELDA settler acknowledges that while some of them are unhappy with BN’s collaboration with PH due to the strong presence of DAP, her loyalty remains with BN.

“My grandmother said BN is parti keramat (sacred party) for the Malays. We have to stay loyal,” she tells The Edge in Felcra Lakai in Pertang. She points out that food prices did not go up much when BN was in power.

In Sungai Lui, which is part of the Jelebu parliamentary constituency, 

FELDA settlers make up about 80% of the 20,000 voters, according to Umno Youth chief and BN Youth exco for Sungai Lui Hazwan Mohd Nor.

In 2018, BN’s Mohd Razi Mohd Ali retained the seat, commanding 62.6% of the votes. However, BN’s share of the votes for Sungai Lui declined to 55.4% in GE15 after Perikatan Nasional (PN) made inroads into the state.

Personal touch matters to rural folk

The BN-PH collaboration seems to have made the campaigning efforts awkward. For instance, at a BN ceramah session in Lenggeng, there were fewer than five people donning the red PH shirts. Likewise at the Kuala Pilah rally, only a handful were wearing BN’s notable “blue shirts”.

When asked whether the BN-PH factor could swing the votes in Negeri Sembilan, BN candidate for Lenggeng Mohd Asna Amin believed otherwise, insisting that the voters in Lenggeng, particularly where he is contesting, believe in the unity government.

“Even the 7,000 voters who voted for Parti Amanah Negara’s candidate in 2018 also said they would vote for BN this time around,” he tells The Edge in Kampung Pantai, in the outskirts of Seremban.

The Jelebu parliamentary constituency is important to both PH and BN as it is where two of their high-ranking party leaders are contesting. Loke is PH’s candidate in Chennah, while Umno Negeri Sembilan liaison committee chairman Datuk Seri Jalaluddin Alias is standing in Pertang.

Rantau a hot seat

The Rantau state seat will be one of the most watched, where Mohamad Hasan, fondly known as Tok Mat, will defend the seat for the fifth time. He was the state’s menteri besar from 2004 to 2018. He is in a straight fight with Rembau PAS deputy president Rozmal Malakan for the seat.

The challenge among BN supporters there is obviously to accept the unity government. “Before this campaigning period, it was hard to convince them that we [BN] have to join hands with DAP. But now, I think they have slowly accepted this,” says Rahim Daud (not his real name) in Kampung Sega in Rantau.

Noting that Tok Mat is a strong political figure in Negeri Sembilan, Sarimah Daud, a businesswoman in Kampung Sawah, says she will continue to vote for him. “Unless BN fields another candidate, perhaps I would vote for PN, because this country needs a change.”

Sarimah says the campaign vibe for BN is more vibrant than that of PN, given that the latter’s candidate is the underdog. “The PN candidate should meet the people here. Because if he is not here today, how would I know if he will be here for the people if he wins.”

Negeri Sembilan seems to be the one state that PN has difficulty gaining support. 

Realising its rivals’ strong grassroots support in Negeri Sembilan, PN is taking a door-to-door approach to introduce the coalition to households and garner votes. Door-to-door visits are commonly used by election candidates, particularly in rural areas.

For the Klawang state seat, first-time candidate from PN, Danni Rais, who will face his cousin and incumbent Datuk Bakri Sawir from PH, is going to the ground to meet voters.

“As a first-time candidate, I have to introduce myself to the residents here. They may know of PN, but they don’t know the candidate,” he tells The Edge.

Having the backing of his father, who was member of parliament for Jelebu from 1999 to 2013, could be an advantage for him, especially among voters who are still on the fence.

“We are with PN because Rais Yatim did a lot when he was a minister. He did not forget about people in Klawang,” says Hafiz (not his real name) when met in Klawang.

Negeri Sembilan was the one state not impacted by the Green Wave in GE15. Will the incumbents be able to defend their turf at the upcoming state polls? Their voters’ loyalty will be tested, given the unexpected partnership between BN and PH.

 

Making sure electoral machinery works hard

THERE have been rumours that Negeri Sembilan Umno liaison committee chairman Datuk Seri Jalaluddin Alias, a familiar name in the state, returned to state politics because he is eyeing the state’s menteri besar (MB) post. The veteran politician, however, declined to say much on the candidate for the post, telling The Edge that his focus now is to ensure that all the electoral machinery work hard and the party gets the mandate from the rakyat.

“After the election and when we get the results, then only the top leaders of our parties from BN (Barisan Nasional) and PH (Pakatan Harapan) will decide who will be the MB,” says Jalaluddin.

Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced that incumbent Datuk Seri Aminuddin Harun would remain MB of Negeri Sembilan should BN-PH win the state election, quashing speculation that Jalaluddin is tipped to hold the state’s top post.

Some quarters view this as another litmus test for the BN-PH partnership, as the incumbent MB is from PH.

Nonetheless, Jalaluddin is confident that BN-PH will be able to defend their Negeri Sembilan seats in the upcoming polls. He does not see the political agreement between PH and BN affecting support in the state.

“During GE15 (15th general election), the country saw an unprecedented event with no single political coalition winning a simple majority to form the government. This shows that the people have differences. As such, our leader has decided for us to form a unity government to ensure stability and growth of this country,” says Jalaluddin.

As a matter of fact, he believes that the agreement between PH and BN will give the coalition an advantage in defending Negeri Sembilan in the upcoming state polls.

“This is the only point they [Perikatan Nasional (PN)] have against us. They want to play with the people’s emotion because we [Umno] are working with DAP to paint a negative perception of BN.

“But both PH and BN have been the state government for Negeri Sembilan and people understand our policies and the work that we [BN-PH] have put in to develop the state,” he stresses, adding that he wants to make Negeri Sembilan the “second Klang Valley” should BN-PH maintain their hold in the state.

Furthermore, he disagrees with PN’s rhetoric on the need to have an opposition in the state. He says having representatives from different coalitions serve in the unity government is already sufficient in terms of checks and balances.

“But for me, the checks and balances are already happening in the unity government. I don’t think we need to change the political landscape in Negeri Sembilan.

“With that in mind, I believe BN-PH could win all the seats we are contesting in Negeri Sembilan,” he tells The Edge.

Jalaluddin, who is also Jelebu MP, is the BN candidate for the Pertang seat against PAS’s Amirudin Hassan in the upcoming state election. Jalaluddin won the Jelebu parliamentary seat in GE15 last November.

 

PN makes door-to-door visits to garner votes

PERIKATAN Nasional’s (PN) campaign tactic in Negeri Sembilan is to go from door-to-door to meet voters.

Negeri Sembilan PN chief Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu believes that as the underdog in the state, which has about 864,425 voters, these visits will help the coalition garner support.

“I think now people can see that we are giving a good fight,” Ahmad Faizal tells The Edge.

The door-to-door strategy is traditionally Barisan Nasional’s (BN) strong suit during election campaigns.

“So far, the people have been very welcoming. When we knock on their doors and they see the PN logo, they welcome us to the extent that we are having drinks with them as they talk about their problems and needs.

“In the past, when you were with the opposition party, people usually shut their doors. Things have changed a lot,” says the PN deputy chairman, adding that there has been increasing acceptance of the PN coalition.

Ahmad Faizal is not contesting in the upcoming polls but he has an uphill task, which is to increase the popularity of PN in Negeri Sembilan — the only state in which the coalition won no parliamentary seat in the 15th general election held about nine months ago.

Ahmad Faizal lost to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the Tambun parliamentary seat in Perak with a 5,328-vote margin during GE15.

“People were making fun of me when I was contesting in Tambun against Anwar. But I went to the ground and did a lot of work. Although I lost, it was by a small margin,” he says.

While Ahmad Faizal admits it is tough for PN to make inroads into Negeri Sembilan, he sees an opportunity on the horizon, as Pakatan Harapan (PH) joining hands with BN is a move that is unpopular with Malay voters.

He is tight-lipped about the potential candidate for the menteri besar post, should the coalition wrest control of the state.

On economic development, Ahmad Faizal reckons that PH could have done more to develop Negeri Sembilan, considering the state’s proximity to the Klang Valley and Selangor, and its abundance of natural resources.

“I don’t see the current government exploiting the potential of Negeri Sembilan to raise the livelihood of the people here.

“A lot of people who live in Negeri Sembilan are working outside the state. It shouldn’t be that way,” he says.

 

Terengganu: It's an uphill battle for PH-BN here

By Izzul Ikram

TERENGGANU is firmly in the hands of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) for the upcoming state election, going by the results of the 15th general election (GE15). It swept all eight of the state’s parliamentary seats last November.

On the other hand, Barisan Nasional (BN) is banking on regaining the votes it lost to PAS and swaying young voters to its side in the state election, as it attempts to retain the 10 seats out of the 32 in Terengganu’s state assembly that it won in 2018.

Terengganu has an established oil and gas industry that forms the backbone of its economy, thanks to oilfields off its coast. With the state’s 200km of sandy beaches, local businesses are also supported by tourists.

Despite these geographical strengths, development in Terengganu has lagged behind its peers on the west coast, leading to a lack of infrastructure and job opportunities.

But it is hard to place the blame on a single party, as control of Malaysia’s most homogeneous state, in which 96.7% of the electorate is Malay, has shifted between the Malay-dominant former hegemon Umno and the Islamist PAS three times in the previous six state elections.

In GE15, when PAS teamed up with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) under the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, the voting pattern observed at the polling stations of the respective state constituencies showed that PN dominated votes in 31 state constituencies — with margins ranging from a low of 13.6% in Hulu Besut and a high of 49.7% in Sura.

BN scored a higher number of votes only in Telemung, with a slight margin of 3.5%.

In the upcoming state elections on Aug 12, BN-Umno will lead the unity government’s push in Terengganu by contesting 27 seats, while Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) aims for three seats, and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) targets two.

On PN’s side, PAS is fielding candidates for 27 seats, while Bersatu will contest the remaining five.

PN has named caretaker Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar of PAS as its menteri besar nominee. The Pakatan Harapan (PH)-BN team, meanwhile, has yet to name a nominee for the post as they focus on first achieving victory at the polls.

It is worth noting that among BN’s candidates are Kijal incumbent Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Said and Seberang Takir incumbent Datuk Seri Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman, both of whom have previously served as Terengganu menteri besar.

BN promises better development

BN is highlighting the need to continue developing the state holistically as the driving force of its campaign and is putting itself forward as the coalition for the job.

BN Terengganu chairman Ahmad Said, referred to by the locals as Mat Said, during a campaign talk in Kuala Terengganu on July 28, cited as examples, some developments initiated during his administration between 2008 and 2013.

“Kuala Terengganu, I want to ask you, who built the Urban Transformation Centre, Hotel Paya Bunga, bowling alley and four-lane roads?” Ahmad Said put the question to the hundreds of supporters who turned up at the event donned in blue, who in turn chanted “Mat Said!”.

However, support for BN appeared tame in contrast to the gathering for PAS’ candidate announcement in Marang just a day before. The staunch support shown by the party’s supporters was an eye-opening experience for the uninitiated.

The crowd of supporters came from all over Terengganu, many with their young children in tow. Attendance was estimated in the thousands and cars parked along the roadside stretched for kilometres.

PAS president and Marang member of parliament Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang mocked BN in his speech at the event, claiming Umno had sworn in God’s name that it would not form a government with PH but did not keep the promise.

PN candidates, meanwhile, had sworn to be fair and commit no wrongdoing, he said.

“For Muslims, ikrar and baiah (pledges) are important before Allah. We believe that political matters related to religion will be questioned in the afterlife,” the ustaz (religious teacher) said.

“Because of this, we ask that each [state constituency] work hard to ensure that we get all 32 seats in Terengganu,” he said, to affirmative roars from the crowd.

As the almost-three-hour event came to a close near midnight, supporters eagerly placed their donations for the party into plastic bags that were being passed around.

PAS supporters in attendance told The Edge that their loyalty to the party remains firm, with unquestioned support to the party in hopes that PN would achieve a “clean sweep” of Terengganu’s 32 state seats.

As to why they chose to support PAS, the responses were brief, with the most cited one being the stability that the PAS-led state government has provided, as well as their belief in the party’s pledge to uphold Islam.

When state issues such as lack of infrastructure and job opportunities were raised, supporters said these were “non-issues” because their day-to-day lives were already comfortable.

Dr Wan Rohila Ganti Wan Abdul Ghapar , a senior lecturer of law and international relations at Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (Unisza),  says PAS supporters equate their activism for PAS as a deed that will be rewarded by God and grant them entry to heaven. 

“Winning elections is just a bonus because regardless of whether PAS wins or loses, they  (the supporters) believe that Allah will reward them for their support. This may sound funny, but the afterlife is a real motivation and incentive for them to vote for PAS,” she says when contacted.

Her own survey on youths’ political leaning in Terengganu also showed 72% of them favouring the current PAS government, with 81% being satisfied with its performance.

This means the multi-racial and youth-centric Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda), which is making its Terengganu election debut with its co-founder Luqman Long in Bandar in hopes that he would sway some young voters, will not have it easy either. 

Luqman will be up against Kuala Terengganu Umno division deputy chief Armi Irzan Mohd (BN) and Ahmad Shah Muhamed (PAS). 

“The idea is, of course, to win. But the other long-term plan is to create a footprint in Terengganu,” Luqman tells The Edge.

Zahid seen as obstacle to BN’s ambitions

During BN Terengganu’s manifesto launch on July 25, Ahmad Said said the coalition wants to retake the Terengganu state assembly by regaining the 20% of Umno voters it lost to PAS in GE15.

He claimed that GE15 was not held on a level playing field in Terengganu, citing the vote-buying allegations that BN raised via election petitions to annul PN’s GE15 victories in Kuala Terengganu, Marang and Kemaman.

“Psychologically, it [money] influences their votes. Our [BN’s] campaign trail [in GE15] was lively — with lots of supporters. But when money was offered, they [PN] won with majorities of 30,000 to 40,000 votes,” he added.

Following BN’s petitions, the Terengganu Election Court invalidated PAS’ victory for the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat in GE15. The Marang and Kemaman election results are still pending court processes.

However, BN chairman Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s ongoing corruption trials are not helping BN in wooing former Umno supporters to return to BN’s fold.

Wan Mohd Yusof, a food stall operator at a major market in Kuala Terengganu, tells The Edge he is a BN supporter but would vote for PAS because BN kept Ahmad Zahid as chairman despite the latter’s ongoing graft cases.

“[Prime Minister] Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said he wants to fight corruption, but he’s in bed with Zahid. If Zahid was thrown out, I would vote for BN and the unity government,” Wan Mohd says.

Across the road from Kuala Terengganu’s largest shopping mall, full-time Grab riders Suhairi and Ashrof say they are also supporting PN in the state election and hope the coalition will win all 32 seats.

“Who wants to support kaki spin [a manipulator]? Anwar promised no corruption but is close with Zahid [in the unity government]. He [Anwar] promised that petrol prices would fall, but that never happened,” Suhairi says.

Despite recognising the lack of development and job opportunities in Terengganu, Ashrof says he has no confidence that BN or the unity government can address these issues.

Unisza’s Wan Rohila does not see BN being able to regain the 20% of Umno voters it lost to PAS, reasoning that PAS’ allegations that Umno voters are not Islamic, or less so, have divided voters in the state.

“Zahid’s graft cases are also going to affect voters’ decisions. Anwar’s reformation efforts have been largely ignored and his unity government’s Rahmah efforts seem forgotten while Zahid’s cases gain more attention from voters,” she says.

Ironically, just a day before nomination day, Ahmad Zahid did something that some quarters had criticised was akin to bribing voters.

During a unity government event in Dungun on July 28, Ahmad Zahid, in his capacity as Rural and Regional Development Minister, announced various grants for Terengganu’s youth while saying the amounts might increase — depending on the youth’s “performance” in the state election.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission later said Ahmad Zahid’s announcement was above board, as the allocations promised were federal-level initiatives.
 

 

Kelantan: Deep-rooted support despite absence of economic development

By Syafiqah Salim

PAS remains strong and seemingly unassailable in Kelantan, despite its failure to manage water supply issues, provide more job opportunities and spur economic and infrastructure development in the state.

There is no doubt that the Islamist party — which will contest 39 seats in the state legislative assembly — will secure a clean sweep on Aug 12, based on the results of the 15th general election (GE15). Its partner in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), will vie for the other six seats.

In GE15, PN captured all 14 parliamentary seats in Kelantan, including Gua Musang, a stronghold of Barisan Nasional (BN), although it was by a narrow margin of 0.3%. In the 2018 state election, PAS won 37 seats compared with BN’s eight.

Despite PAS’s firm hold on the state, the BN-Pakatan Harapan (BN-PH) alliance did not throw in the towel. BN will contest 31 seats in the upcoming polls while PH will vie for 14.

The voters in Kelantan, the majority of whom are Malays, seem to have few grouses about the PAS administration that has ruled the state for 33 years, even though the income level of ordinary folk isn’t high and economic matters, such as job creation and investments, are not quite a priority.

Kelantan’s median household expenditure-to-median income ratio is the highest in the country at 84.3% — above the national average of 67.6% — according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM). This indicates that people in the state have to spend more than 80% of their monthly income on living expenses, despite the cost of living being considerably lower there compared with other parts of the country.

BN president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in his speech at Bangunan Umno Kelantan on nomination day on July 29, stressed that Kelantan is a state that is very bigoted for a party that promises “heaven”. He added that economic and infrastructure development must be brought to the state. Such narratives may be effective on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, but it remains to be seen if this approach will win votes here.

“I am comfortable with PAS. We do not need much development here,” Suzila Yaakob (not her real name), a teacher in Wakaf Bharu, tells The Edge at the Tumpat railway station. “Outsiders who do not know why we are still holding on to PAS should live in Kelantan, then they can make a judgement.”

PAS was heavily criticised for failing to resolve the water supply issues that resulted from the mismanagement of Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd. Households there do not have clean tap water supply — a basic necessity that many have taken for granted in other states.

Suzila says she has been using tube wells for the past month after experiencing a lack of clean water supply. “Water supply is not a problem here right now because most of us rely on air boring (tube wells) and not Air Kelantan.”

For more than three decades, PAS has successfully instilled religious and fundamentalist ideology in the society. It is observed that Kelantan voters who work in other states remain supportive of the party.

Arash, an employee at a convenience store in Bunut Payong, near Kota Baru, says: “PAS is about community support, which makes me feel that we are all part of a bigger family in this state. I feel PAS has done a lot to get the youth here involved in community events, like organising football games, the favourite sport in our area.”

No cash assistance or incentives from state government

Kelantan is part of the Malay heartland as more than 90% of the population are Malays. In the upcoming state polls, there are roughly 70,500 non-Malay voters in the state compared with the 1.33 million Malay voters.

“Our vote does not matter because we already know who will win,” says Janice Wong (not her real name), a 50-year-old who lives in Kota Baru. She tells The Edge that even after the death of former menteri besar Tan Sri Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, there was no support or cash assistance from the state government to help the community, especially the needy. For that reason, she hopes for a change in the state government.

Gross domestic product per capita in Kelantan was the lowest in the country in 2022 at RM16,567, followed by Perlis (RM23,126) and Kedah (RM25,967). Kelantan’s 1.8% contribution to the country’s GDP was also the smallest.

The business community generally finds that the state is not that investor-friendly and the infrastructure is poor. Since there is no port nearby, companies that export products need to go to Port Klang. 

Furthermore, the state government does not provide any incentives or funding to drive business activity in Kelantan. Due to a lack of infrastructure development, in some circumstances, companies need to fork out their own money to build roads and street lamps.

Manifesto or empty promises?

PN Kelantan has unveiled its state election manifesto, which has solving water issues as its top priority. Themed “Kelantan Maju, Rakyat Sejahtera”, it has 18 priorities, including the rebranding of Air Kelantan, developing new towns to create more jobs and boost the state’s economy, as well as implementing programmes for education, women, families and youth.

Dr Mazlan Ali, a political analyst at the Perdana Centre of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, at the Razak Faculty of Technology and Informatics at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, says it would be difficult for PAS to fulfil its promises even if it wins by a landslide because of governance issues and a lack of ideas. “The level of professionalism in PAS’s management is low and incompetent.”

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya senior lecturer Mohammad Tawfik Yaakub notes that the water supply and infrastructure issues in Kelantan cannot be resolved overnight. “Both the state and federal governments need to set aside their political differences to resolve this basic issue involving the allocation of funds and political will.”

The folks in Kelantan have lived with potholes in the roads and fresh water from tube wells for years. Yet, PAS has won every state election since 1990.

BN-PH, which is part of the federal government, is in a position to provide more financial allocation to build basic infrastructure in Kelantan. Will that help it to wrest a few seats away from the incumbents?

 

Unity government plays long game by having DAP sit out in Kelantan

By Izzul Ikram and Syafiqah Salim

OF all the states controlled by the opposition, PAS’s stronghold of Kelantan has always been perceived as the hardest in which to make a dent. Nevertheless, the unity government will attempt to create a foothold in it during the upcoming state election — one of its strategies being to leave out DAP altogether.

The unity government is concerned that fears instilled in Kelantan’s electorate by the playing of the bogeyman card by PAS, and previously Barisan Nasional — over DAP allegedly being a racist and anti-Islamic party — will hamper efforts to gain Malay votes in the state.

DAP had eyed the Kota Lama state seat in view of Chinese voters making up over 30% of the constituency’s voter base. However, the seat went to Parti Amanah Negara’s (Amanah) Dr Hafidzah Mustakim (pictured).

Amanah Kelantan election director Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah tells The Edge that BN component party Umno requested that DAP not contest in Kelantan due to fears votes for the unity government would be negatively affected.

“During initial discussions, it was agreed that Umno would take the lead in Kelantan. Pakatan Harapan had agreed to give one seat to DAP, but Umno raised issues of the Kelantan Muslim community’s sensitivity towards DAP,” Wan Rahim says. “So, Umno requested that DAP not contest in Kelantan.”

Universiti Teknologi Mara Rembau (UiTM-Rembau) Administrative Science and Policy Studies senior lecturer Dr Che Hamdan Che Mohd Razali also sees giving DAP a chance to stand in any seat in Kelantan as a misstep. He suggests that it will enable PAS to leverage DAP’s sensitive image in the state to undermine PH and BN’s chances in the state election.

“If DAP contested in Kelantan, PAS would certainly stir the sentiment that PH and BN are leading the way for DAP to establish its ideology [in Kelantan], which for [the Malay-Muslim community] is seen as a threat to Malays and Islam,” he says.

Che Hamdan believes this is compounded by the majority of Kelantanese still regarding DAP as being a racially based party. He notes, however, that even Amanah and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) have only small segments of the Kelantan state constituency electorates supporting them.

With not even one of Kelantan’s 45 state seats allocated to DAP, the party’s state leadership feels sidelined by the unity government, as if a mere afterthought.

DAP Kelantan chairman Datuk Azaha Abdul Rani (pictured) says DAP was previously asked by the unity government component parties not to participate in the state election campaign over fears of voter sentiment being affected.

“DAP was told not to participate [in campaigning] until nomination day. But right after nomination day was over, they [PH and BN component parties] began asking for DAP’s help [in campaigning] — pegang dan cium kaki kami (“holding and kissing our feet” — begging).”

Using some choice words, Azaha told them to campaign on their own.

Amanah’s Wan Rahim says the party has the highest chance of winning in Kota Lama when comparing the seven state seats in which the party is fielding candidates.

Meanwhile, Azaha says PAS’s Datuk Zamri Ismail will win the seat if Parti Rakyat Malaysia candidate Andy Tan splits the Chinese vote.

 

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