PAKATAN Harapan (PH) has two problems in Perak, where it was just a few seats short of becoming the state government in the last general election when it was Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

Problem number one is  Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir, who  is popular and hardworking, having soldiered on despite Barisan Nasional’s slim majority in the state legislature.

Problem number two is that it does not have an acceptable candidate for the menteri besar’s post in a state that requires its leader to be Malay, even though there is a sizeable Chinese population in the state once known for its tin mines.

The last opposition menteri besar was Nizar Jamaluddin, then of PAS, who is now the state opposition leader with PAS splinter party Amanah.

Nizar, who was MB during the 11 months after the the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat pact won Perak in the 2008 general election, had struggled to win the trust and support of rural Malay voters who see him as being dominated by the Chinese-majority DAP.

DAP’s dominance was perceived to come from two individuals Nga Kor Ming, the Kepayan assemblyman and Taiping MP, and Ngeh Koo Ham, the Setiawan assemblyman and Beruas MP. Talk of their dominance began in 2008 when both served in the state exco and were alleged to be running the state government behind the scene.

It did not help that the two would often flank Nizar and have their say at press conferences.

It has never been proved that they directed Nizar to take certain actions but the continued perception is that Nga, who is the Perak DAP chief and Ngeh, who is the former DAP chief, ruled over proceedings in the state.

This has worked in Umno’s favour.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insight, Nizar  admitted that he was hard-pressed to  debunk the perception that he is a DAP stooge, a perception encouraged by “Umno’s campaign” and that it has been successful in creating distrust among Malay voters in the state.

“PAS only has four seats in the state assembly, while DAP has 18. So, how am I going to deflect the perception that the DAP controls the state government, when in fact, they are the majority.

“So when Umno campaigns in this manner, they will win,” Nizar told The Malaysian Insight.

“In reality, I have challenged Umno in the state assembly to prove how and when I have been a tool of the DAP, and they have never been able to provide any proof,” he said.

Ilham Centre’s Hisomuddin Bakar, who lives in Ipoh, said it was important that PH chose a strong Malay leader whowas able to win the confidence of Malay voters if it hoped to have a chance in winning Perak in GE14.

“Based on our findings, BN will still win Perak in the next general election unless PH makes some changes in strategy and put up a leader that can garner confidence of Malay voters,” he said.

PKR officials admit that the lack of an acceptable Malay leader is a strong election issue in the state, despite Nizar’s credentials for the top job.

“The perception that he is dominated by DAP is strong, and if we can find a replacement who does not have this baggage then there is a good chance to swing the Malay votes,” a PKR source told The Malaysian Insight.

He said state opposition leaders have been floating around names such as PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli to lead the charge in Perak for the next general election. Rafizi is now the Pandan MP but had schooled in the famed Malay College in Kuala Kangsar.

Perak is considered a “hot state” for the coming elections, with a total of 59 seats up for grabs in the state assembly. BN has 31 seats, a mere three seats more than the opposition. The DAP holds 18 seats, while PKR has five, PAS has four and Amanah has one.

Nazri Din, a former officer at PAS Perak ops centre, said one of the main reasons Pakatan Rakyat lost in the 2013 general election was due to DAP’s perceived dominance over the coalition which caused many Malay votes to swing back to Umno.

“The Allah issue and DAP’s dominance over PR was used by Umno to garner support of Malay voters with help from Perak Mufti Harussani Zakarai and Kazam Alias who is a popular religious teacher in Perak,” said Nazri.

And then there is Zambry’s popularity.

“There are no squabbles since BN took over. Zambry has done a good job overall and voters have a good impression of him,” said Afandi Ahmad, a blogger who is actively campaigning for PSM in the Cameron Highlands parliamentary constituency.

“He moves quietly, but he reaches out to the grassroots,” said Afandi.

“There is no reason why people should not support him.”

He gave the example of Zambry’s success in cleaning up the streets of Ipoh city, and for overseeing development in Aman Jaya, as reasons why he enjoys the firm support of many in Perak.

“I once organised a demonstration against Zambry related to a plot of land in the heart of Ipoh city. The people didn’t support me, in fact, they scolded me for organising the demo,” said Afandi.