WITH the first 500 days of Pakatan Harapan’s five-year term in office looming, the coalition will be hard-pressed to prove that its victory in Tanjung Piai last year was no fluke, not least its dramatic takeover of Umno stronghold Johor and, by extension, the 14th general election.
The key to winning Tg Piai, said Ilham Centre executive director Mohd Azlan Zainal, depends on the contenders’ strategies and tactics, and the sentiments of the two largest ethnic groups in the peninsula.
“The Malay and Chinese votes will be an important gauge for Barisan Nasional and PH on where the pacts lie on the national and state fronts.
“PH’s advantage is based on the fact that they are in power at both the state and federal levels, while for BN, Johor is one of its former strongholds.”
The Tg Piai federal seat fell vacant following the death of 42-year-old Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (National Unity and Social Well-being) Md Farid Md Rafik yesterday.
The Bersatu lawmaker was one of the surprise winners in the last elections, snatching the seat from MCA’s two-time MP, Wee Jeck Seng, by 524 votes (1.17%) in a three-cornered fight. The third candidate was PAS’ Nordin Othman.
Despite the anti-BN wave last year, said Azlan, PH bagged the seat by only a slim margin.
“This shows that there are still many staunch BN supporters in Tg Piai, although the Malay-majority seat was contested by MCA.”
With all things equal, he said, the PAS votes (2,962) will tip the balance in BN’s favour, following the signing of a unity charter between the Islamist party and Umno last weekend.
“A complete swing of the PAS votes to the BN candidate here could show the effects of their political cooperation.”
In the last elections, Tg Piai had 57% Malay, 42% Chinese and 1% Indian voters.
“It is critical for PH to defend the seat amid ongoing racial and religious rhetoric,” said Azlan.
MCA or Umno for Tg Piai?
Like Cameron Highlands, the choice of candidate will be key to BN regaining Tg Piai.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi appears to be aware of this, saying the candidate will be decided by the former ruling coalition’s components.
“It will be tough for PH if BN fields a Malay candidate in Tg Piai,” said Azlan.
“This is similar to Cameron Highlands, where BN decided to field independent Ramli Md Nor instead of an MIC candidate.”
He said the only concern is whether the pact will lose Chinese votes, as Tg Piai is traditionally an MCA seat.
International Islamic University Malaysia lecturer Dr Lau Zhe Wei said MCA will not gain much ground from the Chinese following the inking of the Umno-PAS charter.
“Whatever negative feelings the Chinese had for PH following issues such as khat… have been negated by the Umno-PAS tie-up.
“I don’t think non-MCA Chinese voters will shift to BN in this by-election.”
The political science lecturer does not rule out BN pulling another swap with MCA in Tg Piai.
If that happens again, he said, it could show the pact’s direction on future seat allocations.
“Although it is a Malay-majority seat, it is considered an MCA stronghold because they have won there twice with Wee (2008 and 2013), and before that, with then MCA president Ong Ka Ting (2004).
“Should Umno take this seat, there is a high chance that it will take more away from MCA, particularly the seats it failed to win.”
The Tg Piai by-election will be the ninth to be contested since GE14.
PH won four of the polls in the peninsula – Sg Kandis, Sri Setia, Balakong and Port Dickson – as well as Sandakan in Sabah.
After the Port Dickson race, which was won by prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim, the ruling pact lost three straight contests – Semenyih, Cameron Highlands and Rantau – to BN.
Although a win in Tg Piai will not alter the balance of power in Putrajaya, PH desperately needs a victory to end talk that it is only a one-term government.