MIDWAY through the Tanjung Piai by-election, Pakatan Harapan has hit a major speed bump that threatens to derail its quest to defend the parliamentary seat.
Sources in the ruling coalition acknowledged that a video of Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu appearing to sacrifice his DAP allies to appease Umno supporters has thrown a monkey wrench into the campaign.
The video is the latest blow to the perception of DAP among the Chinese, who comprise 42% of Tg Piai’s voters.
PH’s dented image among Chinese voters stands in contrast to Barisan Nasional, whose officials said the opposition front has received “exceptional” response from the community.
The one bright spot, said PH officials, is that there is a rise in Malay support towards the coalition, but it is still unclear whether this increase is enough to balance the loss of support from Chinese voters.
Since the start of official campaigning on November 2, DAP volunteers were already dejected with the ongoing feud between their party and Bersatu, of which Faizal is a member. But, they were persuaded to turn out after much convincing from senior leaders.
Now, it is learnt that DAP’s top chiefs are forced to go around again and soothe members’ feelings after Faizal’s video surfaced on Friday.
The blowback from DAP supporters will see a larger decrease in Chinese votes for PH than anticipated and boost BN’s chances of recapturing the seat.
Tg Piai has been a BN stronghold since it was established and first contested in the 2004 elections by the coalition’s Chinese party, MCA.
BN lost the seat in the 14th general election by a narrow margin of 524 votes. The constituency has more than 52,000 voters.
A critical reason for BN’s loss was that 64% of Chinese voters swung towards PH despite the fact that MCA has deep roots in the community and that the seat was held for two terms by Wee Jeck Seng.
Analysis by PH strategists revealed that the coalition must maintain similarly high levels of Chinese support if it wants to retain Tg Piai.
PH must also increase its support from Malays, who make up 57% of voters, by 3% to 5%. In GE14, the pact received 32% of the community’s vote.
“Faizal’s video will definitely have an impact on the Chinese vote. DAP leaders are going around telling their supporters to focus on winning Tg Piai first,” said an official in the PH campaign.
“After the by-election, they will deal with Faizal,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
On the other hand, Malay kampung folk, particularly in the Kukup area, are warming up to PH in ways never seen before.
This change in attitude is mostly due to the service record of former MP Dr Md Farid Md Rafik – whose untimely death sparked the by-election – and PH’s status as the federal and state governments.
“Villagers who used to vote only for BN are now opening their eyes to PH because of Farid’s work,” said Rosman Abdullah, 66, of Kg Seri Bunian.
“They saw how he helped out schools and villages regardless of whether they were Umno supporters or not. He was hardworking and always on the ground,” said the pensioner.
In his short 18 months as their parliamentarian, Farid brought in about RM19 million in ongoing infrastructure projects for the constituency, mostly for boosting the fishing and local tourism industries.
In its campaign among Malays, PH politicians are playing up the late anaesthesiologist’s contributions, and the importance of maintaining the coalition’s control of the constituency to continue those projects.
Rosman’s friend, Osman Yatim, said there is a noticeable change in the perception of village elders and youth towards PH.
“Every villager wants to see development in his village and for the community to thrive. They saw Farid’s work and they are more open to the PH government.”
Despite the better reception PH is seeing among Malays, officials such as Wan Sharani Wan Abdul Jalil are uncertain whether the goodwill will translate into votes.
This is due to Umno’s strong and deep presence among villagers, especially older folk, and being seen as a PH supporter is still a stigma.
“We’ve met many people, especially youth, who say they will quietly vote for us. They won’t declare their support openly by joining our ceramah,” said Wan Sharani, who oversees operations in three Malay-majority polling districts in Kukup.
“Although there is an increase in Malay support, we don’t know if it’s enough. We still have to work very, very hard.”
Tg Piai Chinese turn up in droves for Jeck Seng
IF the Chinese turnout at ceramah is an indicator of popular support, MCA has won the battle for Tanjung Piai.
More than 14 months ago, during the Balakong by-election, the Barisan Nasional party’s campaign event near a busy pasar malam attracted only a little more than 20 people. In contrast, arch-rival DAP pulled hundreds of Chinese constituents to its ceramah just 500m away.
Last night, the tables were turned: several hundred people showed up outside the Econsave hypermarket in Pontian for MCA, while only a quarter of that gathered for DAP’s event at a food court some 800m away.
“Pakatan Harapan had promised to abolish tolls, erase PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) loans and bring down petrol prices if they won. But have these things happened?” Wee Ka Siong, MCA’s president and sole MP, told the crowd.
“They also promised to introduce a petrol subsidy in Budget 2019. But has that happened?”
He said the ruling pact has failed to live up to its promises to voters.
Instead of abolishing tolls, he said, PH is trying to take over PLUS Malaysia Bhd highways and offer an 18% discount on toll charges.
“But to do that, the government plans to extend the toll concession by another 20 years, from 2038 to 2058. Isn’t that stupid?
“As for the petrol subsidy, it was promised in (Budget) 2019, and they even awarded a RM25 million contract to a company to do this. But it has been delayed till next year,” said Ka Siong, who served in former prime minister Najib Razak’s cabinet.
As with most ceramah, though, exaggerated half-truths were told.
During the 14th general election campaign, PH did indeed promise to restructure toll agreements and wipe out PTPTN loans. However, it never pledged to bring down fuel prices or abolish tolls.
The promise to lower fuel prices was made during the GE13 campaign, but the pact’s opponents have continued to attack the old vow.
However, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had promised to introduce a petrol subsidy in the second half of 2019, but this has been delayed till next year. He did not give a reason for the postponement.
What stood out last night was that neither Ka Siong, nor BN’s Tg Piai candidate, Wee Jeck Seng, Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin or former Pulai lawmaker Nur Jazlan Mohamed touched on one of the main issues that caused the Chinese to reject MCA in last year’s elections: the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal.
PH clean, at least
The 1MDB fraud, in which Najib is implicated, remains a topic for the PH stage.
“This government is not perfect, but it’s clean. There are no Najibs or Rosmahs with expensive handbags and pink diamonds,” said Johor DAP chief Liew Chin Tong, referring to Rosmah Mansor, Najib’s wife.
“The government today is not dominated by money given by the PM to cover up issues. The prime minister and finance minister’s roles are separate. If there’s one thing you should be proud of, it’s that you have voted in a clean government.”
He asked Tg Piai’s Chinese to be patient with PH and back its candidate, Karmaine Sardini of Bersatu.
Unlike other countries, like the US and UK, he said, Malaysia has seen a change in power at the federal level only once.
The deputy defence minister suggested that there are still forces working against PH.
“And worse, if BN wins here, Najib will say Tg Piai voters believe that he’s innocent.”
The Kuala Lumpur High Court will today rule whether Najib must call his defence in the SRC International Sdn Bhd trial.
Former Batu MP Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, urged Chinese voters to be patient with the ruling pact, and played down the issues that its components, such as DAP and Bersatu, appear to have with each other.
“We are trying our best. The problems you see today are the result of power sharing. In the past, BN was dominated by one party, and later, one man.
“What you see today is democracy at work, as all the roles are separate and power is no longer concentrated in one party.”
Acknowledging the community’s growing dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the PKR vice-president said: “If you’re thinking of punishing him by voting for BN, it’s not going to accomplish much as he may be quitting after two years.”
It has been widely reported that Dr Mahathir will step down from the post in two years’ time.
Tg Piai is a seat held by MCA since its creation in 2004 till last year, with Jeck Seng being its MP for two terms before losing in GE14 to PH’s Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, whose death in September necessitated the by-election.
In GE14, BN won a meagre 5% support from Chinese voters nationwide, though it fared much better in Tg Piai, where it got 32% of the Chinese vote.
Polling for the Tg Piai contest, a six-way fight between PH, BN, Gerakan, Berjasa and two independents, will be on Saturday.