Backing for Pakatan Harapan in the country’s southernmost area seems to be eroding.
AT the Tanjung Piai National Park, there’s a sign where tourists take their photographs to mark that they are standing on the southernmost tip of mainland Asia. Politicians from outside Johor who are campaigning in the Tanjung Piai by-election are also busy posting selfies taken at this geographically significant corner on their Facebook pages.
On my way to the national park during my visit to the Johor Parliamentary seat, I saw a Barisan Nasional ceramah with a busload of people at a row of wooden shoplots at around 2pm on Monday. Curious, I stopped my car and wound down the window to listen in.
“In GE14, we only lost by about 500 votes. PAS got about 2,000 votes. With PAS, God willing we will win Tanjung Piai, ” an Umno Wanita politician said in Malay.
She was referring to 2018’s GE14 results, when the two-term incumbent, Barisan’s Datuk Wee Jeck Seng of MCA, lost by 524 votes to Pakatan Harapan’s Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. In the three-cornered fight, Wee got 20,731 votes, Dr Md Farid 21,255 and PAS’s Nordin Othman 2,962.
According to the orator’s political mathematics, with the unity collaboration between Umno and PAS, Barisan could logically win the seat as it would be getting the PAS votes.
The seat fell vacant after the sudden death of Dr Md Farid on Sept 21. The by-election will see a six-way fight between Wee, Pakatan Harapan’s Karmaine Sardini, Gerakan’s Wendy Subramaniam, Berjasa’s Dr Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz and independents Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar and Dr Ang Chuan Lock.
Malays make up 57% of the 53,528 voters, the Chinese 42%, and Indians 1%.
At Tanjung Piai town which consists of a row of wooden shoplots, I asked locals – Malays and Chinese – which coalition would win the by-election. A cheeky 40-something pakcik said in Malay that the support for Pakatan was like what Tanjung Piai was famous for – it had gone south.
The most obvious reason for Pakatan’s declining popularity is that it has failed in its roti canai and dhal promise, which is to arrest the rising cost of living.
Those who voted for the coalition of hope thought that their life would ubah (change) if Pakatan won. They thought fuel prices, highway tolls and the cost of goods would go down – as promised during Pakatan’s campaign. Instead, PH became an abbreviation for “Price Hike”.
The Chinese are also angry with the unfulfilled promise to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC). “That is what they promised. But now it is ditangguhkan dan ditangguhkan (postponed and postponed), ” said a 50-something coffee shop owner in Pekan Nenas whose children studied at a Chinese independent high school.
Pakatan’s support among DAP grassroots has also gone south.
A Johor DAP leader explained that after the euphoria of Pakatan winning GE14, many of the party supporters were sakit hati (wounded) or tidak puas hati (not satisfied).
“The Chinese wanted ubah. But they don’t see any much difference between PH and BN, ” said the DAP leader who did not want to be identified as he did not want to get in trouble with – in his words – the Lim dynasty.
The DAP grassroots, he said, was now less supportive of the Prime Minister and Pakatan chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad because they perceive that he has driven an ideological wedge into the party.
He said like any party, DAP has Team A, Team B and Team C but it – roughly – shared the same political ideology. But now the party is divided on issues like khat or the banned comic book, he said.
“We have leaders who tell us that learning Jawi script did not make them betray the Chinese race, language and culture. But the grassroots are not convinced. They have deep-rooted suspicion about the teaching of khat in Chinese schools, ” he said.
“It is the same with the Superman Hew Kuan Yau’s comic book. The grassroots do not think there’s anything wrong with the book. They quote political cartoonist Zunar who said if you don’t like the book then don’t read it. However, they are unhappy with DAP leaders, especially those in a comfortable position in government, who are against the comic book.”
When you drive from Pekan Nanas to Kukup town to Tanjung Piai National Park, you will see that the ruling coalition has lost the blue (Barisan) versus red (Pakatan) flag war. Along the road, Umno machinery has been stronger than Bersatu’s as evident by the blue flag markas (operations centres) in kampungs.
The strong support for Umno in Tanjung Piai should translate into votes for the Barisan candidate from MCA if the Barisan spirit prevails.
Reports on the ground indicate that initially, Umno branches in the constituency were not happy that an Umno leader was not fielded. But the unhappiness has been settled.
“Many Malays in the constituency support Umno because in their mindset, only that party can help their race and religion, ” said the DAP leader.
Malay support for Pakatan has also gone south.
A Bersatu leader explained that his party was losing support because of its association with DAP.
“Umno and PAS have successfully brainwashed a sizable number of Malays into thinking ABCD (asal bukan Cina DAP, or anything but Chinese DAP), ” said the politician who did not want to be named as he did not want to be accused of offending a coalition partner.
The big question in this by-election is just how far south has Pakatan support gone.