Slim polls early test for post-Mahathir Bersatu

Will voters who checked the box for Bersatu now vote for PN or will they go with Dr Mahathir’s Pejuang?

by AFIQ AZIZ/ pic by BERNAMA

THE Slim by-election in Perak, a three-cornered fight between the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) and two independent candidates, is viewed by many as a test of whether Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia can hold its own without former Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

One of the independent candidates, lawyer Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi (picture; centre), 38, represents the yet-to-be registered Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) which is initiated by Dr Mahathir.

Amir Khusyairi will be going up against Tanjung Malim Umno deputy chief Mohd Zaidi Aziz, 43, who represents BN and another independent candidate, S Santhasekaran, 44.

But the story would be in the winning margins, according to observers. Will voters who checked the box for Bersatu now vote for PN or will they go with Dr Mahathir’s Pejuang?

On paper, analysts predicted that BN would have an easy win, repeating its victory during the 14th General Election (GE14) when it secured 8,327 votes, leaving Pakatan Harapan ([PH] represented by Bersatu) with 6,144 votes and PAS with 4,103 votes.

At that point, PAS was not an ally to Umno and as such, if the party’s voters decide to cast their vote for BN at the upcoming by-election, the latter could simply gain over 10,000 votes as a result.

“BN machinery is very strong and it is unlikely for them to lose this election. However, the fight is actually not about who is winning the election, but more like a moral battle between Dr Mahathir and PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin,” Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Kuala Lumpur senior lecturer (political study) Dr Mazlan Ali said.

Still, after 12 days since nomination, the state seat election campaign was seen a little gloomy, unlike elections held previously, perhaps due to fewer contestants from a big coalition like PH and the impact of Covid-19.

The PH presidential council has given way to Dr Mahathir’s team to contest this election.

The memberships of Dr Mahathir and several others to the Bersatu supreme council were nullified as they refused to support the Perikatan Nasional (PN) bloc in Parliament.

In reaction, Dr Mahathir’s followers in Bersatu launched the “blackout campaign” to protest the move and deserted the party soon after he announced he was forming Pejuang.

“If Pejuang can maintain the 6,000 votes Bersatu got previously, or slightly higher, it will be a great success for Dr Mahathir, proving that Muhyiddin has less influence in Bersatu and what the latter had done to join Umno and PAS has nothing to do with the party’s survival,” Mazlan said.

At the same time, Mazlan said Umno too, has indicated that they are not happy with Bersatu’s participation in the bloc.

Citing the incident where Bersatu youth was booed during the launching of BN youth machinery in Slim, Mazlan said Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had demanded that Bersatu prove they can attract the 6,000 votes in GE14 for the BN candidate.

“Again, if Bersatu could not bring this, that would mean Muhyiddin has failed and subsequently affected the bargaining power to determine the distribution of seats among Bersatu, PAS and Umno,” Mazlan said.

During GE14, all of the three Malay parties contested under their own banners. Umno and PAS has since formed Muafakat Nasional to gather the Malay support.

Bersatu decided to leave the coalition, ending the 22-month of PH administration in February to form the PN government with PAS and Umno.

Mazlan said Bersatu is also at risk of losing more members as it mulls accepting non-Bumiputera members to accommodate the entry of former PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohammed Azmin Ali and his bloc of MPs. Those who want to remain in a Malay-based party would join either Umno or Pejuang.

Mazlan said Bersatu is relying on Muhyiddin’s popularity and his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic effectively for the Slim campaign.

“It is hard for Pejuang to gather support from this area which is mainly rural Malay, but they can get support from the non-Malay and progressive Malay. However, Muhyiddin’s popularity factor as PM should not be discounted,” he said.

Mazlan also expects that Pejuang can still gather more support post-Slim election backed by Dr Mahathir’s leadership.

Meanwhile, Dr Sahul Hamid Mohamed Maiddin of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris said Pejuang was given a very short time to sell their image for this by-election and that would be the reason why they could not get a higher vote compared to Bersatu.

“They are talking about the ‘tree’ (symbol of the independent candidate) and he is representing Dr Mahathir’s party. That is all.

“The factor of the candidate that I see is more dominant compared to Dr Mahathir’s factor in Slim because it is a rural area which involves Felda settlers and Orang Asli. These groups know BN more than to analyse what is happening at the national level,” Sahul told The Malaysian Reserve.

“Pejuang will lose the election but not to an extent of losing their deposit.”

The by-election will be held this Saturday, involving 23,094 registered voters, including 277 early voters.