Why Malay voters in Tanjung Piai may swing towards BN

Ben Tan
People fish in Kampung Air Masin in Kukup November 3, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PONTIAN, Nov 12 — The increased turnout at Barisan Nasional (BN) rallies and roadshows in Tanjung Piai may be a sign that some Malay voters have become disillusioned with and are retracting their support for Pakatan Harapan (PH).

However, far from national issues such as the rising cost of living or the perceived incompetence especially on topics related to the community, several voters told Malay Mail that their votes will more likely be influenced on domestic issues.

“Since BN was ousted in May last year, the Malay community here consisting mainly of food operators, smallholders and fishermen had hopes for change under PH.

“However, many seem to have issues such as the daily bread and butter ones, as well as alleged incompetent administration by PH-appointed village chiefs,” said a fisherman who wanted to be known as Taha from Sungai Rambah, located in a Malay-majority area in Kukup.

“We are rural people and the village head for us is an important institution. Having a village head who is politically appointed, but has no support or experience does not help,” he added.

The 54-year-old local explained that a lot of the issues pertaining to PH have to do with delivering aid and infrastructure development to the villagers, who are predominantly involved with palm oil plantations and fishing.

He claimed that the villagers are not easily convinced despite assurances and sudden goodies announced by the federal government, just shortly after the late incumbent MP Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik’s death.

Sanusi Amin, a land smallholder who grows oil palms and also pineapples, agreed with Taha that the community is facing hardship despite being under PH.

The 48-year-old from Permas here said the situation has stayed the same under BN, with Pakatan having made very little difference.

“Some of us are also unhappy with PH’s Tanjung Piai by-election hopeful Karmaine Sardini’s statement on oil palm prices and how we should lead our lives.

“It’s obvious he doesn't understand how we smallholders make our living,” he said, referring to the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia candidate.

Last week, Karmaine was reported to have said that voters should be thankful now since the price of palm oil had once fallen to RM84 per tonne during the previous administration.

In response to backlash, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Sahruddin Jamal said the price of palm oil now is higher, rising to RM350 per tonne last month.

Tough road ahead in Tanjung Piai’s Malay heartland

Meanwhile, a PH source involved with the campaign who did not wish to be named, said it is indeed a difficult task for the coalition to convince the Malay community in Tanjung Piai, which makes up around 57 per cent of the total registered voters.

He said that PH, through its component Bersatu and even Parti Amanah Negara, has been canvassed the ground to garner stronger support among the Malay voters in Tanjung Piai to prove that it is indeed the party of choice among them.

“However, with less than a week left, PH has yet to make a strong impact in the Malay-majority areas of Tanjung Piai.

“Don’t forget that prior to the 14th general election, this area was dominated by BN and Umno.

”Basically, they have very much been entrenched in BN and Umno politics for many decades,” said the source, adding that the difficulties were due to many variables and problems.

In the last election, BN lost the Tanjung Piai parliamentary seat and almost lost the Malay-majority Kukup state seat where the Umno candidate Datuk Md Othman Yusof secured a mere 862-vote majority over Amanah’s Suhaizan Kaiat.

This was due to the shift of 10 per cent to 15 per cent of BN’s Malay voters to PH, a similar pattern that would be repeated throughout Malaysia.

Pekan Nanas has 26,608 registered voters, with nearly half, at 45 per cent, being ethnic Chinese, while Kukup has 26,920 voters with 60 per cent of them Malay.

The source said PH’s problem was securing a 10 per cent Malay vote from Kukup that can help the coalition win.

“This is provided that the Chinese votes from Pekan Nanas can be locked in at 30 per cent, or close to 8,000 votes.

“With the figures, PH would have a fighting chance,” said the source.

Checks by Malay Mail showed that most of the Malay voters who voted for PH in the last general election were from three Malay-majority district polling centres (PDM) at Parit Haji Ismail, Rambah, and Kampung Rimba Terjun.

For BN, the source said that the Opposition pact’s early efforts at setting-up base in those areas are in part a strategy to combat and convert the Malay voters who had voted for PH during the GE14.

He suggested that the PH grassroots leadership, including the PDM heads, were late in identifying and addressing the issue.

Malay community unfazed by Pakatan’s promises

This comes as Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia’s political analyst Md Akbal Abdullah said the 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the Malay voters will return their votes to BN for the by-election.

“These Malay voters were originally BN voters who wanted change prior to GE14.

“So, they are basically returning to their fold, further strengthening BN’s position,” he said when contacted by Malay Mail.

Md Akbal said the reason for the return was due to several factors such as the cost of living and also local issues that the ruling PH failed to address.

Meanwhile, University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute analyst James Chin said that BN looks set to win Tanjung Piai via the Malay vote.

He said PH will have issues with its ethnic Chinese votes due to various national issues by the ruling coalition, such as rising costs and increasing polarisation as well as recent controversies such as the introduction of khat calligraphy in schools.

“The United Examination Certificate and the recent funding cuts to the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College are also issues that have affected the Chinese community.

“This will decrease the votes of PH,” he said.

The Tanjung Piai by-election will see a six-way contest between PH’s Karmaine, BN’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng, Gerakan’s Wendy Subramaniam, Berjasa’s Datuk Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz, and two independent candidates Ang Chuan Lock and Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar.

Polling is scheduled for this Saturday, with early polling today.

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