State Elections: What If Selangor Falls To The Opposition?


The looming state elections will focus on the nation’s most lucrative state of Selangor as it will be the first litmus test on whether the pact between Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and the Unity Government partner coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), can garner support from voters.

While analysts expect the unity government coalitions of Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) to retain control of Penang, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor, they predict that the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) will emerge from the state elections with more seats in these states than it currently has.

Malaysia’s opposition is expected to make further inroads at local state elections on Saturday (Aug 12), leading to possible political instability and conservative policies against those worked on and established by the Federal Government, some observers weigh in. 

Based on the track record of the incumbent state administration and early polling numbers, Selangor is Barisan Nasional – Pakatan Harapan’s to lose. Nonetheless, political undercurrents show that Perikatan Nasional may have the momentum.

Although Pakatan Harapan is favoured to retain Selangor, there is a path to power for Perikatan Nasional that hinge on certain levels of voter turnout and vote transferability.

Only a modest shift in Malay support can sweep Pakatan Harapan from power in Selangor. Much will depend on the campaign swinging undecided voters in a contest that will affect the configuration of Malaysian politics.

Selangor, arguably the country’s economic powerhouse that contributed 25.5% of last year’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), stands to lose out if it does not remain under the unity government’s administration after state elections take place, the results of which is a day away.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamid said Selangor has developed into the state that has helped change many Malaysians’ lives with high paying jobs thanks to the huge amount of foreign investment.

“So, it will be a waste if Selangor can’t be retained as a state under the unity government that practises the Malaysia Madani concept,” he said recently, adding, in his capacity as Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman, the united strength of the combined parties in the unity government in Selangor can be seen through the openness of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) leadership in allowing BN to contest more seats in this state election.

“Before the state assembly was dissolved, BN had only five seats, but thanks to PH’s kind-heartedness, we are contesting 12 seats, which proves the sincerity of their friendship with us,” he said.

Prior to the state assembly dissolution, Pakatan held 40 seats (PKR-19, DAP-15, Amanah-six), BN (five), Bersatu (four), Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM) (two) while PAS, Pejuang and Warisan had one seat each. The remaining seat was held by an Independent assemblyman.

The last state seat for Batang Kali was declared vacant after its assemblyman was absent from the state assembly for over six months.

Former Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said recently BN-PH could still retain Selangor despite what is seen as a losing battle to woo Malay support through its newfound partner Umno, but that even this is contingent on the ability to maintain an assumed share of 37% of the community’s vote.

He said BN to be represented by only Umno candidates, would likely secure overwhelming support from non-Malay voters as well as some 37% of Malay support after taking into account factors such as the shift in Malay ground towards Perikatan Nasional (PN).

“This scenario will still see PH-BN prevailing in 34 seats compared to PN’s 22 seats but even a 5% drop in Malay support for PH would see PN coming to power in Selangor,” he added.

“In this case, PH-BN will win 27 seats and PN will win Selangor with 29 seats. What this suggests is that only a modest shift in Malay support by 5% compared to the previous scenario is needed to see PH-BN lose Selangor,” he wrote in an article published by Singapore government-linked think tank Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

He added a PN victory in Selangor, where the outcome would be seen as a referendrum on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s eight-month-old administration, was “not entirely impossible”. “Much will, of course, depend on the campaign to see if the non-Malays can be convinced to turn out in large numbers and if the Malays continue to give Anwar and his coalition and their partners the overwhelming support he desires.”

On the ground, BN-PH politicians say in the final hours of campaigning that findings seem to reflect that a possible turnout percentage come polling day may jeopardise the ruling coalition’s chance of retaining the state for its fourth term.

EMIR Research Social, Law & Human Rights Head Jason Loh Seong Wei said as the most industrialised and, by extension, developed state in the country combined with being resource-rich in terms of land and minerals (e.g., production of silica – which in turn takes the form of silicon wafer fabrication – for the semi-conductor industry, inter alia, sand mining both for domestic uses and export), etc., Selangor is, therefore, the crown jewel (among the six states having the elections).

According to incumbent/caretaker Menteri Besar Amiruddin Shari (PH), Selangor’s manufacturing sector now accounts for one-third (at 32.2%) of the country’s total, with an expansion rate of 9% by 2022.

Unsurprisingly, the electoral contest is fierce as PN is unabashed in vying to take control of the state too – even as it’s predominantly on the back of Malay votes (population-wise, Malays comprise only 54% but constitute 70% of the seats) to realise the ambition.

On issues, Jason Loh said, the coalition which offers a favourable response or ‘promise’ towards the alignment and acquisition issues of the PJD (Petaling Jaya Dispersal (Link), Indian community issues and disgruntlement of Umno members and voters, will emerge victorious in the state.

Whilst it might not still be absolutely clear whether PN can defeat BN-PH and wrest control of Selangor, BN-PH’s feat in winning of 52 out of 54 state seats (a whopping 93% win) wouldn’t, in all likelihood, be repeated, albeit on a different scale. What’s definitively clear is that the Selangor state election boils down to winning the hearts and minds of the Malay voters, especially that of the semi-urban and semi-rural seats of which Klang Valley – as embodying the core of PH support – is sandwiched.

Whilst the Madani government has taken pro-active steps to address and tackle the cost-of-living such as introducing Menu Rahmah, etc., drastic measures are needed to assure the rakyat, especially those living in the most industrialised and highly developed state of Selangor.

Long-time analyst of Malaysian politics who currently serves as an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur Bridget Welsh said the campaign in these polls reflects the ongoing changes taking place in Malaysian elections.

The first transformation involves the views of the prime minister. Usually early on in a term, Malaysia’s prime minister is given a voter boost, a sweet reception from the electorate as part of a political honeymoon of new leadership. “This appears not to be the case in these state polls to the degree it has been in the past. Anwar has been receiving different reactions on the ground. In some places, such as Penang and to a lesser degree, Selangor, he is a pull for voters, but in other places such as Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu, and Kelantan there has been a push factor.”

The polarisation of the electorate feeds into different views of the prime minister, she said.

A second ongoing change is in campaign messaging. What is striking in this campaign compared to those since 1999 has been the largely missing discussion of reform on the part of Pakatan Harapan. While there are broad calls by Anwar that corruption will be addressed, this promise does not sit well when one of his deputies is facing multiple serious corruption charges. The Zahid factor remains salient for many voters.

Generally, Harapan’s campaign has been on the defensive, centred on defending themselves in power as the incumbents in key states and at the federal level (with Umno). There is a lack of consistent and clear messaging. Voters are finding it hard to connect to an unfocused stream of announcements, even if some of these offer promise investments and lay out policy directions, as did Anwar’s late-announced economic programme. As such, Harapan’s campaign so far has largely resonated only with its base, rather than extended its reach to undecided voters and those who voted for Perikatan Nasional (PN), Bridget said.

“Unlike previous campaigns that had a clear theme and integrated the theme into its strategies, Harapan’s campaign as the federal incumbent is more ad hoc and its messaging is not well-integrated into the campaigns of individual states, including those where it is the incumbent. BN-PH is simultaneously facing challenges holding onto some of its base over its yet unfulfilled promises.

She added that Muda’s campaign message has aimed to tap into these sentiments, to focus on reform and reach out to the young, to capture some of those wanting to maintain attention to strengthening governance and inclusion. Muda faces a difficult time, in part because Harapan has focused its energy on deflecting this challenge to its core support rather than focusing on the rising power of PN.

“Another area where Harapan faces problems is among non-Malays, especially Indians. Many non-Malay voters are less enthusiastic in these elections than in GE15. There is a sense that they have been ignored by the Anwar government, and some perceive a lack of respect for the struggle’s minorities experience. Given the number of highly competitive seats, the week ahead will be critical in determining not only the scope of political turnover but the direction of the country,” Bridget said.

This weekend, 570 candidates were slated to run in 245 seats for the upcoming state polls. Both of the two main coalitions fielded a full slate, with Muda running in 19 seats, PRM 13, PSM in four, and other parties three. There are 41 independents running.

BusinessToday says that although the final power rests with the constituents or voters, if the BN-PH coalition – who has formed government – does not secure Selangor, there will exist a situation of a severe disconnect between the state and the Federal Government policy which may end up in the state regressing on the economic front and on some positive efforts seen for the Rakyat.

The huge sum of earnings obtained by the state, may also be channelled to focus on initiatives which are against the federal policy should the opposition takeover. This will affect the economic situation of the people in terms of job opportunities and a failure in the reduction of the cost-of-living issues.

There are also concerns over the somewhat hardline racial and religious issues led by Perikatan Nasiional, of which many changes may be brought into Selangor as seen in states like Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. These changes in policy which is almost certain, if PN takes over the state will also diminish the investor confidence towards the state, again raising the issue of job opportunities and better living conditions.

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