Analysts: Pakatan-BN on track to retain Pulai, but doubts remain over Simpang Jeram

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

JOHOR BARU, Sept 8 — With polling day arriving tomorrow, can Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) “green wave” make an impact on Johor’s Pulai parliamentary and Simpang Jeram state by-elections, following the coalition’s unprecedented wins in the recently concluded six state elections?

Questions over PN’s possible dominance here still linger despite demographic data and past election results favouring the two Parti Amanah Negara candidates under Pakatan Harapan (PH) for the by-elections.

Basically, on paper, PH appears to have the advantage in both Pulai and Simpang Jeram, with several analysts pointing to the healthy majority enjoyed by the previous incumbent, Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub.

However, Malay voters’ growing attraction to the “green wave” is also cause for concern.

PH in the lead

Despite the recent confidence of PN leaders, several political analysts and observers said it will not be a walk in the park for the Opposition coalition in Johor.

Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan said that it will be hard for PN to penetrate the Pulai parliamentary and Simpang Jeram state constituencies due to its heavy dependence on Malay voters.

He said the odds are against PN as both Pulai and Simpang Jeram have an almost similar percentage of Malay and non-Malay voters, with a near equal ratio of 50:50.

The Pulai parliamentary constituency has a total of 167,108 voters. The Malays make up the majority at 44.17 per cent, followed by the Chinese at 40.47 per cent and the Indians at 12.30 per cent.

The Simpang Jeram state constituency, on the other hand, has a total of 28,193 voters, where the Malays are the majority at 53.42 per cent, followed by the Chinese at 43.32 per cent and the Indians at 2.75 per cent.

“The equal number of non-Malay voters in both Pulai and Simpang Jeram are also solidly rooted to PH.

“For PN to access the remaining 50 per cent of Malay voters, it has to compete with Umno, Amanah, and also, at some point, PKR,” he said when contacted by Malay Mail.

Azmi added that PN’s chances will be even slimmer as the Malay voter percentage will be divided according to the parties vying for them.

He said the percentage breakdown was an important factor as the last state election results revealed PN’s heavy dependence on Malay voters.

“About 80 per cent of PN’s winning votes were from the Malay community.

“Based on this, PN stands a chance of winning only if a particular constituency has more than 70 per cent of Malay voters,” said Azmi, adding that winning both Pulai and Simpang Jeram would be an uphill battle for PN.

Universiti Sains Malaysia political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid also cited the racially mixed constituencies with a significant percentage of non-Malays as a barrier to PN.

He said that he expects the PH-BN unity coalition to hold onto the two seats, due to the significantly polarising Malay and Chinese percentage ratios.

“At the same time, the PN or PAS wave has yet to be racially inclusive as well,” he said.

Little appeal to Johoreans

Despite the gains made by PN in the state elections, Johor Umno’s Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed is optimistic that the southern state will not succumb to the PN wave.

As a former Pulai MP, he is confident that there will be no “Malay protest votes” against the unity coalition, as suggested by Muhyiddin and several PN leaders, on Saturday.

“Let’s not confuse the Malays in Johor with those from the northern states and the Quran belt.

“The Malays in Johor are distinct and will not be affected by the PN wave that happened in several states during the recent state elections,” he said when asked by Malay Mail for his views on PN’s chances in Johor’s twin by-elections.

Nur Jazlan was referring to the northern states of Penang and Kedah as well as the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu, where a majority of the Malay community voted for PN in the state elections.

The Umno supreme council member explained that the Malay community in Johor is considered more objective when it comes to divisive politics, especially those touching on religious and racial values.

“In Johor, the Malays go through a compulsory religious education (Sekolah Agama Johor) under the state government, unlike in other states where it is optional.

“Being under the state government, the religious syllabus in Johor is approved and sanctioned.

“This is where the Malays here are different as they are moderate in their outlook and won’t be easily swayed by extreme religious or racial sentiments,” said Nur Jazlan.

This particular point was also shared by Ahmad Fauzi who pointed out that the Islam in Johor is markedly different from the majority Malay areas of Malaysia.

He added that Malays in Johor are cosmopolitan in their outlook and more accepting of multi-culturalism.

“This open-mindedness is reflected in the Johor royal family’s social attitudes which upholds the plurality of ethnicities and religions,” he said.

For Johor Umno Youth chief Noor Azleen Ambrose, the Pulai parliamentary and Simpang Jeram state by-elections have of late attracted PN politicians who do not respect the locals.

He said that PN politicians who are not from Johor have also attempted to interfere with state affairs.

“Yes, there is a wave that we feel, but it is not a wave of change. On the contrary, it is a wave to destroy the state with external elements against the moderate values of Johoreans,” he said to Malay Mail when asked about PN’s progress in the state.

Noor Azleen did not name the PN leader in question, but it is believed that he was referring to PN’s election director Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, who is also the Kedah menteri besar.

Muhammad Sanusi was accused of causing a stir during his visit to Muar on August 23 when he proclaimed that Simpang Jeram will be the gateway for the PN wave.

Noor Azleen, who is also the Pasir Gudang Umno Youth chief, explained that the external elements that were brought here were mostly against the values of the people of Johor.

“I call on the people of Johor, especially the younger generation, to reject any efforts by these people to divide us,” he said, adding that youths should instead prioritise unity, vision and prosperity.

But can PN make inroads in Johor?

Despite the claims by PN, Nur Jazlan, said that PN’s “green wave” was unlikely to happen in Pulai.

“PAS, which is one of the main purveyors of the ‘PN wave’, does not have a strong foothold in Johor, especially the southern parts of the state.

“As a former Pulai MP and the Pulai Umno division chief, I can say that it is statistically unlikely for PN to get 90 per cent of the Malay votes in the by-elections, especially in Pulai.

“In the 15th general election last year, the late Salahuddin won with 65,000 votes, while I received about 33,000 votes and the PN candidate got about 20,000 votes.

“So, statistically, my 33,000 votes should transfer to the PH-BN candidate, giving the unity coalition a comfortable lead,” he explained.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Razak Faculty Perdana Centre political analyst Mazlan Ali said that based on the demographics, PH can retain Pulai, but he expects PN to possibly win Simpang Jeram.

“I think PH will defend Pulai and Suhaizan can retain the seat for Amanah based on Salahuddin’s performance.

“This is also helped by the demographic position of about 40 per cent of ethnic Chinese voters, including Umno-BN voters, who will support the PH candidate,” he said.

However, Mazlan said that PN’s chances of winning Simpang Jeram were also high due to its location near Pagoh and Muar, where Muhyiddin’s influence is very strong.

He also pointed out that the Simpang Jeram state constituency was previously called Sungai Abong when it was a PAS stronghold.

“We can also conclude that the majority of Malays in Simpang Jeram is traditional and will support the Malay-Islamic agenda,” he said.

The Pulai parliamentary and Simpang Jeram state by-elections were called following the death of their incumbent, Salahuddin, on July 23.

Salahuddin, the Amanah deputy president, was 61. He was also the domestic trade and cost of living minister.

The Election Commission has set the polling date for both by-elections for tomorrow.