Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election a litmus test for Anwar’s unity government

Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election a litmus test for Anwar’s unity government
"Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election a litmus test for Anwar’s unity government"

The upcoming Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election is set to be an indicator and a litmus test to gauge the people’s stand on the Federal government’s leadership and performance in the last two years.

Political analyst Professor Dr P. Sivamurugan said the May 11 by-election will also be a platform to see if political parties within the current unity government can put aside their differences, two years after forming the Federal government.

Pakatan Harapan, Sivamurugan said, will also be facing an uphill battle in the by-election, especially if recent sensitive issues handled by the Federal government are played up by the Opposition during campaigning.

This he said, included the recent ‘Allah socks and shoes’ issue, the Chinese New Village Unesco listing, bak kut teh declared as Malaysia’s national heritage food, and the spiralling cost of living.

On whether issues related to race and religion would take centre stage in the by-election, Sivamurugan said he expected them to be played up extensively by certain quarters, given that political parties in the country were largely ethnic-based.

“However, even if they play up these issues, there will be restrictions ... the authorities will be watching closely,” said Sivamurugan.

“These issues (and how they are played up) will influence voter turnout on polling day. It will be good to see how the current administration addresses these issues.”

Sivamurugan said while by-elections generally saw low voter turnout, a high turnout would indicate if the electorate are pleased with the realities of what’s happening on the ground.

Sivamurugan, from Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Social Sciences, said it would also be interesting to see if there was a disparity in how non-Malays in the area voted, especially if both Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional fielded Chinese candidates.

Kuala Kubu Baharu is a mixed seat, with Malays making up 50 per cent of the electorate, followed by Chinese (30 per cent) and Indians (18 per cent).

“Kuala Kubu Baharu is a DAP stronghold with the previous assemblyman (the late Lee Kee Hiong) being a three-term assemblyman.

“But, if Perikatan Nasional fields a Malay candidate, will there be a huge swing in votes? While the outcome of the by-election is not going to change the state government, the selection of candidate is going to be important, as it will create a perception of moral legitimacy.”

Lee, who died on March 21, first won her seat in 2013 after defeating MCA’s Ooi Hui Wen with a 1,702-vote majority. She defended the seat in 2018 with a 7,134-vote majority, humiliating another MCA candidate, Wong Koon Mun. In 2023, Lee retained the seat, yet again, with a 4,119-vote majority ahead of Gerakan’s Henry Teoh.

Another ‘battle’ that Pakatan Harapan will be facing in the run-up to the by-election, Sivamurugan said, was whether MCA would be willing to work with DAP.

“MCA openly protested when Barisan Nasional said that Kuala Kubu Baharu was going to be Pakatan Harapan's seat. Whether or not there is going to be internal sabotage, independent candidates ‘planted’ to split the votes ... all these factors will come into play.”

“On the other side, Perikatan Nasional’s candidate should be from Gerakan, based on previous consensus. In the event Perikatan fields a Malay candidate, will the non-Malays view this as Gerakan giving its seat away?”

Sivamurugan added that if Pakatan Harapan were to lose the Kuala Kubu Baharu seat, or retain it with a slimmer majority, it will be a sign that the coalition needs to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate its position.

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