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In Penang, Pakatan’s decision to snub GE15 comes home to roost

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

GEORGE TOWN, May 22 — Penang DAP’s failed bid to hold the state’s elections together with the 15th general election (GE15) could leave the party vulnerable when the poll is held later this year, Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders have conceded.

After the coalition vowed not to hold elections in states under its control during GE15 to protest Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s decision to call for polls during the annual flood season, DAP tried unsuccessfully to convince PH to change its mind.

Now, DAP leaders believe the consequences were about to be seen in turnouts that are set to be low since GE15 was held just months ago, to the detriment of the party’s chances in some seats.

Penang DAP vice chairman Zairil Khir Johari said this was among risks considered when the coalition chose to hold the state elections separately from GE15, citing the Johor and Melaka polls in which Barisan Nasional took seats from PH, before the two joined in the national unity government.

“When the state election is held separately, there is less excitement among voters to come back so this might work against us,” he said.

He said this is because there were many PH voters in the state who were based outside of Penang, typically working in the Klang Valley or Singapore.

The Penang election would require these out-of-state voters to travel home just to choose their assemblyman, as they have already elected their federal lawmaker last November.

Still, Zairil hoped that with five other states — Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and Terengganu — set to hold their elections at the same time, out-of-state voters would be more motivated to make the journey home.

“There might be election fever among the voters and people might want to come back to vote since almost half the country will be in election mode,” he said.

Even in GE15, overall turnout was already falling, with the Election Commission reporting a final figure of 74.04 per cent, versus 82.32 per cent during the 14th general election in 2018.

Between the two general elections and amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysia also held four state polls in Sabah, Melaka, Sarawak, and Johor with turnout figures of between 55 and 66 per cent.

Penang DAP deputy chairman P. Ramasamy said the effect of lower turnout should theoretically affect all parties.

“However, reduced voter turnout might significantly affect the performance of DAP,” he said, adding that this could make the party more vulnerable in seats with mixed demographics.

Penang PKR Legal and Public Complaints Bureau chief Jason Ong Khan Lee agreed with Ramasamy’s prediction that the Perikatan Nasional (PN) would also be affected by lower turnouts.

He said this was because PN would not be facing PH alone, but also BN and other parties that were part of the national unity government.

“Now that PH has a larger election machinery, with 19 parties working together including BN, we can reach out to more people,” he said.

He also said the local supporters for PH will still be there, mitigating the impact of a lower turnout and allowing the coalition to still put up a strong contest in the election.

Still, DAP was not leaving the matter to chance, with Ramasamy saying there was ongoing effort to convince out-of-state voters to return for the election.

Zairil urged the same group not to dismiss the importance of the state election, saying there was more at stake than simply control of the Penang assembly and other state elections would also be happening at the same time.

“We need a strong win to ensure stability for the federal government, because if we do badly in the state elections, the pressure on the federal government will be higher and we do not want a Sheraton 2.0,” he said.

In the Sheraton Move of 2020, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) abandoned PH and caused the collapse of its federal government then. The move occurred after Bersatu suffered a string of by-election losses at the hands of Umno.

All six states are expected to dissolve their state assemblies in the latter half of June to pave way for state elections either in July or early August.

There are 40 state seats in Penang, 37 of which were won by PH in 2018 when Bersatu was still part of the coalition. However, the four seats under Bersatu were vacated in March under the state’s anti-hopping law.

BN has two seats, Sungai Dua and Permatang Berangan, while PAS has one seat, Penaga.