PKR eyes Maszlee showdown with Umno founder's great-grandson

·4-min read
PKR eyes Maszlee showdown with Umno founder's great-grandson
PKR eyes Maszlee showdown with Umno founder's great-grandson

Ahead of the Johor polls, the state seat of Layang-Layang in the central part of the state is becoming a focal point.

The seat's incumbent is Onn Hafiz Ghazi (above, right), the great-grandson of Umno founder Onn Jaafar and nephew of Umno veteran Hishammuddin Hussein.

Both PKR and DAP have expressed interest to take on the 42-year-old Umno leader who made his electoral debut in the 2018 general election.

The consensus in Pakatan Harapan is that its components won't lay claim to any seat a partner has won - but Layang-Layang is up for grabs as the coalition failed to capture the seat in the last general election.

Although PKR has traditionally been contested in Layang-Layang, DAP is lobbying the state seat for its Johor deputy publicity chief Marina Ibrahim, part of a group of young Malay leaders it has been grooming as the party continuously struggles with rivals painting them as anti-Malay.

While Layang-Layang was not a key focus in past elections, PKR has indicated that it plans to field a heavyweight in the seat in the forthcoming Johor State Legislative Assembly election and is unlikely to give it up.

Johor DAP's deputy publicity chief Marina Ibrahim
Johor DAP's deputy publicity chief Marina Ibrahim

PKR is eyeing to field former education minister Maszlee Malik in Layang-Layang. Maszlee spent more than a year as an independent MP before joining PKR last year.

Potential MB candidate

Maszlee's name is also being floated as PKR's potential choice for the Johor menteri besar if Harapan can win the state election.

He was sacked from Bersatu in 2020 after objecting to Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin's decision to take the party out of the Harapan coalition.

Johor PKR deputy chief Jimmy Puah confirmed that his party is seriously considering nominating Maszlee in Layang-Layang.

Prior to joining politics in 2018, Maszlee spent most of his career in academia.

Layang-Layang is one of two state seats within the parliamentary constituency of Simpang Renggam, where Maszlee is the MP. The other is Machap. Both are Malay majority seats with substantial non-Malay populations.

Johor PKR deputy chief Jimmy Puah
Johor PKR deputy chief Jimmy Puah

"The party leadership is still discussing it. I can't be 100 percent sure, but I can't deny that.

"What I can say is - if the arrangement is confirmed, the seat which Maszlee will most likely contest in will be Layang-Layang," Puah told Malaysiakini.

An interesting observation is the fact that even though Maszlee, who represented Harapan, won Simpang Renggam in the 2018 general election, both of the state seats under this parliamentary constituency were won by Umno.

In the last general election, Umno's Onn Hafiz won Layang-Layang with a 364-vote majority and Puah is confident PKR can close the narrow gap in the coming state election.

"After facing a minor setback in 2018, PKR grassroots members have been actively working in Layang-Layang in order to win the seat," Puah added.

Maszlee, when contacted, said he has yet to be informed about being fielded as a PKR candidate.

DAP's alternative plan

Meanwhile, Johor DAP deputy chief Teo Nie Ching confirmed that her party had been lobbying to field Marina in Layang-Layang.

“When we began to discuss the seat allocation, the consensus was that for those constituencies which were not won, any party can express its interest to go (for preparations for a particular seat)," said Teo, the party’s Kulai MP.

Johor DAP deputy chief Teo Nie Ching
Johor DAP deputy chief Teo Nie Ching

Meanwhile, a DAP source familiar with the negotiations acknowledged PKR's strategic move to field Maszlee and is now mooting an alternative plan for Marina.

Malaysiakini learnt that DAP is now considering fielding Marina in Senai, a state seat within the parliamentary seat of Kulai.

Senai is a relatively safe seat. DAP won it with an 18,902-vote majority in the 2018 general election.

However, DAP could face more challenges in the forthcoming Johor polls due to potentially lower votes from Johoreans working in Singapore, as they may face Covid-19 travel restrictions and also, the changing dynamics from the implementation of automatic voter registration and the lower voting age of 18.

There are 56 seats in the Johor state assembly. Before the assembly was dissolved, Harapan held 27 seats - DAP had 14 seats, PKR had seven seats and Amanah had six seats.

The Election Commission will hold a special meeting on Feb 9 to fix the date for the Johor state election.

This election was called after Johor Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad, who is from Umno, sought a dissolution of the state assembly.

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