SLIM POLLS | Pakatan Harapan leaders are committed to backing the Bersatu Blackout candidate in the upcoming Slim by-election, but admit that they have an uphill battle on their hands.
"The locals, especially the Malays, only see and understand local issues," said Perak opposition leader Abdul Aziz Bari.
"They may well have no idea of other standards or level of development and not realise how Umno has failed to achieve much despite being in power for over 60 years.
"This is also the case in most interior territories in Perak, like Lenggong or Gerik. Only those who work outside, especially in the big cities like Penang or KL or Shah Alam, understand broader issues like corruption trials and backdoor government.
"But they have no time to influence their parents or friends in the area. They may not even come back to vote or they may have registered elsewhere in the cities where they work," added DAP man Aziz (photo), who is Tebing Tinggi assemblyperson.
The Slim by-election is due to be held on Aug 29, with nomination day falling on Aug 15. However, both Umno and the Bersatu Blackout candidate put up by ex-premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad have said they will announce their candidates in press conferences tomorrow.
Umno will make its announcement at 4.30pm while Mahathir-backed candidate will be announced in a press conference to be held at 8.30pm.
The seat fell vacant after four-term incumbent Mohd Khusairi Abdul Talib passed away on July 15 due to a cardiac arrest.
However, based on voting patterns in the 2018 general election, most predict an easy win on polling day (Aug 29) for whichever candidate Umno/BN decides to field in the seat held by the late Khusairi since 2004.
In the 2018 general election, Khusairi won the Slim seat defeating Bersatu's Mohd Amran Ibrahim and PAS’ Muhammad Zulfadli Zainal, by a majority of 2,183 votes. The combined votes for Umno/BN and PAS amounted to 65 percent.
It is notable that the voters in Slim are overwhelmingly Malay (75 percent) and Indians form the second-largest group (13 percent), followed by Chinese (10 percent) and others (two percent).
Slim falls under the Tanjung Malim parliamentary seat. Since its creation in 1959, Tanjung Malim was held by MCA until PKR's Chang Lih Kang wrested the seat away two years ago for Harapan in GE14.
However, of the three state seats within Tanjung Malim, Sungkai and Behrang supported Harapan, while Slim stayed loyal to Khusairi and Umno.
Top analysts had predicted that while some issues are bubbling under the surface, Umno will win the seat easily.
Chang himself agreed that a comfortable win for Umno is the most likely result.
"Slim has always been a stronghold of Umno, even in 2018 GE. Bersatu is a newcomer and not so influential and furthermore is split now. But this will be a test of how well PAS and Umno can gel together," he told Malaysiakini.
"Harapan will fully support any opposition candidate here."
Chang added that the Slim by-election may provide a good yardstick to understand the strength of Mahathir’s new party in a rural setting.
"I think the Najib factor is something worth to be observed in this by-election," he said in reference to the jail term handed to former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak.
Chang also pointed out that the seat will not affect the stability of federal nor state government and said it's not going to be seen as a referendum of the defection of Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu from Harapan to Perikatan Nasional.
Aziz concurred, saying that the Bersatu factor was difficult to predict.
"The fact remains that Bersatu is a splinter party and even before the Mahathir-Muhyiddin Yassin infighting, its future was uncertain.
"Now the splinter group Bersatu Blackout obviously depends on the persona of Mahathir but what's the rallying cry especially after the old man said the party won’t be aligned to Harapan or PN?
"Even in developed democracies like the UK, a third force is often just a nuisance," he added.
Nonetheless, Aziz repeated that in the spirit of the two-party system, Harapan was committed to backing the Mahathir-named candidate.
"We don't want the opposition vote to be split," he added.
Interestingly upon Khusairi's passing, Perak PKR chief Farhash Wafa Salvador Murbarak had initially announced that his party would contest in Slim, but this idea soon fell away.
Mahathir had on Friday launched his as-yet-unnamed new independent Malay party, saying that it would uphold Bersatu's original anti-corruption struggle, but refusing to confirm its alignment with either coalition.
A number of Bersatu divisions and representatives have since announced they are quitting the Muhyiddin-led vehicle to switch over to Mahathir's party but there is no indication as yet of the sort of impact this could have.
Meanwhile, the Harapan leaders were still uncertain as to which candidate Mahathir's team would put forward.
"The funny thing is I happen to know this Umno guy (acting Tanjung Malim Umno division chief) Mohd Zaidi Aziz who has been tipped to be the candidate.
"I knew him over 20 years when I was lecturing in the UIA. He was soft-spoken and humble and that's why I didn’t expect him to be in Umno, but given the area, which is mostly Felda settlements, he has no other choice," said Aziz.