Polls in Perak after Aidilfitri?

Written by Yong Min Wei, The Edge

Encouraged by the strong approval rating of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and inspired by the positive vibes from his economic liberalisation policies and goodies for the rakyat, Barisan Nasional (BN) is said to be keen on going back to the people to end the political impasse in Perak.

Talk is rife that BN now fancies its chances in the state and is willing to put its popularity to the test at the ballot box.

And there were rumours last month that Osman Jailu (Changkat Jering) and Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (Behrang) had been unhappy since switching sides and were considering returning to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR),  raising the possibility of the Perak state legislative assembly being dissolved.

Online news portal Malaysiakini reported last week a growing anticipation of a snap election in Perak by year-end, after BN nearly snared Manek Urai against most predictions. Citing a reliable source, it said the cabinet had recently discussed the possibility of fresh polls in Perak.

Some Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders also seemed convinced that the Perak state assembly would be dissolved sometime after Hari Raya Aidilfitri, while political observers pointed to the need for BN to resolve the power grab issue as it could undermine its performance in the next general election.

The state assembly, which has been adjourned since the infamous May 7 sitting, is not expected to reconvene until November — more than a month after Aidilfitri.

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat said BN would use the results of the Permatang Pasir by-election to gauge the sentiment of Malay voters on the west coast of the peninsula.

“It’s hard to tell if fresh polls will be called after Aidilfitri but BN will likely do so if its calculations showed that it can command 60% of the Malay support in Perak,” he told The Edge Financial Daily.

However, Wong said BN was expected to cross-check its figures against the growing resentment of non-Malay voters, especially after the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock in mysterious circumstances and the publication of news reports with racial overtones.

He said BN would find it very challenging to govern the state as it was only hanging on to power due to defections and through bureaucratic intervention. But he noted that PR would need the support of 80% of non-Malay voters to return to power.

“Risking Perak with new polls may end any national animosity against Najib and would strengthen his popularity at the federal level,” said Wong, adding that BN would have to consider whether it could afford to carry the weight of the political impasse in Perak into the next general election.

On whether Perakians would forsake PR due to the incessant bickering among component parties, he said: “Perak PAS is the most stable of all the Pakatan-governed states. Also Perak Pakatan is strongly behind (Datuk Seri Mohammad) Nizar (Jamaluddin) who is still their menteri besar.”

The political chatter has not convinced Dr Ooi Kee Beng, who said fresh polls may not be on the cards this year. BN had riled Perakians so much by its power grab in February and the memories would not fade away in a short time, he said.

“BN has taken a lot of trouble to win back Perak. Why would they want to jeopardise the government now?”  the political analyst said.

Ooi said BN had traditionally called for federal and state elections simultaneously, as the strategy tended to work in its favour given its well-oiled and big campaign machinery. Holding state polls separately in the peninsula would be risky considering the current political landscape, he added.

“I don’t think it (fresh polls) will happen this year. If Najib would drop some goodies on the Perakians and call for fresh polls next year, then it is a different story,” said Ooi, a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

In contrast, Research For Social Advancement (Refsa) adviser Richard Yeoh said BN could be tempted to call for fresh elections in Perak as the current political circumstances appeared to favour them. He said voters in the state may reject PR for the squabbles and infighting seen in Kedah, Penang and Selangor.

He said the prime minister had initiated investor- and people-friendly policies that could set the tone for a snap poll in Perak. The move could also draw praise for Najib from the international community in his pursuit of the 1Malaysia concept.

“Giving the people of Perak the right to self-determine their government as soon as possible would further promote democracy and transparency in Najib’s administration,” said Yeoh, a former executive director of Transparency International-Malaysia.

He said fresh polls would be the right direction in establishing a stable government in Perak, as the “two frogs” Osman and Jamaluddin were facing corruption charges and could be disqualified as lawmakers if convicted.

“BN would not have a majority government without the two frogs. On the other hand, there would be many questions raised should the two have their charges dropped,” he said, adding that a state government must convince voters of its legitimacy and transparency to last the full term.

“I think BN has a 50-50 chance of wresting the state though some have written them off should fresh elections be called now,” added Yeoh.

The Perak political impasse started in early February when Osman, Jamaluddin and Hee Yit Foong (Jelapang) left PR and became BN-friendly independents. With the support of the three lawmakers, BN raised its tally in the legislative assembly to a 31-28 majority to bring an end to Nizar’s 11-month government.