Galas by-election bellwether for Malay votes in next GE

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, TMI
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 30 — The upcoming Galas by-election will likely serve as an indicator for Malay votes in the next general election, which could be held early next year, analysts and politicians said.

Analysts also say that the fight for the Galas state seat will see a push towards a more aggressive form of Malay nationalism by Umno as well as PAS, but they cautioned that the minority votes by other races in the constituency could make a significant difference at the ballot box.

The state seat fell vacant after PAS lawmaker Che Hashim Sulaima died from colon cancer on September 27, triggering the 12th by-election since Election 2008.

“Well, I think the Galas by-election is a bellwether for Malay votes for the next general election. As this state seat is an almost 70 per cent Malay-majority seat, this will be a particular battle where Umno will try to prove that it is a better competitor for Malay votes compared to PAS or even PKR,” said Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian.

Ibrahim told The Malaysian Insider that the result of this by-election would be a direct “indicator” as to whether the Malays were gravitating towards Pakatan Rakyat (PR) or Barisan Nasional (BN).

“We have to be mindful that this is a seat which will indicate how the Malay vote will behave. This seat is also within the parliamentary area of Gua Musang, which is under Umno’s Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. This is one of the few seats in Kelantan which is not in PAS’s favour. If Umno wins this, they will look strong and it will be good for them,” said Ibrahim.

However, the political analyst said both PAS and Umno should be mindful of the fact that Galas has a sizeable number of non-Malay voters, and that if both sides choose to play the race card it might affect the minority votes.

“You can see that PAS has of late been positioning itself to attract not just Malay-Muslim votes, but the Chinese and the Indian votes as well. There is a view that the non-Malay votes will swing the result of the by-election at the final hour,” added Ibrahim.

He also believes that the federal government’s recent action in halting the construction of an Orang Asli church near Gua Musang would play a part in the voting trend for the Galas seat.

“Traditionally, the Orang Asli vote for BN has been very strong. Given the recent developments, the Orang Asli vote might affect the outcome of the by-election. Anything to do with religion is an emotional issue, and can influence voters. I think that there [are] more than a 1,000 Orang Asli voters there, and if they vote for BN, it could make a lot of difference for them (BN),” said Ibrahim.

The pollster was referring to the Temiar Christians in Pos Pasik, an Orang Asli village, who were earlier this month ordered by the Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA) to halt work on their concrete church house.

Political scientist Professor Shamsul Adabi Mamat said it should be expected that PAS and Umno would play up race issues within the next few weeks leading up to the by-election.

“Umno and PAS will use everything in their resources to win Malay votes. I think that Umno will want to be focused and prepared to win this, and they need to win this. If there is an increase in votes for Umno this time around, it will be an early sign of who voters will support in the next general election,” said Shamsul.

The UKM lecturer told The Malaysian Insider that the Galas election would ultimately be a “test” for Umno as to whether it can attract Malay support in the PAS state of Kelantan.

But PAS vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar claimed that PAS would not adopt a racial approach for the Galas by-election, claiming that the Islamist party’s rivals will pull out all stops to win over Malay voters.

“Umno will play up Malay issues to win the Malay votes for the state seat. If their election campaign machinery is being led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, I believe it will be all about Malay rhetoric. Racial issues will be the headline of the day and other issues will take a backseat,” Mahfuz told The Malaysian Insider.

While acknowledging the fact that the Galas state seat was traditionally an Umno seat as it is under Tengku Razaleigh’s constituency, Mahfuz claimed that PAS had been making preparations for the possibility of a by-election in the area.

“Considering that the late Che Hashim has not been well for some time, we have been busy preparing our election machinery. We will not play up racial issues, but we will focus on getting votes of all races,” said Mahfuz.